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Nonprofit Spotlight: ‘Big John’ and the Salvation Army

Article by Claudia Kittock, photos by Rick Kittock

Editor's note - This is the second in a series of articles spotlighting people who are involved with local nonprofits.

Life is interesting. I never dreamed the places this column would take me and the people I would meet because of it.  When Dave Tinjum urged me to ‘tell the stories’, I agreed, thinking I had only a few things to write about. The more I write, the more I find. The more fascinating people I meet, the more hope I have for the future. It is truly an honor to do this work and to be nudged into work that is a blessing in my life.

Last fall at a meeting of the Task Force to End Street Homelessness, I met John, the Activities Coordinator and Chaplain at Harbor Lights at the Salvation Army. John had organized a group of men from the Salvation Army to work at the Ryder Cup, and talked about the endless possibilities he had for the people at Harbor Lights. He was intriguing, and this week I sat down to talk with him and to hear his story.

Big John 

As I walked across the street to enter Harbor Lights, several men were standing outside the building. They asked if they could help me and when I told them I was looking for John, the Chaplain, they all nodded and said, “Oh, you mean BIG John!” and I was escorted inside where John was waiting.

John grew up in a troubled home, and had many arrests and incarcerations that began when he was a young teenager. He spent 23 years in prison, and was still a young man when he got out. John found himself in front of a church and went in to sit down and rest. A man, who turned out to be the pastor, approached him with his hand out, welcoming him. They talked, and the pastor noticed that John looked very tired and offered him a bed so that he could take a nap. When John woke up from his much needed nap, the pastor told him that he had talked with his wife, and John should feel free to stay there for as long as he needed.  John stayed for a year, got clean and sober, and began the process of healing his body and his soul.

A year later, John packed two suitcases, and with $35 in his pocket left for Minneapolis. He walked into the Salvation Army looking for help, and has been there in one capacity or another ever since that day. John worked security for 5 years, and then was offered the job of Activities Coordinator and Chaplain.           

In his capacity as Activities Director/Chaplain, John creates the monthly calendar of activities which range from prayer breakfasts to coffee chats to bingo to job fairs to trips to the library, and much more.  John leads a relapse prevention class and offers help and support to anyone who needs it. As someone who has ‘been there’, John has a seemingly unending supply of compassion and wisdom.

The Harbor Light Center, 1010 Currie Avenue, Minneapolis, is a safe place for people to stabilize their lives and begin the process of healing. They offer a wide range of basic needs and rehabilitation services to anyone in need, without discrimination. The shelter is Minnesota’s largest homeless adult outreach facility and includes a clinical treatment program for men working to beat chemical dependency.

Harbor Lights can house as many as 300 single men and women every night. There are dorms that house as many as 30 men, as well as spaces for women. People can stay for one night or as long as they need. Some nights, there are so many people who need a place to sleep that the chapel is opened for an additional 50 people. The need is great, and while compassion is apparent everywhere, there are things that need your help to happen.

How can you help?

• Volunteers are needed, particularly for serving meals.
• Check out the calendar of events at
• The Bell Ringing Campaign is the biggest fundraiser and is used to fund programs and pay salaries. This year’s campaign was $100,000 below the goal.  Please donate
• Learn more about the services offered at

The Salvation Army and “Big John” are integral parts of our community. People in need can find a hot meal, a bed, and a kind and compassionate heart waiting to listen and to offer assistance. This is important work, and we are a stronger community because of the work done there.

Claudia can be reached at

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