After four years of serving Nevada County’s homeless and others in need, the Salvation Army’s Majors Don and Martha Sheppard are moving on to a new assignment in Tacoma, Wash.
“The homeless population and low-income families are going to sorely miss them — I am going to miss them,” said Michele Violett, a senior administrative analyst at Nevada County’s behavioral health department.
“When they saw something that needed to be done, they did it,” Violett said. “It is a rare individual that can do that, and they did it.”
Even before the Sheppards arrived in Nevada County in 2009 from Pendleton, Ore., Violett said the couple worked on plans for services ahead of their arrival.
“Before they even got here, they were preparing to make a difference in our county,” she said. “They came into the county and hit the ground running.”
One of their first endeavors was to fill an unexpected gap and stepped in to act as the fiscal agent of a government Homeless Prevention Rapid Rehousing grant for Hospitality House and other organizations, said Cindy Maple, executive director of Hospitality House.
“I don’t think (Martha) was in town for more than a week when she agreed to be the lead agency on that,” Maple said.
Today, Hospitality House has taken over that grant as the lead agency, as it has grown to become the county’s leading homeless services organization, on the brink of opening the county’s first permanent homeless shelter in August. But as the Hospitality House agency budded, the Sheppards could be found helping along the way.
“It’s going to be a huge loss for our county,” Maple said. “From the day (Martha Sheppard) showed up here, she was a breath of fresh air. She’s been an amazing partner for me personally and for Hospitality House.”
Before Pendleton and Grass Valley, the Sheppards were stationed in two Colorado locations since they first joined the Salvation Army as officers in 1994, Martha Sheppard said.
“Every place we go, we learn something,” she said. “When we moved here, it shocked us because it was out of the blue. But it has been an absolutely wonderful community, it’s been the best thing that happened to us.”
During their years here, the Sheppards have expanded services, including operation of the Booth Family Shelter; developed a homeless service information network to coordinate area agencies; ensured children have gifts for Christmas and coordinated cold weather shelters, among a long list of other endeavors.
“Even when the big organization said no, (Martha) took the time to convince them,” Violett said. “She wasn’t one to take ‘no’ very easily.”
In addition to building up a team of dedicated workers at the Salvation Army who are advised by a handful of newly recruited directors for the agency’s board, Sheppard touted her husband’s work to grow the number of Salvation Army’s volunteers who ring bells outside stores during the winter holidays next to their iconic red kettles.
“(Don) made it a personal project to get to know all the bell-ringers,” she said. “His biggest impact would be on those workers that ring bells, because we deal with them all year long. He was really caring toward all of them.”
Funds from the annual campaign provide Christmas dinners, clothing and toys for families in need, according to the Salvation Army’s website. Funds also help with basic necessities, along with seasonal aid. Families of prisoners often are included.
The Sheppards have also coordinated the Senior Housing and Resources for the Elderly housing program, as well as actively supported the Sierra Roots Program to serve homeless veterans, Nevada and Placer counties’ Continuum of Care to End Homelessness and the Gentle Smiles Dental Clinic, noted the Nevada County’s Health & Human Services agency as its administrators presented the couple with the Community Organization of the Year award.
“This organization’s commitment to serving the less fortunate in our community and strengthening our local families is truly exemplary,” wrote Jeff Brown, Nevada County’s Health and Human Services Agency director, in the October 2012 announcement of that award.
“It was a good thing for the staff to get last year. It was nice to get recognized for all their work, even though that’s not why they do it,” Martha Sheppard said.
As the Sheppards head to Washington, they will be replaced by Sidney and Reyna Salcido, a young newlywed couple, freshly ordained by the Salvation Army in the last few weeks, Sheppard said.
“At first, I was a little worried, just because we were very involved in the community for so long,” Sheppard said.
“But I really like them. I think they will be very good replacements.”
Sheppard said she and her husband are looking forward to operating the Tacoma Salvation Army at its 16-unit transitional housing structure.
“We’ve been officers long enough that wherever we go, we’ll know what to do,” Sheppard said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.