The Pine Bluff Corps of the Salvation Army has a new face in the persons of Captain David Leonard and his wife, Major Geraldine Leonard, who arrived from Sheridan, Wyoming one month ago.
The Leonards succeed Captains David and Joanna Robinson, who were transferred to Conway last month after four years in Pine Bluff.
“We want to acknowledge the tremendous job done by David and Joanna Robinson,” David Leonard said Thursday afternoon. “This was without a doubt the smoothest transition to a new Corps that we have ever experienced and that is due to the job done here by the Robinsons. In order to be good stewards we feel that we should begin to build upon what David and Joanna gave us.”
The Leonards are off to a fast start in their first few weeks on the job.
“I arrived June 19 and while we were supposed to take a few days to settle in I was in the office June 21,” David Leonard said. “I felt like a kid waiting to get into Disneyland. I just couldn’t wait to get in and get started here. We started out by visiting the different properties and getting a quick rundown on the various programs here.”
Bringing back the gym
Leonard said that their first big project is the return of the Corps’ gymnasium to its former status as a fully functioning athletic resource.
“We hope that one year from now when school gets out for the summer we will have a beautiful basketball court and fully operational cooling units ready to welcome this area’s young people,” Leonard said. “We would like to bring in an athletic director who will work with us to create volleyball and basketball teams. This will provide a service to at-risk youth. We will also look at renting out the space for teams to practice and generate funds for our work.”
Leonard said that it is easiest to raise funds when a definite goal is presented.
“The good news is that we don’t have to do a whole lot to get to where we need to be,” Leonard said. “People fall more into place with a definite vision instead of hearing a general appeal for funds. We don’t want to waste this facility as a very valuable asset to our community. We are doing this because it fills a need.”
Leonard said that he would also like to see boxing offered as a community activity.
“We have had success with boxing programs in the past,” Leonard said.
Returning the gym to its former glory is also a component of the Leonards’ plan.
“People have told me that years ago this facility was just full of kids participating in sporting events,” Leonard said. “We want to return this space to that important mission.”
Geraldine Leonard said that she has begun to implement new leadership programs for young people.
“I wanted to help the kids who are coming to see us to learn leadership skills,” Leonard said. “So I broke them up into teams and tasked each one of them with being the leader of their team for one month. They take it very seriously. We are also teaching them budgeting skills through a program where we take them to the thrift store. We teach them about smart shopping and we give them a certain amount of funding to make smart purchases. It also allows them to get some nice clothes.”
Leonard said that she and her husband are working to build up the Corps’ version of scouting programs for youth.
“We have the Explorers for the younger boys and the Rangers for the older ones,” Leonard said. “The younger girls have the Sunbeams and the older girls are in the Girl Guards. They earn badges for completing various skill sets much like in the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts.”
David Leonard said that he is working with staff to make several repairs to the facility.
“We are repainting the front of the headquarters building,” Leonard said. “We are going to replace the gutter downspouts and do several other repairs to improve the condition of the building.”
David Leonard said he has several ideas for how best to utilize the Corps’ older model disaster response van.
‘When we were officially installed here our director asked me what we wanted to do with the older vehicle since the Corps had received the new van last year,” Leonard said. “I asked if it would be all right to keep it here and he said that it was. I can envision using it as a mobile feeding station and/or a mobile hydration station that can go out to some of the outlying low-income apartment complexes and provide a meal to the elderly and others.
The Leonards were stationed in Sheridan, Wyo., before their arrival in Pine Bluff but that is not to say that either of them is a native of the far north.
“I actually grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Parkview High School,” David Leonard said. “I went to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for one year. So when I heard that we would be coming to Arkansas I was extremely excited.”
“I grew up in San Antonio and San Angelo, Texas, and was stationed in Mississippi and Georgia while serving with the Corps so this is coming home for me as well,” Geraldine Leonard said.
Neither of them seems to regret leaving the extreme cold and snow of northern Wyoming behind.
“I rang the bell for the Red Kettle program in minus-13 degree weather,” Geraldine Leonard said. “We both checked when we learned we were going to Pine Bluff and were so excited when we saw that you get very little snow here.”
The Leonards married in 2005 but their history goes back quite a bit further than that.
“We knew each other for 30 years before we got married,” David Leonard said.
“I tell her that I wore her down,” he laughed.