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Jenny shares her passion for the Army’s ‘amazing’ Social Services

Major Jenny Begent takes a rare break recently from organising this week’s 140th anniversary of Salvation Army Social Services in Australia.

As excitement builds for this week’s 140-year celebration of The Salvation Army’s Social Services, Salvos Online writer LERISSE SMITH spoke with Major Jenny Begent, Assistant Secretary for Mission, about the driving forces behind the Social Services work in the community, her passion for hope, change and living out the gospel – and a love of piccolo coffee.

Organising a five-day major international conference to celebrate a special and unique birthday with more than 30 speakers attending the event is no mean feat – just ask Jenny.

Late nights on her computer, early messages pinging on the mobile, and the consumption of way too many cups of coffee – piccolo being a favourite – have dominated her waking hours for many months in preparation for the national conference this week to celebrate The Salvation Army’s 140 years of Social Services.

But as Assistant Secretary for Mission with the Social Services team with an annual budget of around $500 million, thousands of employees and volunteers, and services across all community spheres, Jenny wouldn’t have it any other way.

Meet Jenny in person and she radiates a kind, down-to-earth, friendly, warm, and honest persona coupled with a great sense of humour. It’s also clear she’s passionate about what she does, why she does it and how she does it.

And with the special anniversary coming to fruition next week, Jenny reflected on the “amazingness” of the Army’s Social Services role in the community spanning more than a century – starting with Major James Barker in the 1880s.

A Salvation Army officer greets a former prisoner on release from Goulburn gaol in the late 1800s.

“When he [James Barker] decided he was going to run a Prison Gate Brigade, the Governor of the day thought that was a great thing and gave him £500. Now, half a billion dollars is Social Mission’s national budget. That’s amazing to me!” Jenny said.

“It says to me that not only governments but the people of Australia are confident that we can do what they pay us to do, and over 140 years, that confidence has grown. This is despite the Royal Commission, despite the fact that occasionally we get it wrong. They (the people of Australia) continue to trust us to get the job done. And I’m humbled by that because I’ve been a part of it.

“I’m also incredibly proud that a ragtag group of scruffy officers in the late 1800s actually had a vision that people could be supported to live really good lives in the world. Even people like prisoners, who were often considered the worst and lowest in society, could be more than they were. Everybody had the chance to change, and we were able to be part of that, so thinking about it like that makes me go ‘Wow ... we haven’t done that bad!”

Jenny said another key aspect of the Social Services’ amazing work was being in society from the get-go.

“We’ve been in every major disaster and every major war and on the frontlines of all those kinds of major events in Australian history. We’ve been in all of those kinds of environments and were the first agency on the ground in Darwin when the cyclone hit [in 1974]. We are there whenever there’s a major disaster,” she said.

The Salvation Army played an important role in rescue and recovery efforts in Darwin in 1974 following Cyclone Tracy.

“The point I’m trying to make is that we’ve grown up with the country. I think we, The Salvation Army, are in a privileged position and firmly locked into the psyche of the Australian community. The Salvation Army is part of our national identity. And I think that is such a privileged position that this national conference gives us the chance to say – how do we stay in that privileged position and what do we need to do to ensure that we continue to be who we say we are in the 21st and the 22nd centuries?”

A snapshot of the last financial year reveals that Social Services provided more than 1.86 million sessions of care across all social programs, one million nights of accommodation for those in need, 1.5 million meals for those experiencing homelessness and 86,420 sessions of care for young people. Additionally, more than 11,300 people received assistance with addiction through alcohol and other drugs and gambling rehabilitation services, and almost 12,700 received free financial counselling.

“It’s amazing to think how many people we’ve helped, how many meals we’ve served, how many beds we’ve provided to the most vulnerable in our community over the last 140 years,” Jenny said.

“During our history, we have had the support of more than five million volunteers who have given their time so generously to help those in need through our programs.

“This anniversary is a proud moment to reflect on all we have achieved, together, for our most vulnerable. So, we encourage people to come to the conference and tell us what you think. The conference is as much a listening exercise as it is a getting-stuff-done exercise.”

Ask Jenny about the driving force behind her passion for Social Services and 30-year commitment to The Salvation Army, and her response is instant.

“I love participating in people’s change,” she explained.

“Every human being is worthy of love and belonging. I love seeing people walk through the door of a service, any old service, looking pretty sad and desperate, and seeing the change. To see them actually get what they thought they might not get, to discover hope again, and actually get a sense that they can actually do better than they are because someone’s prepared to walk alongside them.

“People tell me every day about how The Salvation Army impacts their lives, to give people a sense of hope and also a sense that they can do it themselves. People are not useless, they are not hopeless, and being homeless or being poor does not mean you don’t have reserves you can draw on. The resilience of people is amazing.”

Jenny’s strong Christian faith undergirds her passion for Social Services and helping countless people experiencing great pain.

“You have to find a way to live the gospel rather than talk it. That’s where you make decisions around how you respond to people, even angry people who might be angry at you. Jesus says in the book of Matthew, if you open the door to a homeless person, if you give a cup of cold water in my name, then I am present,” she said.

“So, for me, it’s about how I am in the world and how I strive to be God in the world – to be a representation of who Christ was in the world. And so, I try not always successfully, and more often than not, not successful at all, to bring Christ into every interaction I have with people ... always with kindness, always trying to give people hope for the future.”

Looking to the future, Jenny’s professional goals for Social Services are that the Army will be a recognised advocate and bolder in its advocacy and better in the way it delivers our services.

She also hopes anybody who “dares to put on The Salvation Army uniform” will actually participate in helping someone’s life be better – a theme highlighted in next week’s event.

“I don’t want people to just say, ‘I’m a Salvo, and I go to the local church on Sunday’, but to say ‘I’m a Salvo, and on Tuesdays I go down and run the kids club’ so that they every Salvo knows that if you are a Salvationist, you’ve got a job to do,” Jenny said.

“There’s work to do in the community.”

Registrations are still open for the conference. Contact Major Jenny Begent at or Linda Pollard:


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