Soup, Soap & Salvation
In her six-inch platform pumps and “Downtown Brown” shade of Mary Kay lipstick, Captain Tawny Cowen-Zanders ’97 is not the image most conjure up when they hear, “Salvation Army Captain.”
However, Tawny’s intelligent mind, capable hands, and compassionate heart are surely qualities The Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth would have desired in their leaders.
Tawny, with her husband, Captain Kevin Zanders, are the area coordinators for The Salvation Army’s Northwest Ohio Services, which covers five counties (Lucas, Ottawa, Wood, Fulton, and Henry) and oversees a $3.5 million budget.
While at Malone as an interdisciplinary social science major and English minor, she was greatly influenced by former professor Tim Petersen, Ph.D., who challenged her to figure out why her faith mattered.
“He was always asking us, ‘Why does being a Christian matter? How then shall you live?’” Tawny remembers. He also encouraged her to study abroad through the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ Russian Studies program, as well as in Belize, Central America through the Global Studies Stewardship Program.
In those days, Tawny was a bit embarrassed of her Salvation Army roots – it was the Christian denomination in which she had been reared by her parents, who had hearts for social justice.
But while studying in Russia, she visited, along with her group, a missionary in Moscow.
“What is your church background?” the missionary asked.
As her fellow students responded, Tawny thought about lying. Nazarene. Lutheran. Baptist.
Finally, it was her turn to answer.
“Salvation Army,” she said, quietly.
The missionary stood, walked over to Tawny, and took her hand.
“‘I’m shaking your hand,’ the missionary told me,” Tawny recalls, “‘because The Salvation Army came in and did what all the rest of us sat and talked about doing. The Salvation Army has systems in place to help feed people and give them hope for their souls.’”
The missionary wanted Tawny to see firsthand the kind of impact The Salvation Army had in Russia. And the results were life-changing.
On one freezing morning, Tawny made her way to Moscow’s metro to view Major Ivy Nash in action.
“I saw a long line of men who had forgotten what it means to be human,” Tawny says. “They were cold, and not wiping their noses. No smiles. Then a car came along, and a woman got out, opened her trunk, and started doing her thing. I stood back and stared, but she got them their soup and started talking to them – rubbing their backs and treating them like sons. There was a physical transformation – smiles and hugs. She knew those men, or noticed if they were new, and they knew her. Within the line were former scientists and lawyers and bankers who had lost their livelihoods after the fall of the Soviet Union. Major Nash fed them. She loved them. She gave them hope through Jesus. And that grabbed my heart.”
Soup. Soap. Salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s what The Salvation Army offers people, and Tawny knew that was what she wanted her life to be about, too.
After graduating from Malone, Tawny worked in Russia for a while, then moved to Cleveland to begin a career in public relations and fundraising. She married Kevin, a youth pastor at the time, and the fifth generation Salvationist son of officers who had served the Salvation Army for 42 years. It wasn’t long before the couple began to feel a calling to attend The Salvation Army’s seminary in Suffern N.Y. They were ordained as ministers in 2005 and take turns preaching each Sunday.
“This is a life – essentially a vow of poverty,” Tawny says of her role. “You have to be prepared to move at any time. But it’s such a gift to be invited into the most intimate moments of people’s lives, to walk through those times with them, and to watch them give back once they get through to the ‘other side.’”
Their first assignment was in Stark County, Ohio – Massillon, where they spent seven years. Tawny spearheaded a $3.4 million capital campaign, which allowed for the completion of an 18,000 square-foot Family Life Center and includes a “Working Clothes” closet, a food pantry, and offers space to multiple like-minded agencies. Before leaving Stark County, she graduated from Leadership Stark County and was named one of Stark County’s outstanding 20 professionals under the age of 40. Along the way, she’s also earned an M.S. in nonprofit management and philanthropy from Bay Path College. She holds the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation. In 2010, she was the Salvation Army’s public information officer for two weeks in its Haiti Disaster Relief Command Center in Washington, D.C. after the January 12 earthquake – which coordinated efforts of more than 72,000 volunteers to serve more than 10 million meals.
Embarking on the capital campaign was the biggest challenge of Tawny’s career to date. The morning after the organization had received all of its needed permissions, Tawny turned on television news to discover that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
“God hates me,” Tawny recalls whining to her husband. “‘That’s right, Tawny, God hates you and because he hates you he caused the global financial markets to crash to punish you. You really need to get over yourself,’ Kevin told me. Because of course, it was all about me, right? Once, I stopped pouting about what he said, I focused on the task ahead of me; however, it was still very hard. I remember one night falling down at the altar and telling God that I didn’t know if could do it. I asked Him, ‘what if my best isn’t good enough?’”
She was right, she felt the Lord answering.
“I felt Him telling me that it wasn’t about being good enough – it was about being faithful. So I was, and He was,” Tawny says.
The family moved to Toledo in 2012, where, as area coordinators of the Northwest Ohio Area Services, their ministry includes two worship and service centers, two service centers, and 12 service units. The programs include a whole gamut of Christian services and activities, from a Choice Food pantry, comprehensive emergency social services, budget counseling to Bible studies, spiritual and emotional counseling, children’s ministries, teen ministries, women’s programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation support services, etc.
Currently, Tawny serves as a trustee on the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and the ProMedica Advocacy Board, as well as on the Citizens Review Committee for the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board. She is enrolled in the Leadership Toledo 2013/2014 program and was named one of Northwest Ohio & Southeast Michigan’s outstanding 20 professionals under 40 in 2013. In addition, she works diligently to bring other agencies together to share ideas and to participate in collaborations. She is heavily involved in the fight against human trafficking.
Tawny says they have found the Toledo community welcoming.
“People sometimes stop me in my uniform and say, ‘You’re the Salvation Army lady, right? Thanks for helping my family make it three more months – I have a job now and am back on my feet.’” Tawny says.
And more than that, Tawny is able to offer them the hope that she has found in Jesus Christ.
“Christ wants us to help others – to care for the poor – to offer hope and help. Not a hand out, but a hand up,” she says. “I’ve learned that most of us are one medical bill away from the edge. But through Jesus, I can offer a hope that’s more than temporary. A hope that is eternal.”