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Shared passion for helping others brings couple to Roswell

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If Cpt. Niki Woollin realizes her fondest hope, she and her husband, Cpt. Jonathan Woollin, will be so successful as the new corps officers for the local Salvation Army that they won’t be needed.

“Our goal is really to work ourselves out of a job,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if people didn’t need assistance? Now I don’t think we will ever come to a time and place where that’s the case, but that is the goal.”

Then she talks about something a volunteer at her last assignment in Bellingham, Washington, told her about a woman who dropped some change in one of the red kettles that Salvation Army puts out for donations in front of stores and businesses during the Christmas season.

“She said, ‘Every year I’ve had to go to the Salvation Army for toys for my kids, and this is the first year I don’t and here’s my change,’” Woollin recalled as she became teary-eyed. “That’s the goal, to help people get up on their feet again and live a life where they can be self-sufficient.”

The Woollins and their two cats (Hope and Eleanor) have been in Roswell about four weeks now, having replaced Captains Amber and Joe West, who were reassigned to Colorado in June.

The Salvation Army Southwest Divisional leaders discuss appointments every year, according to a divisional headquarters officer, with several factors taken into consideration when making a selection. The final choice is made by a territorial commander in Southern California. Assignments come with no minimum or maximum years of service.

“They consider what their past appointment was, successes and skill set,” said Maj. David Yardley, general secretary for the Salvation Army Southwest Divisional Headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. “Also it could be based on their desire to come to a warmer climate, if that is a need for health, so there are several factors that are in that. … A lot of prayer is involved when there are changes and a lot of communication, so that we make sure we have the right (people) in place.”

The Woollins say they are excited to be in Roswell and are grateful for how welcoming and friendly people have been to them.

“The biggest adjustment is the heat,” said Niki. “A little bit different than Washington.”

Previously they spent three years in Bellingham (2016-19): two years in Longview, Washington (2014-16); and two years in Bozeman, Montana (2012-14).

But their journey to Roswell also comes via Australia, Jonathan’s native land and where they both went through officer training.

“At about 15, my family decided to start attending the church, the Salvation Army church, and we enjoyed it and we became soldiers in the church,” Jonathan said. “Then I did a discipleship program to become a youth pastor, and this very cute American came across the very same program. And I was going to make a joke about how then I met Niki as well, but I guess I better not.”

Niki, a native of Washington state, started attending the Salvation Army church with her family when she was about 11 years old. “When I was 16, I felt called by God to become a Salvation Army officer,” she said, which then led her to the Australian program.

The two married “relatively quickly,” which they say with a laugh, since they were husband and wife within three months of their first date in 2009. They entered the Salvation Army training and educational program, which includes an associate’s degree, to become corps officers in 2010, finishing in 2012. That began what they intend to be a lifelong commitment to the corps.

While their hobbies include computer games for him and scrapbooks for her, as well as relaxing vacations, they expect to spend most of their time working with about 50 local volunteers on the Salvation Army programs, which include Sunday church services, a Wednesday youth program during the fall, a food bank, emergency assistance, a thrift store and a transitional living house. The Woollins are now seeking to coordinate services for the transitional house with the Adult Rehabilitation Program in Albuquerque. Jonathan will head up programming, events and church services, while Niki will handle the administrative tasks.

They also will hold the fundraisers for the organization, which this year will include two new ones, an Aug. 3 “Stuff the Bus” school supplies donation drive at Walmart and a November “kettle kick-off” dinner to supplement the Christmas season donations at the red kettles.

They said each assignment they have worked at has come with different priorities. In Bellingham, Niki Woollin said, affordable childcare was the most pressing concern.

“Here the need is so obviously food and we do so much of it. It is a vital part of what we do,” she said. “Ensuring senior citizens receive food is a large part of the food bank’s mission.”

Although the organization is Christian-based, they stress that services are for anyone in need, regardless of beliefs.

“While we do it because we believe in Jesus, we believe that you don’t discriminate against people if they don’t,” Niki explained. “Anyone is welcome to our food bank. I think it is reassuring to know that we are helping people who need it.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.