Salvation Army's 'Van Cleefs to leave Carson City for Oregon

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Over the past four years, Lts. John and Lisa Van Cleef of the Salvation Army have brought a new awareness to the Carson City community of just what the Salvation Army is and does.

They're not the bell ringers of old, accompanied by a tuba player, collecting change for the needy and passing out literature to save souls.

The Van Cleefs have launched a utility partnership program with Southwest Gas for low-income households; began a tutoring program at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School with the Soroptimists International of Carson City; increased sponsorship in the Child Spree program with Mervyn's Department Store and developed a shared program at the Community Center for teens and seniors.

"It's all been a blessing in disguise really," said John. "We became public relations people for the Salvation Army and have shown the public we're much more than just a thrift store.

"We've shown the Army lives here and there are representatives that have encouraged the community, and they now have a broader knowledge of what and who we are."

The Van Cleefs will now take their knowledge and energies to Medford, Ore. They have been transferred to take over the facility vacated by a couple through retirement.

"We're going to miss the people here," said John. "That's the biggest thing.

"I realize every day, or couple of days, the friendships we've made. This is what we're really going to miss. Friendships both professional and personal."

Lisa was a member of the Soroptimists International of Carson City and the Carson City Ministerial Fellowship. John is also a member of the Fellowshipin addition to the Sunset Rotary and past member of Kiwanis.

But their assignment to Medford brings a new challenge for them. Not only is the church bigger in membership, they will oversee a shelter, a transitional living program, manage two existing thrift stores and the construction of a third, plus be involved with the planned development of a shelter and community center, 45 employees, and a $1.6 million budget.

"So we're going from three to 45 employees, a budget that is eight times larger and a larger service area," said Lisa.

"The Salvation Army has been in that area much, much longer. There is a long history for them in Medford. There is also a good understanding with the community there."

One of the Van Cleefs' biggest accomplishments is taking the Red Kettle program from having paid ringers to being completely self-supporting through volunteers.

"We have gotten private organizations and community service groups to volunteer to ring the bells and man the kettles, and it has become sort of a 'fun battle' to see who can raise the most money and put in the most hours," said Lisa.

"The last two years have been won by the junior ROTC program at Carson High School.

"And that's one thing we've noticed about Carson City. This community is just outstanding. I have friends in the Salvation Army in much larger communities and they don't get near the donations or toys as what we've gotten from our community.

"Plus, we will have to find all the good restaurants all over again," joked Lisa. "I mean, how do you find an El Charro Avitia in Medford? They know us there and know our needs (with the children)."

When the Van Cleefs arrived in Carson City four years ago, they had one child, Alexandra, now 6. They now have three children, after the addition of Michael, now 3, and Caleb, who is 1.

"We kind of stepped into an unhealthy situation when we came to Carson City, and have turned it around," said John.

"The one piece of advice I remember very well when I was being ordained into the community is just three words - love your people - we did that. And the amazing thing, we were loved back, and in a lot of different ways.

"It's the gold nugget we'll take with us wherever we go. It has helped set the standard for wherever we go."

The Van Cleefs' last sermon at the Salvation Army Church will be July 16. The new reverends, Captains Steve and Amanda Mitchell, will take over the following weekend.

"I don't think the weight of it all will hit until we're in the U-Haul leaving town," said John.

"But the change we're facing is inevitable. Do we want to leave Carson City? No. Are we looking forward to the challenge? Yes. The two communities are similar in makeup - schooling, services. It won't be that much of a change so the move will be a bit easier."


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