The following is the Hodson Old Home Prize Essay presented by Arielle Johnston during Crisfield High School’s 2016 commencement held June 3 at the school. She is class of 2016 valedictorian.
* * *
Imagine leaving all your family and friends and moving four hours from home to a tightknit community where you are told that no outsiders ever truly fit in as locals. For those of you who do not know, this is exactly what my family did 15 years ago. We moved here when I was three years old, and my parents did not get cable TV to entertain us. It was an elderly neighbor lady who saw us playing outside and came to tell my mother about the activities provided by the Salvation Army.
From the time I was 5 or 6 years old, the Salvation Army has been a strong influence in shaping me into the athlete that I am today. Because most of the girls in the community did dance, and my mother wouldn’t let me dance, I spent my time playing soccer and basketball with the boys. Playing against some of my classmates such as Charlie, Dallas, Brucie, Daejon, Nate and Johnny is what made me the tough athlete that I am. Not only that, when my parents transferred me from the Crisfield Christian Academy to public school in fourth grade, teachers were amazed at how many children already knew who I was. Even though I was a “come here,” which we were told is the local term for outsiders, I personally have never felt like I wasn’t a part of this community, and that is due largely to the athletic programs sponsored by the Crisfield Salvation Army.
As you may know, it is Crisfield High’s tradition for the valedictorian to deliver a speech known as the “Hodson Old Home Prize Essay,” which requires the student to give a brief history about someone or something significant to the town of Crisfield. It is for this reason I chose to write my speech on the Crisfield Salvation Army because not only has it played an integral role in this community, but it has also played an integral role in my life.
Though many of you are probably quite familiar with the Salvation Army’s bell ringing that can be heard after thanksgiving all the way through Christmas, and also with the sports programs that the Salvation Army sponsors here in this community, you may not know how the Salvation Army was originally founded.
The Salvation Army was founded in England by a man who had a passion to reach the “poor and homeless” with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His name was William Booth. In 1852 Booth decided to take his ministry out of the churches’ four walls and into the streets. He wandered for many years preaching to the lost souls outside of the church. In 1865, Booth was invited to an “evangelical meeting” where he was heard by many people who shared his passion for the lost. From this point on Booth had gathered followers to join him in his cause to share the message of the Gospel. This troupe of believers began to call Booth “the General” and adopted for themselves names such as “Hallelujah Army” and “Volunteer Army.” However, Booth changed the name to Salvation Army in 1878 because this name better represented the purpose of his organization.
The Salvation Army was brought to the United States by a woman just a year after the organization had established its name. This idea of a group of volunteer devout believers whose goal was to help the poor spread like wildfire in the U.S. and eventually led to the formation of Salvation Army organizations in every state.
Though the Salvation Army organizations were sprouting up everywhere across the U.S. It was not until 1982, over a hundred years later, that Crisfield finally got an organization of their own. A group of local men approached the Salvation Army in Salisbury about starting a youth club in Crisfield. These men felt passionately about providing a positive, free environment where the young boys of the town could hang out. These men started a charter which took a year to complete, but eventually an old elementary school cafeteria was renovated to become the first location for the Crisfield Salvation Army.
The Crisfield Salvation Army remained at this site for nineteen years until Food Lion expressed their interest to make this lot their future Crisfield home. At this point the National Guard had relocated out of town leaving their armory vacant and available. The Crisfield Salvation Army sought permission from the city of Crisfield and moved into the vacant National Guard Armory.
The National Guard Armory seemed like a perfect new home for the Crisfield Salvation Army until mold became a pressing issue. The water damage from hurricane Sandy caused an unhealthy increase in mold spore growth that prevented the organization from hosting any activities for the youth in the summer. This factor caused the Crisfield Salvation Army to expand to the Woodrow T. Wilson center in order to provide an open gym area for the youth during the warmer months of the year, although they still play indoor sports at the Armory during the winter.
Though the main goal of the men who founded Crisfield’s Salvation Army was to provide a place for adolescents to hang out and avoid the trouble that usually comes when teenagers have nothing to do, the Salvation Army has greatly broadened its horizons, providing all sorts of leagues and programs for the children of Crisfield. Volunteers of the Crisfield Salvation Army have worked to provide numerous activities for lower income families here in our area. Whether they are providing food boxes at Christmas time, giving assistance during disasters, busing kids out of town for summer camps, the Crisfield Salvation Army has always been working hard to serve its community.
The Crisfield Salvation Army is involved in many services in Crisfield, but its priority has always been to provide the youth of the area with something to do. For many of my peers it was the Salvation Army that gave us our first start as athletes. We kicked our first soccer balls, scored our first goals, and won our first championships through the programs provided through the Crisfield Salvation Army. It is through these programs that we built friendships and found out we had a burning desire for victory.
In my four years here, Crisfield High has sent three teams to compete at the state level, and one to win a Bayside Championship. Every athlete on these teams started somewhere, and for the majority of them it was at programs made possible through the Crisfield Salvation Army.
Our success, athletically, as a high school is a direct product of the feeder programs that the Crisfield Salvation Army has provided. These programs give so many young kids opportunities to be active and provide a positive place for athletes to improve their skills. I know that the aggressive fire I have as an athlete comes from the years I spent playing soccer competing with the boys, the boys on this stage that you all now know as 2015 soccer state finalists.
In order to keep this success going, it is important that the Crisfield Salvation Army remain operating in our town. To continue providing a healthy atmosphere for the teens of this town, two things are required. First, the city and community as a whole must continue to provide financial support for this vital organization. Second, people must continue to volunteer their time. You have heard it said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For me and others on this stage, that “village” consisted of people like Phil Parks, the director, and volunteers such as George Taylor, Bruce Emely, Dean Goldsborough, Bob Evans, Steve Raab, and even my dad, Clayton Johnston, to name a few, who dedicated countless hours to give us these opportunities. For that I would like to thank each and every one of you. You made it possible for me to work hard and become who I am today. I attribute my success as an athlete, in part, to the countless hours you invested in my future.
In conclusion, to my class, I want to say that the outside world may never understand that sense of community that we have been fortunate to have here in Crisfield. And that sense of community is fostered by programs like the Crisfield Salvation Army that draw us together in positive ways. Phil Parks, the director of Crisfield Salvation Army, said that many of their volunteers are former players in the Salvation Army programs who return to give back to their community. As you leave Crisfield High, whether you travel far or stay close, remember that a piece of our community can be shared with the world when we invest in others and give back.
Arielle Johnston was Crisfield High School’s 2016 valedictorian.