Six years ago, straight off a two-year officer training stint in downtown Chicago, native Kansans Jeff and Joyce Curran saw their next charge — heading Garden City’s Salvation Army — as coming home.
Even though the city was clear across the state from their northeast Kansas roots, it was still the wide-open spaces they were used to, Joyce Curran said. The couple could breathe again. But, that didn’t mean the new co-captains, starting their first assignment as officers, knew what they were getting into.
“I’ll be honest with you — we had no clue what we were going to do,” Jeff Curran said Wednesday. “We just knew we wanted to be where God wanted us to be, and for whatever reason he wanted us to be here. And that was enough.”
After six years of leading one of Garden City’s more prominent service organizations, Joyce and Jeff will leave town Monday, en route to lead the Salvation Army in Brainerd, Minn., due to a routine rotation of the army’s officers. Their replacement, Lt. Chelsea Barnes, arrives Wednesday.
But their legacy of compassion, energy and respect, according to some of their advisory board members, will hopefully linger in the people they work with and the people they serve.
Though Garden City was the Currans first venture as officers, they have been a part of the Salvation Army in one way or another for 12 years, volunteering wherever they could, Joyce said.
Helping those in need has long seemed the clear path forward for the couple, they said. Both have faced hardship on their own — Jeff said he still remembers digging through the crevices of his couch two days before payday, searching for stray coins to buy food. They understand that need, Joyce said, and they do what they can to aid people struggling.
“For us, it’s always been difficult to see people in need and not do whatever we could to help. We can’t always do a lot, but we do as much as we can do,” Jeff said.
“We can do something,” she said.
The Currans bring to their work a kind of cooperation and collaboration that is not found in all places, said board member Amy Heinemann. They work with other nonprofits and other agencies in town to best serve their clients, she said. With all they do, the two are “boots on the ground,” said Karen Canales, another board member. They don’t just schedule bell ringers during Christmas — they ring alongside them. At all avenues, they actively help, and do so with an enthusiastic, infectious attitude, she said.
“When you are around that … you throw that same energy back out. So, being around that positive energy and being able to see that they actually go through and show their passion — it makes you passionate too,” Canales said.
To the Currans, the job was defined largely by the people they interacted with, connected to and learned from.
At their programs for local foster children, kids grew up in front of them. Some turned to religion, some started to excel in schools, while others overcame the barriers blocking their way forward, Joyce said. Children who used to struggle with English can now read and write fluently and the ones used to bomb spelling tests now sit on their schools’ A-B honor roll, she said.
All of them are on their way to becoming capable community leaders, Jeff said.
In other circumstances, in part thanks to Garden City’s “incredible” racial and cultural diversity, Joyce said, working with clients has paved the way for necessary perspective changes, a greater multicultural understanding and deeper communication.
Working with people of different traditions and faiths means learning and respecting a wealth of new needs and boundaries, Joyce said, and not something she and Jeff faced without mistakes. When handing out an emergency food box, the Army gave pork to a family whose faith did not allow the consumption of pork, she said. After an apology, it became a lesson. Now, the location pays closer attention to who gets what food so all clients’ cultures are respected, she said.
Serving people in Garden City has meant learning bits of new languages and the distinctions between dialects and communicating through ways other than speaking to each other, they said. Once, Jeff said it took him a long time to realize a man who did not speak English was trying to tell him he needed shoes, rather than surviving the winter in flip flops. Jeff brought him boots.
Those moments matter, Joyce said. Regardless of language, people know when you care about them.
Those connections can be seen from the outside, too, said board members. When the Currans go to Dillons, one of their local partners, people who walk by know them by name, said board member John Wheeler. When they work the Army’s recurring fresh produce and perishables program, itself an intersection of action, community and faith, they make an effort to be respectful to everyone who walks through the door, Canales said.
“They are there throughout everything that they do. Their commitment, not just to the organization, but to the community and the members of the community just speaks volumes,” Canales said.
As Joyce and Jeff head north, they are again driving to a place and into a situation they know little about, they said. But they are thankful for the chance to be here, they said. Garden is a giving community where people get behind each other, and that’s not something they take lightly, Joyce said. For whoever and whatever comes next, they had only one line of advice, pouring from their mouths and repeating unconsciously, like a mantra.
“Love your people.”
“Love the people. Love the people.”
“You can’t go wrong if you just love the people.”
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.