“Well, I’m going to heaven,” laughed Vaughnes-Smith. “I am. But on a daily basis I’m just tickled to be with these kids and to help them in any way we can. Our biggest mission is to get these kids off the streets. You know the dropout rate in our area is so high, and we just try to help in whatever way we can.”
Vaughnes-Smith is a tireless example of the how the 145-year-old organization’s Antioch chapter continues to make a difference.
And one way the small but dedicated staff is doing that is through its successful summer camp program. Now in its 11th year, the eight-week day camp provides a positive, fun and productive program for K-7 kids. For a modest $65 per week, the camp provides breakfast, lunch and a snack, as well as outings, companionship and most importantly, learning.
“This isn’t a summer day care center. Our emphasis is on the children’s incoming school year and helping them to get ready, to give them a leg up,” said Vaughnes-Smith. “But we also have crafts and trips to places such as Chuck E. Cheese or Paradise Skate when we can. This year we have a certified lifeguard coming in to teach the children how to swim. This is the first time we’ve had this, so it’s very exciting.”
And this season, due to the cancellation of the Antioch school district’s summer school program and the closure of some of the local YMCA day care programs, enrollment in the Salvation Army summer camp program is way up.
“We’ve never had this many kids, and they’re coming from everywhere,” said Vaughnes-Smith. “Money is tight, but we’re going to be here for the kids. We’re going to continue the work.”
One of the ways the work continues is through private donations – something many don’t understand. “A lot of individuals think we’re funded by organizations like the United Way, but we’re not,” said Vaughnes-Smith. “All the dollars we raise are through donations we’re able to get ourselves. There is no magic Salvation Army in the sky – it stops here.”
And because the economy has affected organizations such as the Salvation Army, donations are down, but the need remains high.
Most well known for its holiday bell-ringing drive, the Salvation Army has in the past paid individuals to stand outside local stores and solicit donations. This year, however, the Army is trying something different.
“One of our strategies is to try and do some volunteer bell ringing,” said Vaughnes-Smith. “What we earn at the holidays is 50 percent of our yearly budget. Last year in East County we raised $78,000, but we paid out $44,000 to our workers. So we’ve developed a very aggressive campaign this year to promote volunteer bell ringers. We’re hoping it will be a success.”
But if donations in volunteer time are difficult for some, donations of another kind are always welcome.
“We’re always happy to get cash donations,” said Vaughnes-Smith. “That’s something we always need. But I tell people: don’t send me any old clothes or sweaters – that all goes to the adult rehab center and we get none of that (profit). Send me money; that we can always use.”
And as the Salvation Army organization continues to make a difference in the lives of East County youth and residents, the lives of Vaughnes-Smith and her staff also continue to be changed. “We are blessed, all of us,” she said. “This job and this life gives me so much more than I could have imagined. I would not trade one day of it. I’ve been here for over 15 years and this is where I’ll stay. It’s a good life.”
For information on the summer camp program, volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, call the Salvation Army at 925-778-0808, or visit www.salvationarmy.org.