VIProfile: John Mitchell




By Lee Rennick

John Mitchell, Director of Development at the Salvation Army of Rutherford County, has worked in the nonprofit world for more than 20 years, as a District Executive with the Boy Scouts, as Chapter Executive Officer in Franklin for the Red Cross, as Director of Development for Middle Tennessee State University’s Jennings A. Jones College of Business, now as the Director of Development for the Salvation Army of Rutherford County. It is Mitchell who is in charge of getting all those bell ringers for their traditional Christmas season fundraiser every year.

The history of Red Kettle goes back to 1891. Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee borrowed the idea from his sailor days in Liverpool, England where, as the boats came in, a large iron kettle, called a “Simpson’s Pot,” was placed to allow passersby to toss a coin or two to help the poor. Beside his pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had enough money to feed needy people properly at Christmas. Captain McFee’s kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but across the world. Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries. These contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten. Locally, Mitchell has established a Red Kettle Challenge. He encourages anyone to sign up to ring the bells at one of 28 retail establishments by going to www.registertoring.org.

Rounding up bell ringers is far from the only thing that Mitchell does for the Salvation Army. As the first Development Director for the Rutherford County Salvation Army, he has enjoyed getting out in the community to expand the organization’s brand, while securing the financial resources needed to sustain and grow their programs and services.

“With the help of our staff, our advisory council, women’s auxiliary and other community leaders, we have implemented new fundraising strategies, increased revenue, expanded brand awareness in the middle Tennessee market and created a new culture of philanthropy,” said Mitchell.

Founded in 1865, the Salvation Army is an international evangelical movement dedicated to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and working to meet human needs without discrimination. To fulfill this mission in Rutherford County they provide a few key programs to the community: Supportive housing for men, woman and children; food and financial assistance; the Generation Family Initiative; Learning Pods and Resource Hubs; and their annual Christmas Assistance (Angel Tree) program.

“Each of these programs targets a specific important issue that our community faces,” explained Mitchell. “Our supportive housing is a place for families and individuals in transition to call home. We walk alongside them to help set goals, gain employment and find permanent  housing. We provide Food and Financial Assistance to families and individuals on the verge of or experiencing homelessness, knowing the goal is to guide our families to achieve permanent housing through Rapid Rehousing Grant Money. Food boxes and food gift cards are also provided to help reduce the toxic stress these families are facing daily while they are working on their goals. Our Supportive Housing clients receive meals daily and our outreach coordinator provides meals twice a week to local homeless encampments.”

The Second-Generation Family Initiative was created to step in to stop the cycle of intergeneration poverty by setting goals with both the children and the parents in a family. Their case manager will walk alongside the whole family and work towards success and long-term hope.

Their Learning Pods and Resource Hubs were created during the COVID-19 pandemic to help families with education challenges, technical support and internet access recreation for the entire family. This program continues to grow with a focus to assist today’s youth as they unlock their path to a successful future. The programs provided include Read 360; Summer Day Camp, Overnight Camp Paradise Valley Week; End of School and Back to School Bashes; Vacation Bible School; and weekly field trips.

“We believe that a child’s future should not be based on their family’s current economic status or the zip code they live in,” said Mitchell. “That is why these programs are offered to our families at no cost, to help create slack in their family budget. This October (2021), we awarded $80,000 in rental assistance funds to support renters and their landlords.”

Mitchell feels blessed to have worked with some great organizations in his career. His past job experiences helped him acquire great best practices in board development, volunteer management, fundraising and brand development and expansion.

“Recently, I am proud to be part of a team at the Salvation Army that took the challenges of the pandemic and turned them into opportunities. In the last one and a half years we have added new programs that have helped move 60 individuals off the streets and into permanent housing. Or our new Learning Pods and Resource Hubs programs are helping youth unlock their full potential.”

Born in Gary, Indiana to Southern parents, one hailing from Tennessee and the other from Kentucky, he attended Cumberland College (now University of the Cumberlands) in Williamsburg, Kentucky. He is married with four children Kyle 28, Marley 15, Carson and Riley who are 10-year-old twins.

“After being hospitalized with COVID-19 over a year ago,” said Mitchell, “I count my blessings daily. I am thankful for the support of both my Salvation Army family and my friends at church. I was blessed to recover and return to work and live with a greater appreciation for health and life balance. People in this community were there when I needed them. My work at the Salvation Army gives me the opportunity to pay it forward.” 

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