Marching to the Beat of Her Own Drum at The Salvation Army Rochester

Jul 13, 2021 | by Stephanie Rex

Shylah quietly steps behind the drum set at The Salvation Army Rochester Worship and Service Center with a smile – ready to make some noise.

At 9 years old heading into fifth grade, she started taking drum lessons from Envoy Chris Mackneer, Commanding Officer, in January 2021, but her family’s connection to The Salvation Army began during Christmas of 2020, when her mother Priscilla approached the Envoys for help in gathering gifts for her children during the holidays. The family quickly became regulars at Sunday worship – and became participants in every program offered at Rochester.

“It’s been a blessing,” said Priscilla.

When it comes to playing the drums during Sunday worship in front of other people, Shylah admits she was a little nervous at first, but she says, “I just look at the page and play.” For her, discovering this new instrument has been a joy for the whole family, as now her little brother Cairo, 8, is also learning how to play.

“I already liked playing any instrument and I really liked playing piano before, so when he offered drum lessons, I just wanted to try it out and it’s super fun,” Shylah said. “It’s something fun for me to do.”

Shylah has developed her drumming skills so much that she recently won first place in the Western PA Division during The Salvation Army’s Star Search competition, and recently won third place in the Eastern Territory.

“I am just super proud. They love it here, they love Pastor Chris and Mary Kay, and if they could, they would live in the church,” Priscilla said of her kids. “Shylah catches on really fast but for my son Cairo, learning how to play drums is really helping him to learn how to focus. It’s been awesome being able to be a part of this program.”

The family’s connection to drums was strengthened by a happenstance donation. When Envoys Chris and Mary Kay came to lead the Rochester Worship and Service Center, an extra drum set had been dropped off with a note that said, “Please use this for anyone in the community who could benefit.” Today, that drum set is now in Shylah’s family home. During one recent evening, Priscilla headed down to the basement to discover her children teaching their father how to play drums.

“Their dad is from Honduras and he never had opportunities like this, so I even got a little teary eyed watching the kids teach him how to play drums,” she said.

Priscilla says her favorite aspect of The Salvation Army Rochester is the chance to gather in worship every Sunday: “We have a small church family, but the presence of the Lord is strong here,” she said.

Envoy Chris Mackneer said it’s a joy to teach drumming to Shylah and he is grateful for the whole family.

“Shylah and her family have been such a huge blessing for us here in Rochester. Not only is it great to have kids help lead in worship and bring life into the Corps, but it’s also great to have two quality adults who can help out whenever we call on them – it’s an added bonus. In the past, we have seen the kids come alone to church and it is so great to have the family unit together in worship and programs,” Envoy Mackneer said.

While Shylah is growing in her drumming abilities and continuing to learn piano, her favorite aspect of The Salvation Army is the one that grows her faith.

“My favorite part is learning about God and being with the pastors and everyone else, and going to church,” Shylah said. “I want to stay here forever,” she said during a recent visit.


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