Going from Georgia to West Texas might sound like a major transition for some people.
For starters, there’s the change in climate, topography and etc, going from a forestry setting to the desert.
However, Luis and Laura Melendez are no strangers to the Lone Star State, having served with the Salvation Army as Corps Officers and pastors in Houston, Lufkin, Dallas and McAllen in the past.
Now, their journey has taken them to their new position as the couple takes command of the Salvation Army in Odessa as the new officers.
They replace Captains Juan and Clara Gomez who received a new appointment in Texarkana.
Luis and Laura began their command in Odessa last month on June 22 and the two have been spending time getting acclimated with the area.
The Melendezes are coming in from having served at the Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta, Ga. as training officers.
“Right off the bat, I’m not going to say it’s a cultural shock but the temperature is a little bit different,” Luis said. “We were also in a forestry area with a lot of green. But thankfully, we’ve had a lot of rain out here in the west and we got to see Odessa with a little bit of green. Apart from that, it’s different but we have served with the Salvation Army in Houston and Lufkin and Dallas and McAllen so I’m used to Texas.”
For Laura, it also feels good to be back in Texas as she highlighted some of the major differences between Odessa (population of 129,928) and Atlanta (population of 488,800).
“The people are friendly,” Laura said. “We don’t have (much) traffic. It’s much smaller (in Odessa). We’re happy out here.”
The weather may be another glaring difference between West Texas and Georgia with the humidity much stronger in Atlanta.
However, with all the recent rain that the Permian Basin has received in the last couple of weeks, the Melendezes haven’t felt too much of a culture shock just yet.
“It has been interesting,” Laura said. “The weather has been great. That’s a plus. There has been a lot of rain. I’ve noticed there was a lot of flooding in the area. We’ve been busy getting to know our church members and the congregation.”
Regardless of where they serve, both Luis and Laura know the object of their mission is always going to be the same.
“Helping the community and helping those in need,” Laura said. “We’re trying to do our best to help the community.”
Luis and Laura were in Atlanta for four years.
“I don’t know the term that we’ll serve here but as long as the Salvation Army and the community needs us, hopefully we’ll be serving those in need,” Luis said.
The couple have worked with The Salvation Army since 1999.
After a pro-tem appointment in Dallas, they served in Kingston, Jamaica at The Salvation Army Caribbean Territorial Training College as Training Officers.
Luis and Laura were in Jamaica from 2011-13.
“It was unique in the fact that the Caribbean is composed of 16 different countries,” Luis said. “They come to the training college in Jamaica from Haiti and The Bahamas and Barbados and etc. There are different currencies but the main language we teach is in English. To have that group of young men and women being trained and us being foreigners was a unique experience. The food is very vegetarian. The resources are limited. But if you like island life and heat, then that’s the place.”
Luis says that one of the challenges with The Salvation Army will always be donations.
“We have a thrift store so please give,” Luis said. “Make sure your donations are re-sellable and useful like something you would give to a loved one and not something that we would have to throw out. That would become an expenditure. Donations are really appreciative. Monetary donations are great. We appreciate the help of the community. We do have a shelter that’s under repairs right now but we’re hopeful that it will reopen soon.”
Another major challenge is the number of volunteers.
“Right now, we need volunteers,” Laura said. “Right now that is a challenge because we have a warehouse to cleanup before Christmas and we’ll need volunteers for Christmas. Establishing volunteers is a challenging part right now.”
Currently, the Melendezes said the main volunteers at the Odessa Salvation Army comprises of people from their church.
“We don’t have too many,” Laura said. “Not more than five. We need young people. We need them to help us with the warehouse during Christmas and at the thrift store.”
The Odessa Salvation Army is located on 810 E. 11th street. The best way to volunteer is to call the office at 432-332-0738.
Before joining The Salvation Army, Luis and Laura worked for corporate America at Bealls Distribution Center and at Tropicana Corporate Offices in Bradenton, Fla.
Having served in Texas for a number of times, both Luis and Laura know that the state is filled with generous people.
“Texans like to volunteer,” Luis said. “Texas is a great state. The other places that we’ve been were Jamaica and Atlanta. Aside from those two, all our appointments have been with the folks in Texas. We love it. We don’t mind the hot weather. You guys are wonderful. As far as challenges, like any other organization, there’s going to be dry months but don’t wait for Christmas to give. You can give at any opportunity.”