"I've enjoyed the people of Cartersville," Nancy Fuller said, adding the length of Salvation Army appointments vary, with stints lasting from about six months to 10 years. "Cartersville has the most loving, giving, caring people we've ever encountered. ... [We] just want to thank the community for their love and support of The Salvation Army and of the Fullers while we've been here these four and a half years.
"I know they're going to welcome the Wilsons with open arms and see changes and exciting things happen," she said, referring to Lts. Lee and Michelle Wilson who will succeed the Fullers at the end of the month. "I think they're going to be a good fit. This move has caught us off guard but we're ready. As good Salvationists, you salute and you go. You can't turn it down. You can't say, 'No, we're not going.' You just go. That's just part of it."
Echoing his wife's sentiments, John Fuller also said he will miss the community's generosity.
"Considering the way the economy has [been], our kettles have really not suffered and neither has our planned giving," he said. "We send out mail appeals and they have not really suffered considering how many plants have laid off [employees and] how many have closed down. These people here are really giving. Considering [how] bad this economy was, we're up $3,500 with our kettles over last year. So they are very giving.
"When we've had [media coverage] when our donations at the thrift store were down, donations took off. So anytime we've asked for help, the community has really stepped forward to really help us. And we're not really used to that. In other places, when you ask for help, people are not as giving. ... The people have really accepted us with open arms and we say, 'Thank you.'"
During their tenure at the Cartersville Corps, the Fullers completed their initial task from headquarters -- renovating the nonprofit's previous thrift store space for its chapel, which had been based in a nearby modular building. With its church operating in the new location at 16 Felton Place since April 2008, attendance for its Sunday services and religious programs have more than doubled, they said.
"We still had the finishing touches to do [on the chapel] but [the first service] was really rewarding considering we'd been over in the fellowship hall in our building next door," John Fuller said. "[When] 50 [people would attend] you felt like you were in a box and you couldn't go anywhere because there was very little room to move for them. And then getting in here -- what a difference. ... We had a special program taking all the stuff from the old chapel into the new chapel, of moving of the flags and everything else over there. So we made sure the people felt part of moving from the old chapel to the new chapel.
"[Now] we can grow. We've been able to grow, with more people coming to church. We've been able to do more programs in there where as before if we tried to do like a Christmas musical with the children over in the old fellowship hall there wasn't a lot of room. When you'd get maybe 60, 70 parents coming, a lot of them would have to stand. Here we have enough room to have them sit and we've got a bigger platform for them to perform on. So it was really more of [being] able to offer more to the community."
With the Cartersville Corps service on Sundays averaging 55 people, Nancy Fuller described the congregation as diverse in age.
"We have young, old, in between," she said. "[They are] very loving, giving. I've made the statement lots and lots of times that, 'This is the first appointment that we've ever had that there's really been true love in the church.' There's not any backbiting, no gossiping, just real family love. And you can feel it when you walk in.
"We've had strangers walk in the back door and say, 'Wow, you can just feel the love in this church when you come in.' And that's what a church is supposed to feel. We've had a lot of appointments but this has really been one of the cream of the crop."
Among the organization's restructuring, the Cartersville Corps also is in the process of vacating its location at 17 Apex Drive. While the nonprofit's thrift store will temporarily close its doors Jan. 31 at 5 p.m. due to the sluggish economy, its social services program and food pantry have returned to The Salvation Army's site at 16 Felton Place. The social services program is operating Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Even though the thrift store's sales were not able to sustain The Salvation Army's social services, the program still received funding from the nonprofit's mail appeals, United Way of Bartow County, a Georgia Power offering and the Red Kettle campaign, which raised $39,500 over the holidays. In 2011, the organization's social services program assisted 3,055 individuals with food and funds for utility bills, medications and rent.
The community is invited to attend a farewell service for the Fullers on Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. at the Cartersville Corps chapel. For more information about the local Salvation Army's services, call 770-387-9955.