Washougal Corps celebrates new building

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By Lora Marini Baker –

The Salvation Army Washougal (Washington) Corps recently celebrated two milestones: its 20th anniversary and the grand opening of its new building.

Back in the 1990s, when (then) Lt. Samantha Johnston received her appointment to the nearby Vancouver Corps, she had been tasked with helping identify a location for—and ultimately opening—another corps in Clark County. Located in the Northwest Division near the Washington/Oregon border, the county was large enough to accommodate another Salvation Army service and worship center. Johnston zeroed in on nearby Washougal, and in 1998, the Washougal Corps officially opened its doors.

Over the next two decades, however, the corps outgrew its facilities. Housed in a former Calvary Community Church and an adjacent old house, the corps, led by Johnston—now Envoy Wheeler—managed to provide social services and build a growing congregation despite significant space limitations.

About five years ago, the Northwest Division decided to rebuild the Eastside Corps, located in Bellevue, near Seattle. Its former building—five modular units—was dismantled and moved to Washougal, to expand the facilities there.

The old house—which had housed the corps’ social services—was torn down, and the modular units were reconfigured and renovated to meet the needs of the Washougal Corps. Eventually a new building opened late in 2017, and the church building received a facelift.

Special guests from Western Territorial Headquarters, Lt. Colonels Doug and Sheryl Tollerud, led the Feb. 24–25 grand opening festivities. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, more than 400 community members visited the new building for tours and carnival-themed games. On Saturday evening, Wheeler led worship and shared a video presentation of the building project. The Tolleruds dedicated the new building to God’s service and encouraged the Washougal Corps members to “Do The Most Good” with what God has given them.

In her Sunday morning message, Wheeler spoke about the importance of community. She recalled the 1990s TV sitcom “Cheers,” situated in a fictional bar where a group of misfits met regularly. In time, that group became “family.”

“Like Cheers, Washougal is a place for friends to gather, be ourselves, find love and acceptance,” she said. “A place where everybody knows your name—for the right reasons.”

During the Sunday service, Northwest Divisional Leaders Majors Bill and Lisa Dickinson installed nine new senior soldiers, six junior soldiers, and 15 adherents. Jonathan Wheeler, Samantha’s husband and longtime corps volunteer, was installed as an Envoy.

Throughout the weekend, the Northwest Divisional Band and Songsters and the Washougal Corps worship team provided music.

According to Wheeler, more and more people are coming in for services, and the additional space allows them to meet the need. Since the building opened in October, the corps has served about 550 clients each week, she said. That’s a 35 percent increase.

The new office building is more than 4,500 square feet, nearly three times the former space. New and expanded services include food pantry, hygiene center, kitchen, blessings room (free shoes, clothing and household items), fellowship hall, coffee lounge, Celebrate Recovery meetings, counseling and homeschool room, child care area, and offices for client meetings.

The corps’ staffing has expanded, too. Envoy Jonathan Wheeler is now a full-time co-director, Jessica Wheeler continues in the role of Corps Assistant, and longtime volunteer Kendra Taggart is now a full-time social services coordinator.

The celebratory weekend ended with a time capsule ceremony. The Wheelers buried the time capsule in a small garden behind the new building. The capsule contains Salvation Army memorabilia and notes and is expected to be reopened in another 10 years.

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