Kelly English is the commanding corps officer of the Albany Salvation Army.
Maj. Kelly English says his role with the Salvation Army in Albany is more than a job — it’s a calling.
It doesn’t take long during a conversation with him to realize he’s an optimistic person with a drive toward helping those less fortunate.
English also places a high value of the skill of listening. He recently participated in a question-and-answer session with reporter Jim West.
NAME: Kelly English
POSITION: Commanding corps officer, Salvation Army, Albany
FAMILY: Married to Angela; two children — Kelly III, 16, and Joshua, 13
EDUCATION: Salvation Army College for Officer Training, Atlanta; Trinity Theological Seminary (correspondence); Sedona University, Holistic Life Counseling (current, correspondence)
Q. What was your first job?
A. I was a dish washer at a Salvation Army camp in Virginia. It was a character-builder. I always seemed to end up being the one who washed the pots. I loved every minute of it. Great folks to work with and, of course, I was pretty young — I was 14.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. There was a mall just outside the camp and a pair of headphones that for the longest time I’d had my eyes on. I went and I bought them and broke them the same day.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found during the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. Listening. That’s a very important skill to have. People have something to say and people have ideas. That’s the best way to really improve your leadership. It lends value to what’s being said and gives that stamp of “I believe what you have to say is important.” It’s a chance to see their ideas being birthed and it creates a stronger community.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you dedicate your career to the Salvation Army?
A. Well, I have to tell you — this is a calling. This is not something you will ever get rich on, monetarily. This is really a sense of needing to serve people, serve the community. I’ve always felt like I have this need to help people take a step up. That’s where it really comes from. The rest is just internal moving around.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a community leader have learned from the recent recession?
A. When this kind of stuff happens, the character of people really begins to surface and what you discover is that people, no matter what, are always generous. People always go toward kindness, no matter how difficult things are. What I’ve really learned is that when tough times happen, that’s the time when a community knits itself together. We learn to pool resources and all the other fluff kind of goes out the window. We tend to focus on the reality of where we are. If there’s anything I’ve picked up from that, it’s the beauty of that — the elegance. I just love that about people and our ability to set aside the unnecessary.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples ... email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. I have to tell you, the cell phone would probably be the first thing that I would just love to see (go away). It tends to invade an awful lot of our lives. There were times when we could breathe, and now it gets interrupted by a cell phone. It used to be you could just drive from point A to point B and just be silent. Now points A through B are interrupted by three or four cell phone calls.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. The cell phone (laughing). I tell you, I spend more time on that thing. It certainly makes things a lot more convenient when you have an emergency. Another thing that I have learned is the PDA and the older Palm, it does help me to stay fairly organized.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. At home in Roanoke, there’s an overlook at Mill Mountain and one of the things I just love doing is going up there and spending time. We just kind of look out over the valley and think about how beautiful things are and reflect on our lives and all that good stuff.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. The last book I read was “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life,” by Wayne Dyer. I loved every page of it. I have kind of a daily devotional and of course I read the Bible.
Q. “I’m up and going by ...?” And what is your morning routine?
A. My day starts at roughly 4:45 and then I’ll do my studies and have some quiet time. I’ll take the dog and go out for a nice walk. Then the kids get up and we go into the controlled chaos of getting them up and ready and off to school. Once they’re out I sit down with my wife and we kind of map the day as best we can and then I’m on my way over here and get into answering emails. From there the day just takes me wherever it takes me.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?
A. From the Bible, I would love to meet Nicodemus. From just around, there’s a comedian I’m certain we’ve all heard of — Jerry Seinfeld. I would love to just sit in a room with him and absorb the energy of Seinfeld and see what makes him tick. Not just from the stories, but to have that kind of life. It says a lot about character and I’d like to see what that is.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activities outside work?
A. I thoroughly enjoy cycling. Martial arts is another pastime of mine. I enjoy model-building, especially automobiles. I love walking, especially with my wife. We spend a lot of time doing that.
Q. If you could take back one decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I don’t know that I would take any of them back. I understand that everything I’ve done has led me to where I am now. There are plenty of them I wish were not quite so painful, but I don’t think I would take them back because they’re important.
Q. What’s the best thing about your job?
A. The best thing about my job is people. I love the work and the energy of the people. I love the community, and reaching out and hearing stories, and becoming a part of people’s lives and knowing that when I’m hearing stories I give something back to them. It’s good stuff.
Q. What’s the worst thing about your job?
A. The people (laughing). With the coin, there are two sides. I have to tell you that the needs can be overwhelming. Sometimes when people are on paths they don’t even realize they’re on, it can make things difficult. Yeah, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.
Q. “The most beneficial course I took in school was ...?”
A. Algebra II. It gets down to the teacher I had. He was kind of a philosopher and he would come in and give us some kind of saying. The class, I flunked horribly. Holy cow, it was a disaster, but I passed what he was giving me. He’d come in and he’d put this problem up on the board. The problem would be our day’s lesson. It would also be the quiz at the end of the day. He noticed that the class would study each problem and said “the class is not about the problem. The class is about the formula to solve the problem. The problems will change.” At the end of the class I got an F. That was my problem. The formula, however, I got and I take that with me. Whenever I get to some strange position I say: “What’s the formula to work through this?” There is always a formula.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I’ll throw a curve ball here. I would love to have a center for holistic therapies and spas and what-have-you. I believe in the whole person. I know that we’re more than the flesh. We’re mind and we’re spirit — a combination of community and all of that. Sometimes we can get so whipped up into what’s going on around us and we start to leave portions of ourselves.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...”
A. Having a center for holistic healing.
Q. What is the one trait a strong community leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Listening, listening, listening. Around us, people are telling us all kinds of things. We listen with our eyes, our minds and our hearts, as well as our ears. People just want to be heard. Whenever I see people that’s the one thing I want to do — hear what they have to say.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. When it happens, that’s when it’s going to happen. I know that the character of the people here is not going to change. Beautiful people are beautiful people. Whether it’s a rough storm or a light storm, or it’s shiny, we’ll get through to the other side. The Salvation Army will always serve in a community and that’s what we’ll do.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. If you looked at it right now you would find this group called “Bliss.” It’s actually a consortium of groups that come together. One is called “No One Built This House,” an album of incredibly easy listening music. You turn this on and just sit back, listen and relax. But, you’ll also find some Rick James. He’s spiritual, too, sometimes.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. There’s a different spirit here. I’m a newbie, but I understand there were some industries here at one time but have left. But what’s really interesting is that the community hasn’t lost. I really don’t see where it’s lost its character. That has a tendency to attract people. It attracts industry and it attracts people who think differently. I could very easily see other industries coming in and saying, “You know what? We think it’s worth our while to invest here.” It’s a charming place.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. When we were in Charlotte I went on a speaking engagement in Myrtle Beach. I had my bicycle there and my wife drove down from Charlotte. We had this little camping area we rented for a couple of days and I rode my bike and met her there. My oldest was a young little thing and (my wife’s) mother was with us. We had the most difficult time putting the tent together and it rained, but I loved every minute of it. It was a relaxing time. We woke up and we were soaked, but it was just perfect. From there we made it a point to spend more time camping.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. When I was first commissioned, one of the biggest things was to go to the mail box and then the fax machine came along. I finally got a blazing-speed 386 computer. We became a lot more computer-based. It took some adjusting. I tend to be a little slower in making those kinds of adjustments. I kind of look at it and say, “Wait a minute, the fax machine was great.” It is what it is, right? Just the way we communicate. The letters that used to be in the mail box are now emails.