MILTON — During her first winter serving her initial assignment as a Salvation Army officer, Lt. Jennifer Burke encountered a bit of a problem when a major snowstorm blanketed the area.
“I never used a snow blower,” she recalled. “It was a huge snowstorm and I started shoveling.”
Two neighbors saw Burke struggling to move the snow and asked why she wasn’t using a blower.
She told the neighbors that her blower wasn’t working. However, the three soon found a second snow blower at the Salvation Army headquarters.
The two neighbors helped Burke get the blower running. That same scenario played out again during another storm.
“The snow blower wouldn’t start,” she recalled. “Someone driving by stopped and helped.”
Burke believes the willingness of neighbors and strangers alike to lend a helping hand best exemplifies the spirit of the Milton community.
She will miss that spirit. After three years serving in the community, Burke’s last Sunday service in Milton will be June 30. She’s being transferred to a Salvation Army divisional headquarters in Union, N.J., where she will work as a finance officer.
The next Salvation Army officer or officers who will serve the Milton community will be announced June 16.
“I’m going to miss the people (in Milton),” Burke said. “People just come in to chat and tell me about their lives. I will miss that friendship.”
Burke was assigned to Milton right after completing the Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y.
“I wasn’t expecting to be sent here myself,” Burke said. “There’s usually a married couple or two single officers (assigned to a location)... I think I’ve done an OK job of stepping up.”
She credits the Milton Salvation Army’s advisory board, as well as the community at large, with assisting in her growth throughout her first assignment as an officer.
“This community is awesome,” Burke said. “I love the small-town feel and friendliness. I never felt like an outsider. I instantly felt accepted and loved.”
Originally from Long Island, Burke noted that her assignment in Milton marked the first time she had lived outside of New York state.
“It was a scary situation to come into,” she said. “It was an easy transition.
“Our advisory board has been instrumental in my growth here,” Burke continued. “They have come alongside me and helped me. That has always been encouraging to me.”
She noted that not all Salvation Army chapters have advisory boards, particularly ones which are as involved as the Milton chapter’s.
“I wear so many hats, I can’t always be everywhere,” Burke said, adding that board members have always stepped up to assist in those situations.
Burke said she’s learned a lot of valuable lessons about serving as a Salvation Army officer as a result of her time in Milton.
“I had this idea that I was going to get to Milton and do non-stop ministry,” she said. “There’s a whole other business side that took up a lot of my time.
“I’ve learned to take a step away from what needs to be done to focus on what’s most important.”
The spiritual growth of her congregation members have made Burke most proud during her time in Milton.
“They’ve learned more about themselves and their relationship with God,” Burke said, of the Salvation Army congregates.
“When I first came here, I would be doing a Sunday school lesson and ask a question, but there would be no response,” she said. “Now, they have four verses memorized that they recite every service.”
Burke has noticed a similar growth in the children who attend programming and services at the Milton Salvation Army.
“I’m able to see the growth in them, and learning the Bible lessons,” she said. “I consider that to be the greatest thing God has done through me.”
In her new position, Burke will be closer to home. It’s about a four-hour drive from Milton to Long Island.
The location she’ll be based at in New Jersey is just over one hour from where her family lives.
“My family is very happy about that,” she noted.
While she is interested to learn more about the Salvation Army finances and business practices through her new role, Burke noted there are other perks to the job.
“I will be able to work with different Salvation Army chapters in New Jersey and support those officers,” she said.
Burke does have words of advice to future officers who will be serving in Milton.
“Be visible in the community,” she said. “Being out there talking to people and being seen is a big thing in this community. People like to see that.”
Burke would also like to see continued growth in the chapter. Throughout her time in Milton, she had hoped to start a program which would offer financial counseling to those who are struggling.
She is offering thanks to those who have assisted her over the last three years.
“Thank you for your support, your hospitality,” she said. “I hope my replacements experience the same support and hospitality I did.”
Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email email@example.com.