LYNN — A family of five just arrived from a small town in Pennsylvania and they’re ready to lead the city’s Salvation Army branch.
The Johnsons, Helen, Kevin and their three daughters, are excited to be living in a big city after spending the last several years in small towns across Pennsylvania. They spent one year in Indiana, Pa., before they made the move to Clearfield, Pa., where they spent the last four years. Before they moved to the keystone state, Helen and Kevin Johnson spent five years running the Salvation Army in Newport, R.I.
“We’re excited about the diversity here in Lynn and about the potential for our kids to learn other languages and get to know new people,” said Helen Johnson. “It’s such a benefit and people don’t realize how wonderful that is when they don’t have it.”
Helen Johnson grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and her husband is from a small town in Oregon. After Kevin Johnson came to Boston to work for his future father-in-law, the two immediately recognized the chemistry between them. She was ready to head to the Salvation Army headquarters in New York to train for two years before her soon-to-be husband appeared with the same dream as her.
“At the time I was all gungho in training to become an officer, alone and single,” she said. “Then I met him and everything was really quick.”
A leader of a Salvation Army branch, or captain, is an ordained minister that runs the church and acts as director of the specific location and its community. The corporate offices can send branch captains anywhere they want depending on necessities and the chosen leaders aren’t allowed to have other jobs on the side, according to Helen Johnson. The Johnsons are preceded by Jeffrey Brunelle, and his wife Meghan, who ran the Lynn branch for the last three years, and David Payton, and his wife Marika, who ran it prior to that for seven years.
“We really feel that God wants us to be in the city.” said Helen Johnson. “When they sent us to Pennsylvania, we were surprised because that area is very much country and not what we were used to.”
Although the Johnsons never lived in Lynn before, they did buy their first car, a Hyundai Elantra, on the Lynnway shortly after getting married in 2005. The husband and wife always adored the city life and their three daughters, 11-year-old Ally, 8-year-old Izzy, and 4-year-old Evy, were eager to get out of the country life they were living in Pennsylvania. After receiving the call in May that they were moving to Lynn, Helen and Kevin Johnson were ecstatic to get their girls into a city with a better public school system and greater health benefits.
“Ally had the hardest time moving from Indiana to Clearfield and she became very depressed,” Helen Johnson said. “We’re thankful at how the girls handled the move this time around.”
Shortly after moving into the church’s attached home at 1 Franklin St., the Johnson daughters jumped right into the Lynn Salvation Army’s kid’s club program, which brought them on a number of field trips during their first week in the city. The attached home is owned and furnished by the Salvation Army church. Each time a new captain is named, the previous captain moves out, leaving behinds all items owned by the Salvation Army church — such as bedding and furniture — for the next captain.
The Johnsons are eager to live somewhere with a big city feel and a homey vibe that provides such easy access to Boston. The family says the staff and the community have been extremely welcoming so far and they are excited to begin meeting neighbors one-on-one. The couple loves the idea of the branch’s emphasis on kids and they hope to bring more of that into the city, even adding more after-school programs for them. They also have a vision of bringing in the Salvation Army’s longstanding history of providing music activities and programs for local children.
“We’re given the freedom to make whatever changes we feel necessary but we like being respectful of the staff and volunteers who are already here,” said Helen Johnson. “We take the first month to get to know the staff and community and talk about how we can meet their needs and that’s when we slowly start to implement them.”
Since they began leadership, the Johnsons have already put more food into their food pantry by filling out paperwork that allows them to order from the Greater Boston Food Bank, as it’s easier to pick up a variety of fresh food from there. The new captains have also put into place a vacation Bible school for kids during the week of Aug. 20 thats runs at the church during the week from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a block party that Saturday and a church celebration that Sunday.
The city’s new Salvation Army captains have begun work on a number of property issues, such as fixing the facility’s gym floor and obtaining a new van. The husband and wife each have personal goals they hope to accomplish in their new roles. Helen Johnson hopes to implement a mom’s group, similar to one she formed during her tenure in Clearfield, Pa. The Lynn branch already has a nursery, so Johnson hopes to utilize that and invite moms to meet during the week to take part in discussions where they can talk about their daily stresses while their kids have a safe place to play.
“It developed into a wonderful thing and I don’t know if that will happen here in the same way but I do know wherever people are, they need each other,” she said.
Kevin Johnson’s goal is to get the branch’s advisory board up and running again, given there hasn’t been one for a number of years. The husband and wife grew accustomed to leaning on the advisory board at each branch they led in order to get contacts for the area and brainstorm the best ways to fundraise. The new captains invite residents to donate, either monetary or food donations that can be given to those in need, or volunteer their time when they can.
“We’re here to help community and we need the community’s help to do that,” said Helen Johnson.