Learning about Rome and meeting the needs of the community are goals Lieutenants Scott and Tabitha Swires have taken head-on as the newly named co-commanding officers of Rome Salvation Army, 410 W. Dominick St.
The Swires recently arrived from their first assignment in the Bay Bridge neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City; Rome is the couple’s second assignment. They served in Brooklyn for three years before being reassigned here.
Scott and Tabitha have four small children who were excited to come live in a place where they could roam and play outdoors.
“One thing the kids have said is, ‘We have a yard now, and all we had in New York was concrete,’” said Stacey Davis, director of marketing and External Communications, Empire State Division of the Salvation Army.
Scott Swires said so far Rome reminds him of the small community where he grew up in Pennsylvania and is excited to bring his family to a place that is growing and transitioning right along with them.
“We love this beautiful area,” he said. “It’s amazing how vast it is. The first thing we want to do is try to get to know the community. You can always get a sense of the community by reading about the demographics, but we would rather visit people. We’ve been looking through the neighborhoods and we notice all the redevelopment going on and it seems exciting to be coming to Rome now because so much is going on. We want to learn about the future and where the community is heading, as we’re transitioning as a family...And we’re coming along as Rome is going through this huge transition.”
Scott said before joining the Salvation Army, he had previously worked for Apple as part of its Genius Department and the love for technology has stuck with him. While the Swires now live across a corn field, Scott said he’s excited to see all the technological businesses and opportunities growing around him in his new
community, but also appreciates the natural surroundings.
“I love the outdoors and going to parks, and we like fishing, hiking and camping, and yet I have a heart for technology,” said Scott. “It’s rare to move into a space and it be so much of yourself.”
As the Swires have delved into learning more about their neighbors and how best they can serve the community through the Salvation Army, Scott said the couple has noticed a “separation between economic classes — there seems like there’s not much in the middle.”
“Our programs are always flexible and we always say we do things for and by the love of Jesus, and what is the best way we can love this community and fill the gap,” Scott said.
The Swires are currently restructuring the Salvation Army building at 410 W. Dominick St. in order to offer innovative programming that would serve a wide demographic of community members. They plan to offer a youth development program as well as a program for young adults that would assist them in finding work and maintaining a household budget.
As for those involved in Salvation Army development programming, “We don’t just tell them about the goodness of God, but how we live that out in practical ways, like feeling pride for having and making a living, and being able to support your family and loved ones,” Scott said.
Tabitha compared coming to a new community to working with a blank slate, as to learning the heartbeat of the area and how best she and her husband can serve.
“It’s easy for us to say we have these dreams, goals and visions, and that we’re passionate about God and people, so the fun part is taking your time and putting on the brakes a little bit, and getting to go around and hear people’s stories,” she said. “We love taking walks and going to local spots everyone loves, and just hearing people’s stories. Yesterday I went to a coffee shop and grabbed stories from the barista and a man in line behind me — where they’re at and where they come from. We can learn so much and see where we can fit in, and what the community needs, rather that what we think the community needs.”
Scott said he was scheduled to meet with the Rome Salvation Army Advisory Board for the first time Friday where he would learn even more about Rome — its past, present and future.
“We’re so glad to have those people in our lives and work,” he said. “It’s hard for us to know everything about a community” when we first arrive, “and the board helps us step into that so we can say why we were sent here for this time.”
Tabitha said she and her husband hope to eventually have a full-time social worker or case worker on site to assist in helping them first find the practical needs of those they serve, and then provide long-term care.
“We want to start by meeting their practical needs with our food pantry, and then we hope to journey further on with our clients,” Tabitha said. “We’re hoping to get a social worker into the Rome facility full-time so they can do the Pathway of Hope program, which is a continuation of that service,” which provides life skills to help people escape poverty.
“Then we want to find out why are you experiencing food insecurity right now, or if it’s homelessness, how can we further help you?,” she continued. “You need to fill that first need with food and clothing, then we can figure out where you can work, or can we help you fill out a job application, search for jobs, help you get into an apartment?”
“...And even how to create a budget so they can learn to live within their means,” Scott added. “We want to know what did happen to get you here and what is the next step to relieve this, and then the next step to be fully sufficient. Sometimes people don’t know how to take that next step or the step after.”
It will also be the role of the Salvation Army, the Swires said, to provide spiritual care for the community by presenting to them Jesus and the Gospel, as well as church services available at the Salvation Army building every Sunday.
“So once people get to that place and have their basic needs cared for, maybe they’ll be interested in their spiritual care and health,” Tabitha said.
The couple preaches every Sunday, with Scott playing the guitar and Tabitha the ukulele during popular hymns.
“Once they hear a hymn on the ukulele, they definitely won’t forget that,” Tabitha laughed, adding that it’s a unique, but fun instrument to play.
Scott said the Salvation Army also hosts men’s and women’s group meetings every other week, with hopes they’ll move to being held every week. There will also be youth development activities within the church, as well as for young adults where people can learn about good spiritual practices.
“We have this beautiful gym and we’re learning form the community now what used to go on here, or what they hope to see happen with this property on social media,” Scott said. “We’re inviting people in because we really do believe it’s a place for people to gather and meet, release some stress and maybe even find a new skill — we want to look at how we can meet these needs. We’re opening up to see what the heart of Rome is.”
Both technologically savvy, the Swires plan to expand on their experiences with digital fund-raising, as well as keeping community members informed of everything going on a Rome Salvation Army through social media, to include Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
For more information about Rome Salvation Army, check out their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/RomeSalvationArmy.