A chance conversation brought Khari to The Salvation Army for the first time. He was looking for something to do after school when a group of kids mentioned The Salvation Army. Khari didn’t know anything about the Eagle Creek Corps Community Center, but liked the idea.

“They said it was free,” Khari recalls. “Just sign your name in and play basketball, so I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’” That first experience at open gym opened the doors to many great changes in Khari’s life. “I just fell in love with this place, and I’ve been here ever since. Friends say I live here!”

Like most young men growing up in an urban environment, Khari learned early on that life could be hard. Before visiting The Salvation Army, he hadn’t given much thought to how volunteering and giving back to his community could improve the lives of other kids growing up in tough circumstances. That changed after his first pick-up game.

It wasn’t long before Khari began showing up early to help staff and other volunteers set up for after-school activities. He learned that many neighborhood kids came to the corps for more than just basketball. For some, it was the only quiet place where they could study outside of school. For others, it provided much-needed meals during summer break, when families couldn’t afford to fill the gap left by the loss of free and reduced school lunches.

“They’re keeping a lot of kids out of trouble by opening up the gym to the community,” Khari remarks while watching kids stream in and shed winter coats, ready to play. “Keeping kids from doings and alcohol and other stuff they aren’t supposed to do. It’s a good program for them.”

Khari helps summer day campers pick out new shoes at a back-to-school event

Khari helps summer day campers pick out new shoes at a Salvation Army back-to-school event

These days, Khari can be seen at the corps most days, including Sundays during church services. “I help with after-school programs, open gym, church programs, in the kitchen,” he explains, listing some of the ways he’s discovered to give back through The Salvation Army. “Summertime we get 60, 70 kids in here. Last summer I was here 40 hours a week volunteering.”

Khari is looking forward to graduating from high school and considering a career in law enforcement. For now, though, he’s learning some valuable life lessons that he’ll take with him wherever the road leads. When asked why he gives back, his answer is simple, but speaks volumes: “I volunteer here at The Salvation Army because of the love of the people.”

Thanks to the year-long support of our community, The Salvation Army can continue to provide guidance and a safe environment in which kids like Khari can grow and learn for years to come.