by John Marshall
I was invited to attend the dedication of The Salvation Army’s new Johnson County Family Lodge in Olathe, Kan. Our firm was hired by the Olathe Corps (church) to raise the $2.2 million needed to build this beautiful, 14-unit shelter, and I was tapped to serve as the consultant throughout the 18-month campaign. The money was raised on time and, as is the Army’s policy, construction didn’t start until all the funds were secured. (Not a bad policy, actually.) And, now there’s a wonderful “safe harbor” in Olathe open to those in need who otherwise might be living in cars or worse.
I’ve been to several Army building dedications over the years and wasn’t surprised with the order of the service printed in the program: welcome, prayer, three speakers, musical selection, scripture, closing song, benediction. It was pretty standard and predictable.
That is until the musical selection was announced; 7-year-old “D.J.” was to be the special vocalist singing “Everyone Deserves a Home” from the musical Hansel and Gretel.
“How cute,” I thought until D.J. began singing in the most beautiful voice and manner that had half the audience wiping tears from their eyes. I was simply blown away. It was by far the highlight of the program and touched me in a very real way.
After the service I walked up to D.J., stuck out my hand and said, “Great job, son.” He seemed to be in a hurry and barely stopped as he replied a short “Thanks.”
As I was leaving, I stopped to congratulate Olathe Corps Officer Major Mark Martsolf on a fine event and asked about D.J. He didn’t respond right away; during his hesitation I noticed his eyes began to well up with tears.
“John,” he said, “D.J. and his mother live in our shelter and are being helped to get back into a better situation within the community. It hasn’t been an easy go for them, in part because that sweet, energetic boy you heard is autistic.”
When the major shared that with me, my eyes, too, got damp as I was filled with an even greater degree of emotion.
I drove home that afternoon with a much stronger sense about what this new shelter was going to do—change lives for the better—and of the slight role I had played in its creation.
Later that night I thought about D.J., and let the tears flow.