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Assignment at Salvation Army of Steubenville ending for couple

MOVING ON — Erik Muhs and his wife, Barri Vazquez-Muhs, are wrapping up their last week in the area as the corps commanding officers and pastors at 332 N. Fourth St. The couple will be heading to a new, much larger second assignment at the Toledo Temple Corps under the direction of the Salvation Army Northwest Ohio Area Services. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — A switch is about to occur at the Salvation Army of Steubenville.

Erik Muhs and his wife, Barri Vazquez-Muhs, are wrapping up their last week in the area as the corps commanding officers and pastors at 332 N. Fourth St.

They came to town in 2017 — Erik in July, Barri in September after their marriage — and will be heading to a new, much larger second assignment at the Toledo Temple Corps under the direction of the Salvation Army Northwest Ohio Area Services.

Coming to the Steubenville post — from the Toledo Temple Corps — will be Capts. Michael and Angela Smith on what will be their fifth assignment — from larger to smaller.

Sunday will be the Muhses’ last day. “That’s our last official anything,” Erik said of their local duties.

The Smiths officially take over Aug. 9 at what will be their installation Sunday service.

Erik and Barri describe their local service as having been a learning experience and their leaving, bittersweet.

“We’ve definitely grown as individuals and how to have our congregation as a married couple,” Erik said of their time of growth also as partners in ministry and social service.

“The people in the church and in the community have only helped foster our relationship as husband and wife and in our relationship with the Salvation Army in the greater Jefferson County area,” Erik said.

“I learned a lot about public relations in the community, and it’s not something you can learn in school,” noted Barri of her realization that it’s important to be involved in the community to better serve it. Barri recently was promoted to captain “so that is a milestone” and also recently graduated from Asbury University with a bachelor’s of science degree in nonprofit business management.

She cited the importance of joining organizations and clubs, fostering partnerships, networking and working together. “We can’t do it by ourselves — you need the community,” she said.

In assessing their accomplishments, Erik said, “Fiscally, we’ve improved our situation here. We have upgraded some technology. We have new TVs that we’re going to be installing into our chapel and sound system for an enhanced worship experience,” he said. Although Lorraine Linton retired as an employee, “we have gained her and four others as steady volunteers who weren’t here before, and now we have a large team that can be multifaceted, multifunction, to get to the community and to those who are really in need.”

Barri said her thoughts on leaving are bittersweet. “I believe that we did what we can here and have contributed to the church in the community and left it in a sustainable place so that way the officers who are coming in are able to pick up right where we left it and continue to do what has already been in place as well as their own niche where they find themselves.”

Erik said he will miss friendships made through his membership in the Steubenville Kiwanis Club, for instance, and noted it and other organizations such as the Steubenville Lions Club, Masons and Steubenville Rotary Club have “all have just outpoured financially and given us hours of manpower, standing at the red kettle at Christmas time, helping us throughout the year financially with checks.” Support also has come from a multitude of other sources, including local churches, schools and businesses.

“That’s on the plus side of working in a smaller area — your ability to network, and I can say I know the people who are in charge of 15 to 20 different organizations, and I have their cell phone numbers, and they actually pick up when I call,” Erik said. How that will be in Toledo, the state’s fourth largest city, remains to be seen. “I think it will be more challenging to navigate those tight-knit relationships,” he said. Toledo’s population is more than 200,000, compared to Steubenville’s estimated 18,000. The Salvation Army facilities in Toledo — a three-story building — are far bigger, too, and there are more staff and volunteers.

It’s exciting and a bit intimidating, according to the couple, who are ending one assignment and beginning a new one in the midst of unprecedented times, given the coronavirus pandemic which increased need. Food distributions continued in a modified way under precautionary measures.

“It was just the two of us all April long doing an excess of 100 plus people,” Erik said of continuing to meet food needs under challenging circumstances.

The couple reported at their final advisory board meeting earlier this month how 217 clients were served in June 2019, compared to 337 this June.

Barri predicts the Smiths will bring a different scope and skill set to Steubenville.

“I think they can bring a new vision for what can happen here at the Salvation Army as well as in the community, especially coming from a larger area that they’re working in right now,” she said, adding that “Steubenville will always be with us. This was our first home as a married couple and our first home as ministers and officers.”

A native of Marietta, Erik was commissioned to the local post after graduating June 11, 2017, from the Salvation Army College for Officer Training in New York.

His parents, Majs. Fred and Beth Muhs, have been Salvation Army officers for 30-plus years, most recently as the commanding officers of the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Manhattan, N.Y.

His younger sister and brother-in-law, Jillian and Bob Myers, work at the Philadelphia headquarters of the Salvation Army — she as the assistant to the divisional manager, her husband as director of emergency disaster services.

And before their marriage in September 2017, Barri worked as the assistant officer of the Salvation Army in Danbury, Conn.

“I grew up as the son of Salvation Army officers and saw all their hard work that they did for the community,” Muhs said in a previous interview.Barri has had a connection to the Salvation Army all her life through her grandmother’s influence. At 16 came the call to the Salvation Army, “a defining moment knowing that ministry is for you.” Like her husband, she also graduated from the Salvation Army College for Officer Training.

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