Bits 'n' Pieces: On the front lines of charity

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian arts & features reporter

Published:

 
photoBeth Kennard

More seniors citizens. More Hispanics. More just-plain middle-class folks. Hungry, frightened, homeless or nearly. That's who's walking through the door at the Salvation Army of Vancouver these days.

Good thing Beth Kennard — and her staff — are there to listen and help. "I just love to help people," she said. "There is such a need out there."

Vancouver native Kennard, the director of all social service programs for the Salvation Army in Clark County, recently celebrated 15 years on the front lines of misery and desperation — and also hope and joy.

"You are taking on everybody's emotional toils. You're that listening ear for people. You're that comfort in their crisis. They're coming in in crisis, and you say, 'Let's talk it through. Let's work it out, step by step.' You are the calm in their storm," she said.

"There's a great feeling of success in that, and they are so thankful. 'You paid my rent, you paid my utility bill, I can take a breath for at least a day, I can try to figure out tomorrow.'"

Figuring out tomorrow means not just accepting emergency help but learning to help themselves, Kennard said. "Seeing how clients catch on to what we are trying to teach them is so rewarding. New coping skills, life skills, financial skills," she said.

All of which is extremely satisfying — and can lead to major burnout, Kennard agreed. After 15 years, she's taking more vacations that she used to, she acknowledged. "It can be emotionally overwhelming. I know I need to step back regularly and take time for myself," she said. "Knowing when it's time to walk away for a while is important."

That time is just about done for the year, she said. The Salvation Army's predictably busiest stretch is coming up: the beginning of school, the onset of colder weather, the holiday season. "You're going, going, going. By January, I definitely need a break," she said.

Kennard, 42, earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Northwest Nazarene College (now University) and a master's degree from Walla Walla University, and started out as the Salvation Army's volunteer coordinator. Fifteen years later, Kennard supervises four staffers, 25 or more volunteers and six job trainees. Working with a great team is one key to her success, she said.

"This is a remarkable achievement," said her boss, Steve Rusk. "It takes a certain kind of person and giftedness to stay strong in giving day after day for so long to hurting and desperate people."

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.