When Sheavaun Malone was 11, her best friend invited her to summer vacation Bible school at the Salvation Army in Kenai, Alaska. That summer changed her life.
Malone’s grandparents had migrated from Bakersfield, Calif., to Alaska decades earlier in search of jobs, and her own parents eventually settled in Kenai, a peninsula town of 7,000 about 150 miles south of Anchorage.
The Kenai River, known for its King salmon, runs through the town. The economic mainstays include oil and gas, commercial fishing and tourism. And oh, yes: The town has two Salvation Army centers and one Salvation Army thrift store.
The summer school that Malone first went to offered Bible lessons, songs, crafts and an opportunity to hear the Gospel, to “get involved in the church and become a part of something.”
The Kenai Salvation Army “folks really helped me to feel that I belonged, that I was important to them,” Malone says. “Not that my home life was horrendous. But I had a lot of fun there, and they had great programs that spoke to my heart.”
Malone’s father represented the Kenai district in the Alaska legislature; when it was in session, she went with him to Juneau, the state capital, and picked up new games and activities at the Salvation Army center there, which she took back to Kenai.
In high school, Malone considered pursuing a teaching career. “I have always enjoyed working with young people. But the older I got, the more I realized what God wanted me to do was get involved with the Salvation Army full time.”
Malone skipped college to work in youth programs at the Salvation Army’s Anchorage regional office. Eventually, she entered a Salvation Army seminary in California and became an ordained pastor.
Today, Capt. Sheavaun Malone, 41, is youth secretary of the Del Oro Division of the Salvation Army, based in Sacramento, Calif., where she oversees youth programs for a large portion of Northern California and Nevada. Her division supports 29 Salvation Army churches with a strong social service ministry – “not just physical assistance, but spiritual help as well.”
Malone held the same position in San Diego for six years.
“The most memorable things,” she says, “are when I have an opportunity to come alongside a young person and see their lives change and develop, to see how they grow in leadership.”