“There was a moment in my childhood where the Salvation Army saved my family … They saved a mom and two boys who were homeless with nowhere to go, nowhere to be.”
J.R. McDaniel was only 12. His brother was even younger. His mother was searching for a solution. McDaniel remembers that time vividly – not because it defines him, but because it drives him.
Today, McDaniel, a Regions Bank associate, leads the Salvation Army’s Lufkin Corps in East Texas as its board chair.
“We stayed at a family shelter for a month or two,” McDaniel described of the time following his mother’s decision to leave a difficult home situation. “She was still working; we were still going to school. Eventually, she got back on her feet. The Salvation Army helped my mom get the assistance she needed to find permanent housing.”
McDaniel now recruits people to join him in helping families facing similar hurdles. One of those recruits – Rosalie Zamora, a Regions mortgage loan originator in Nacogdoches.
“J.R. asked if I would be interested, and I told him I would get involved if the bank would also help,” said Zamora.
And help Regions has. Since 2020, the bank has contributed $3,200 to the Salvation Army in Lufkin and $1,400 in Nacogdoches to support the nonprofit’s relief efforts. Several associates in both markets volunteer as annual bell ringers, too.
“The funds we raise at Christmas help keep our programs afloat year-round,” said Captain Jenifer Phillips, who leads the Salvation Army’s Lufkin and Nacogdoches Corps with fellow captain and her husband, Cavon. “All the people we’re helping have a story and maybe a crisis.”
Like McDaniel, Captains Jenifer and Cavon Phillips discovered the Salvation Army during their youth.
“We met at Camp Hoblitzelle at 16 and fell in love,” Jenifer said. “After dating long distance for years, we got married and now have five children. We worked in different fields for a while, but we felt a calling to be Salvation Army officers.”
Zamora kept her promise to McDaniel by serving as the Nacogdoches board treasurer and a bell ringer. But it’s another holiday project that especially excites her: the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Zamora said. “Bagging up all the gifts for the kids makes me feel like an elf.”
Those gifts go to families who are “adopted” by Angel Tree supporters.
“That’s my favorite day of the year by far,” Jenifer Phillips said. “It’s a hard day, a humbling day. The things that touch my heart the most are when people ask for undergarments or a coat. We just never know what people’s experiences are, what they’re going through. It really puts things in perspective.”
And it’s not just about the individual donations.
“In the busyness of the holidays, it’s a way to give back to your individual community by impacting people who are your neighbors,” Phillips added. “It’s also a great way to instill generational giving with your children. It’s a great time to create a family tradition.”
The holidays may be when most people notice the Salvation Army’s work – and it’s crucial to remember what happens during the rest of the year.
“They’re helping people 365 days by serving hot meals, distributing food boxes and providing utility and rental assistance,” McDaniel noted.
“The need and numbers are staggering,” added Zamora. “It would surprise you in communities the size of Lufkin and Nacogdoches.”
Consider it confirmed: Rosalie Zamora is all in with helping the Salvation Army thanks to J.R.’s ask.
“If you ever want someone to make you feel good, it’s J.R.,” Zamora said. “And Regions is giving us the time to do this, which shows they care.”
“J.R. is kind-hearted, a listener and a visionary,” added Phillips. “He has found a way to pay it forward as our board chair. They’re both invested, willing to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to happen to help people in our community. They’re also great advocates of our mission.”
For McDaniel, that means sharing the Salvation Army’s work whenever and wherever he can.
“I will tell anyone who will listen,” he said. “The 12-year-old me didn’t know a lot, but I knew the Salvation Army gave me someplace safe to be. I’m proud of the Salvation Army and the impact they make. I’m proud to think a kid like me turned out OK.”
Learn how you can be a Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringer in your community.
Two more Regions associates share their Salvation Army “why”:
Tricia Rourke and Tina West-Manack share more about their engagement with the nonprofit.
How are you involved with the Salvation Army?
West-Manack: I chair the Community Involvement and Relations Committee, I’ve been a bell ringer, and this year, I will be involved with the Angel Tree toy distribution along with being a bell ringer.
Rourke: I began volunteering when Tina invited me to join the committee she leads. Our group does everything from setting up event décor to recruiting businesses to sponsor kettles and helping with logistics for the Angel Tree Program. I’m also planning to ring the bell this year.
What’s your favorite part of volunteering?
West-Manack: The difference the Salvation Army can make in someone’s life and knowing that, indirectly, I was a small part of it.
Rourke: It may sound overly simple, but I just really enjoy being able to help others when I’m able. The projects we support are so much bigger than my minor part in them. I love knowing the little things I help with benefit a community cause.