New Norwich Salvation Army commander getting to know the community

Lt. Cheryl R. McCollum, the newly appointed Commander of the Salvation Army Norwich Corps., is seen Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, inside the Gospel Foundation of New England Church on Franklin Street in Norwich. The Salvation Army is utilizing the facility on a temporary basis until the fire damage that occurred in its Main Street headquarters has been repaired. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Lt. Cheryl R. McCollum, the newly appointed Commander of the Salvation Army Norwich Corps., is seen Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, inside the Gospel Foundation of New England Church on Franklin Street in Norwich. The Salvation Army is utilizing the facility on a temporary basis until the fire damage that occurred in its Main Street headquarters has been repaired. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Norwich — Lt. Cheryl McCollum didn't have the luxury of easing into her new position as commander of the Norwich Salvation Army.

The Hartford native, who trained as a cadet in 2014 under former Norwich commanders Capts. Jerry and Mindy Uttley, arrived at her post Wednesday. Almost immediately she was greeted by an official from the United Way doing a routine inspection of programs that receive funding.

An hour or so later, a 94-year-old regular client walked through the front door to ask for a bag of groceries from the food pantry. After a few minutes of searching through a crammed filing cabinet, McCollum couldn't find his file. She brought him to the small corner food pantry and offered peanut butter, pasta, applesauce and other items. She apologized for not having any fresh bread.

“Can I trade for that box of cereal?” he asked. She complied.

“You look like a nice lady,” he said and then walked toward the exit. Malik Wright, McCollum's 22-year-old son who moved to Norwich with her, escorted the man to the door and offered a hand. The man declined. “I'll be back next month,” he called out, waving goodbye.

“A few clients have been coming in,” McCollum said. “The office was closed for a few days, so people are coming in now.”

The Norwich Salvation Army serves about 125 families per month in its regular programs, including the food pantry and financial assistance. The agency serves Norwich, Griswold and Preston.

The Uttleys were transferred to Salvation Army positions in Rochester, N.Y., last week, and McCollum was transferred from a position in the Providence unit to Norwich. Her three children, Malik, Khalil Wright, 21, and Mekhi Wright, 13, moved with her to Norwich. Her elder sons will volunteer at Salvation Army as they look for work in the area. Malik said he would like to enroll at Three Rivers Community College to study social work and later psychology.

“I'm just blessed to be back in Norwich,” McCollum said. “I really learned a lot last time I was here, just watching the community rally around the Army.”

McCollum was a Salvation Army cadet at the Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y., when she was assigned to Norwich for a month in December 2014 to assist the Uttleys in the aftermath of a fire that caused serious damage at the Salvation Army building at 162 Main St., Norwich. She became a Salvation Army officer in June 2015 and has worked at the Providence Salvation Army Citadel Corps. for the past two years.

The Norwich Salvation Army still is operating out of temporary headquarters at the Gospel Foundation of New England Church at 169 Franklin St. McCollum will preach and lead her first worship service there at 10 a.m. this Sunday. She will be installed officially as Norwich commander at an upcoming service not yet scheduled, she said.

McCollum, 44, described herself as a hands-on, grass-roots person very much interested in community service. She looks forward to being active in the PTO at her youngest son's school and is compiling a list of community leaders she wants to meet, with Mayor Deberey Hinchey and St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen Executive Director Jillian Corbin among them.

And she has the Uttleys' phone number on her speed-dial list. The Uttleys were in Norwich for five years.

“I think it was an easier transition for them knowing I would be here, someone already familiar with the community,” McCollum said.

McCollum said she will spend the first month learning about her new community. She hopes to promote youth services and a youth music group and already has had a call from a woman interested in the agency's women's fellowship program. There's also a men's fellowship group.

She also hopes to expand the limited food pantry hours in the future.

She would love to reopen the Main Street building, but doesn't know the plans yet for the building. Roof repairs and some painting has been done there in recent months, but the building has been shuttered since the fire.

The Norwich Salvation Army office currently is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

McCollum also is looking for volunteers to assist with programs and community outreach. For more information about the programs or to meet the new commander, contact McCollum at (860) 889-2329 or by email at Cheryl.McCollum@use.salvationarmy.org.

c.bessette@theday.com

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