Dawn and Frances

"May Christians like Dawn and Frances serve as examples for the rest of us to follow."

Every church has at least one or two church members who go above and beyond. You’re probably thinking of them now; they show up early on Sunday morning to brew the coffee and stay late to clean up after Bible study; they’re at the corps throughout the week, volunteering at everything from reception to kids’ programs. They set the standard for the attitude of servanthood that all Christians should display. At the Eastside Corps in St. Paul, MN, two such servants are Dawn Van Wagner and Frances Pierce. Not only do Dawn and Frances live out their testimonies through their actions, but their strong friendship also radiates the love of Jesus.

They came to the Army separately. Although both Dawn and Frances have backgrounds in Catholicism, for various reasons they left the Catholic church. In 1996, Dawn was homeless and started visiting Salvation Army centers for breakfast. When she moved into her home in 2011, she started going to the Eastside Corps for lunch. Before long, Dawn was helping in the kitchen and cleaning up after the meals. “I figured it would be nice just to help out because when I was homeless, [they helped me]. With them helping me, I wanted to give back,” says Dawn. “That’s how I started giving back. By volunteering.”

Frances said she and her husband ended up at The Salvation Army in a similar way. When they first moved close to the corps, they had trouble making ends meet. They made regular visits to the food shelf and started attending lunches to save money. Frances also started helping clean after lunches, and then the corps officers got her involved in Women’s Ministries. 

Dawn and Frances met at the corps in 2013. They were just acquaintances at first, but then they both began volunteering at the same places outside of church. They got to know each other and realized they only lived about a block apart at the time. At that point, they started hanging out and going to church together. They attended Army events together, such as visiting camp, and volunteered more actively at the corps, particularly at the food shelf. 

Major Lisa Spicer of the Eastside Corps expressed immense gratitude towards the efforts the two ladies put behind their volunteering. She mentioned how Dawn’s experience with homelessness gives her unique insight into the needs of the community and those who come through the food shelf. Major Spicer also shared a story about a woman at Eastside who was caring for her mother. When the mother’s nighttime attendant quit, the woman didn’t know what to do because she worked nights. When she brought the prayer request to the corps, Dawn and Frances volunteered to spend a couple nights a week at her home with her mother. That’s just the kind of selfless servants they are.

In 2020, Dawn had a major surgery that left her with an ileostomy bag, unable to completely care for herself. Frances, who worked the night shift at a grocery store at the time, took it upon herself to care for Dawn and her home. That meant Frances was now juggling her job, her time with her husband and her volunteer work, as well as Dawn’s schedule. It would be a lot for anyone to bear, but the two friends came up with a solution. Frances happened to have a work history as a personal care assistant (PCA). After some classes and a certification specialized in Dawn’s needs, Frances was able to become her fulltime PCA. And while this did lighten Frances’ load and give her more time with her friend, it’s still an act of service. Major Spicer shared that Frances wakes up early every morning, first to care for her diabetic dog, and then to assist Dawn and get her wherever she needs to go before continuing to help her throughout the day, every day—Frances and her husband even postponed their annual Christmas celebration this past year so that Frances could take Dawn to visit her family for the holiday. Frances’ husband has started volunteering with her now occasionally, so the two do get some time together despite Frances’ hectic schedule. 

Neither Dawn’s surgery nor Frances’ job as her PCA have slowed down their drive to serve. When asked how many hours per month they spend volunteering at the corps, both women laughed. For Dawn, the work is essentially a fulltime job: Frances gets her to the corps at 8:30 a.m. each day and they leave at 5:00 p.m. Frances takes the afternoons off to spend time with her husband, but it’s still roughly the same schedule. Even so, when there is a need, Dawn and Frances do not hesitate to help, even outside of their usual hours. 

When there was a need for the men from the re-entry program (a program for those re-entering community after incarceration) to use the food shelf, Dawn and Frances took it upon themselves to assist them. Knowing that for one reason or another these men are unable to visit the food shelf during regular hours, Dawn and Frances stay late to help. “We’re already there for Bible study,” said Frances. They now walk them through the food shelf after the Thursday night meetings, recognizing that their needs are just as important as anyone else’s. 

In the spring of 2023, Frances was enrolled as an adherent of The Salvation Army, and Dawn renewed her own enrollment. They took this step to affirm that the Army is their church. “This is home,” they both said, almost in unison. We’re blessed to have them and saints like them in the Army. May Christians like Dawn and Frances serve as examples for the rest of us to follow.  

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