The Salvation Army began its work in Nashville on June 20, 1890, when five Salvation Army officers, two women and three men, established the first “Corps” or Salvation Army churches. These were located on Woodland Street and Jefferson Street. Within the next few years, The Salvation Army began several social service programs including women’s shelters, a Workingman’s Home, an Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center, and community and recreational centers.
During the First World War, Nashville Salvation Army personnel found themselves serving American troops overseas. Though they had very little equipment, three Salvation Army women came up with the idea of using their supplies of flour, sugar and shortening to make donuts and greet the troops returning from battle with hot coffee and donuts. The “Donut Girls” were a big success, and coffee and donuts have been identified with Salvation Army ever since.
As the Army’s ministries grew in Nashville, community leaders came to appreciate the importance of its services. In 1919 a group of business and professional leaders began a campaign to raise $79,000 to build a headquarters for Salvation Army operations. Salvation Army “Donut Girls” helped raise $10,000 for the new building by selling their now famous donuts on Nashville street corners. The community wholeheartedly supported the campaign, and the average donation given for a donut was reported to be $5.00. One generous donor bought a donut for $100! The new building at 140 Fourth Avenue was home to the Army until 1961, when its operations moved to a larger facility on Demonbreun Street.
In 1940, The Salvation Army opened the new Red Shield Community Center on Stockell Street in northeast Nashville. A center with limited facilities had operated her for some time, but a bequest from the late Col. William Magness made it possible to build a large well-equipped center. Here the Army provided youth and adult recreation and fellowship programs. A generous gift from the Justin and Valerie Potter Foundation helped enlarge the center, which became known as the Magness-Potter Community Center. In 1952, Milt Servais became the Executive Director of Magness-Potter, and for 33 years mentored and guided thousands of youth through its programs. The Magness-Potter gymnasium is named in his honor.
During the period between World War II and 2000, The Salvation Army also expanded and firmly established its Worship and Assistance Centers or “Corps” to meet the spiritual needs of the community. These centers, lead by Salvation Army officers who are ordained ministers, designed their programs to meet the needs of those they served. Currently there are three Worship and Assistance Centers. A Laotian Corps, lead by Thai-speaking officers serves recent immigrants from Southeast Asia. With the increase in immigration from Central America, The Salvation Army established a Hispanic Corps in Nashville in 1999. Citadel Corps serves the Madison area.
In the 1980’s, the Army purchased the former Labor Temple and relocated its administrative headquarters from Demonbreun Street to 631 Dickerson Road. The Area Social Services Command, as the new facility is known, currently houses the Residential Life Skills Learning Center, a transitional housing program for homeless families and single women and men, Disaster Services and administrative offices.
In 1998, services were again expanded when Magness-Potter Community Center on Stockell Street was renovated to accommodate the new Red Shield Family Initiative (RSFI). This “ social services mall” was an innovative collaboration of over twenty public and private social service providers that made many crucial services easily accessible in one convenient location. RSFI’s mission was to “assist at-risk families in lifting themselves from crisis to stability and sustainable independence.”
In 2000, The Salvation Army was designated as a United Way lead agency and the Red Shield Family Initiative became The Salvation Army Northeast Family Resource Center. Its services and network of strategic partnerships continue to expand to better serve families in northeast Nashville. In the role of Family Resource Center, The Salvation Army played a pivotal part in helping relocate and stabilize the 480+ families in Nashville’s Sam Levy Homes when that 1950’s housing development was demolished and redeveloped through a Federal HOPE VI grant in 2004