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Kathy Anderson-Martin: A voice for The Salvation Army

Kathy Anderson-Martin's personal experience helps to drive the mission for The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Kathy Anderson-Martin spends most of her days brainstorming how to raise funds and grow programs for thousands in need in the midstate.

The director of philanthropy for The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region is responsible for an annual $3 million budget, all locally raised funds. Hundreds depend on TSA’s programs.

Anderson-Martin is a strong advocate. She’s direct, down-to-earth, honest — she’s got a wicked sense of humor — whether she’s having a one-on-one conversation with a prospective donor or speaking in front of several hundred.

But most importantly, she knows firsthand what it’s like to depend on others for help.

“Perspective, it’s all about perspective,” she said.

I called it divine intervention

In the 1990s, Anderson-Martin spent the bulk of her career in sales with the Phillips Group and Sharp Electronics Corp. She eventually went to a smaller company because her mentor, Dan Phillips, offered her an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

She also was the primary breadwinner for the family, bringing in 75 percent of the overall family income.

By January 2000, she and her husband, Jon, wanted a family and started the adoption process. By Memorial Day, all the paperwork and necessary background checks were complete. A baby could arrive any day.

June, July and part of August passed without any word. In the meantime, Anderson-Martin was experiencing some health issues, specifically, a debilitating pain in her side.

It was “fall-over pain,” she said.

She underwent several medical tests that same year. Nothing. Eventually her physician sent her for an electrocardiogram on Aug. 17 and the news wasn’t good. She had a hole in her heart, “A rather large hole in my heart,” she said.

How to resolve it? Open heart surgery.

“Usually when you went in for tests, the doctors tell you to go home afterward. After my test, they were like, ‘You can’t leave,'” she said. “I was going in for a medical procedure, but I didn’t know that meant OPEN HEART SURGERY.”

Later, and weirdly enough, that “fall-over” pain in her side disappeared after the electrocardiogram. To this day, no one can explain why she had that pain, or that it had anything to do with her heart. Regardless, it saved her life.

“I called it divine intervention,” she said.

To be clear, the surgery didn’t actually happen that day, but her doctors did stress that she shouldn’t wait too long to schedule it. Anderson-Martin immediately wanted to postpone any adoption plans, but a friend convinced her otherwise. Sit on it for a few days, the friend advised.

“‘God will only give you what you can handle,’” she told Anderson-Martin.

And God gave them Elizabeth, “Lizzie,” they called her. She was born Aug. 21 and brought home two days later.

Anderson-Martin postponed any surgery. Her priorities shifted, she was a mom now.

‘I felt helpless’

The happy homecoming was, unfortunately, short-lived. A week later, Lizzie was having trouble breathing.

“The doctor listened to her over the phone and sent us straight to the hospital,” Anderson-Martin said. “She was in the hospital for about 10 days, and ultimately they diagnosed her with congestive heart failure, atrial and ventricular septal defects.”

Just like mom, Lizzie had a hole in her heart.

The newborn didn’t need surgery immediately. Her growth — or lack of it — was of chief concern. She needed to be fed via a feeding tube, something the newborn didn’t like.

“I felt helpless at watching this little baby not be able to eat or gain any weight. And I got very mad at God, remembering a very specific day in my living room — just Lizzie and me — her vomiting while I’m trying to put more formula into the tube — and me screaming at God as to why He would allow this?

That moment was my lowest, but also a turning point,” she said. “My faith isn’t based on religion, but a personal relationship with God, and I believe he understands and accepts us even at our worst.”

A few months passed and Lizzie’s health improved.

Meanwhile, doctors couldn’t delay the surgery any longer for Anderson-Martin. She underwent open heart surgery in November 2000 and spent recovery time into the Christmas season.

Day-to-day life was a struggle then. Anderson-Martin had to resign from her job. Family, friends and a paid nurse rotated in and out of the home helping her while Jon was at work.

“I was hardly able to hold Lizzie much less care for her. Very humbling,” she said.

This personal experience has been the foundation for Anderson-Martin’s work with TSA. She’s keenly aware of how it feels to be dependent on others for help.

“We went from bad to awful, but we have family, we had insurance. We never had our gas shut off. We didn’t lose our house,” Anderson-Martin said. “Our support system is what separates me/you/many of us from the clients we serve at TSA. We become their support system.”

In the mid-2000s, Anderson-Martin started working outside the home again. She began with some development work for a retirement community. “They needed my help to raise money,” she said, and they were extremely flexible with her schedule.

By 2010, Anderson-Martin connected with The Salvation Army, transferring her leadership, sales and development skills to become a fundraising voice for TSA clients.

The TSA client struggles aren’t far from her own.

“I’ve determined we aren’t so different than the clients who we help with the Salvation Army,” she said.

Thanks mom

Amy Spangler

In 2002, Lizzie underwent her own open heart surgery.

In 2005, the Martin family expanded. They adopted 3-year-old Ashlyn.

Now, she and her husband are navigating the teen years, which comes with the same challenges many parents face: school-work, teenage angst, discipline, the seemingly endless drama.

But, it is sprinkled with some kind surprises. Take the recent Facebook post Lizzie wrote to her mom:

“Thanks mom for adopting me. I’m alive.”

About The Salvation Army:

The Salvation Army has been serving the Capital City Region since 1885.

Almost 20,000 area residents receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through social services including a weekday hot breakfast feeding program; assistance with basic needs; HAVE & Pathway of Hope Self Sufficiency mentoring and education programs.

Through structured youth programs, TSA is also intentional in breaking the cycle of poverty by providing over 2,500 at-risk youth with the tools and opportunities to succeed in school and beyond.

The “Transforming Lives Building Legacies” capital campaign is in progress to construct a new Salvation Army Service & Worship Center at 29th Street & Rudy Road, Harrisburg.

The annual operating budget of almost $3 million supports local programs, funded through donations from the local community. Eighty-five cents of every dollar directly supports programs and services for people in need.

For information about the campaign or programs, contact Kathy Anderson-Martin, 717-233-6755 ext. 114; kathy.anderson-martin@use.salvationarmy.org.

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is Associate Publisher/Editorial Director for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@bridgetowermedia.com.

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