By Ed Brock
Sgt. Brent Nevers spared no time in making a few changes at his new assignment as commander of the Salvation Army post in Jonesboro.
One of the first things he did after coming to the post about six weeks ago was clear out what was once a storage room, plastered the walls and made the quiet space into his office. Then he put up a picture of his wife, Elizabeth Cabrera Nevers, on the windowsill.
Elizabeth is still in Cuba, the land where she was born and where Nevers was born to Canadian missionaries.
"I'm working on getting her a visa," Nevers said.
When his wife joins him the plan is for her to become a Salvation Army officer as well, and together they will make another change in the Salvation Army's activities in Clayton County. They will reach out to the community's burgeoning Hispanic community.
"It's growing, it's booming, it's all around us, and yet we see very few clients from that community," Nevers said.
Nevers, 44, was 9 months old when he left Cuba, but he went from there to "Little Havana" in Miami, the city he calls home.
In his early 20s Nevers moved to Savannah.
"That's where I met the Army," he said.
He worked for the Salvation Army from 1986 to 1990. Moving to the Atlanta area in 1990, he became an officer in 1992. He has worked in San Antonio and also Pasadena, Texas. He left his position as an officer, but stayed an employee of the Salvation Army while he lived in California. Hearing about the position in Jonesboro prompted him to return to the ranks.
The previous commanders of the post, Kurt and Natalie Sayre, were reassigned to Stillwater, Okla., and Nevers decided to take the job because he was homesick for the South.
"I wanted to come back to the United States. I was tired of living in California," Nevers said jokingly.
It was during his time in California that he first met Elizabeth.
"About three years ago I got curious about seeing the place of my birth," Nevers said.
Because Nevers has joint Canadian and Cuban citizenship and is a legal resident of the United States he is not subject to immigration restrictions barring American citizens from visiting Cuba. During that first one-week trip he passed through Madruga in the Havana and met Elizabeth.
"After we met we communicated through e-mail," he said.
Nevers made several return trips to Cuba and in February the couple was married on Valentine's Day. Being separated is difficult enough, but last week was even more harrowing as Hurricane Charley rolled over Cuba, scoring a direct hit on Madruga. He didn't hear from his wife until earlier this week and was relieved to know that she was OK.
Nevers' plans to reach out to the Spanish speaking community pleases Orlando Villanueva who is with the Latin American Association in Forest Park.
"Of course I believe that's always positive," Villanueva said. "You always want to have that presence, especially in an organization like the Salvation Army. That's something that's going to have an impact."
The Jonesboro program has a lot to offer to the community, Nevers said, but he has other goals besides expanding service in the Hispanic community.
"The thing I would like to emphasize the most is that we are a church," Nevers said.
Nevers said that the Army has become so well known for its charitable works that people loose sight of why they do what they do.
"We do it because we feel like that's what Christ compels us to do as a church," Nevers said.
The Army is its own Protestant denomination, though Methodist minister the Rev. William Booth started the movement in England in 1865. They offer Sunday school at 10 a.m. every Sunday and worship at 11 a.m.
Fund raising is also an important issue for Nevers to address. He plans to have an aggressive Christmas Kettle campaign this year, but he also faces the problem that Target department stores have withdrawn their permission for bell-ringing Army volunteers to use their locations. The Targets in Morrow and in Fayetteville were the two most profitable locations for the kettle drive, Nevers said.
Still, he has set the goal for this year's drive at $100,000, a 50-percent increase over last year.
"I'm going to try to do that in spite of having lost the number one and number two locations," Nevers said.
And Nevers has one more goal.
"I want to leave here with the longest tenure of any post commander."
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