Salvation Army officer lends hand with holiday fundraiser in Merced

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 15, 2013 

— The mission of the Merced Salvation Army Corps coincides exactly with the goals of its pro tem corps officer Lt. Luke Betti, he says.

“It’s serving humanity without discrimination,” Betti said. “That opportunity to help people is what really caught me.”

The 31-year-old Betti came to Merced in mid-October. He replaced Joel Harmon, who now serves the Salvation Army in Norway.

Betti will return to San Francisco on Dec. 29 and will be replaced here in January by Maj. Joe Hoogstad, who will serve in Merced until June, when a permanent replacement is named.

One of Betti’s duties is overseeing “A Helping Hand at Christmas, ” a program jointly administered by the Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star. In its 26th year, the Helping Hand program seeks donations at Christmas for less-fortunate individuals.

The Helping Hand program has collected just $10,000 toward its $55,000 goal for the season. The Sun-Star collects donations for the program.

“The Helping Hand is a good program,” Betti said.

Betti said he has wanted to be a preacher since his childhood in the Marshall Islands, where he was born. He grew up in a Christian home, he said, and was involved with Salvation Army programs as a youngster. In June he graduated from the Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training in Palos Verdes, where he received an Associate of Arts degree in ministry and is an ordained pastor.

Betti attended Leeward Community College on Oahu in Hawaii for two years, where he took English classes. He worked nine years for the Salvation Army as a youth leader. He hopes to obtain a bachelor’s degree in theology through Nazarene University online.

Betti said the Salvation Army is trying to help people get the things they need, and although Merced is not a rich county, there are plenty of people able to help others.

“Everybody’s trying to help, and that makes my job easier,” Betti said.

Steve Shelton, the Salvation Army’s social services coordinator, said Betti is personable and popular. He said Betti is a hard worker, often putting in 14-hour days.

“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Shelton said. “People just love him.”

Betti will return to San Francisco as the assistant corps officer and expects to be there for a year or two before being sent where there is a need. The San Francisco office serves thousands of people every day.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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