Featured photo : Linnell Jones-McKinney/Photos provided by Linnell Jones-McKinney
Written by Tanya Terry
Youth Advocate Linnell Jones-McKinney began working in full-time ministry for The Salvation Life Center-Beecher in February 2023. She is now the executive director at the Life Center. She is over all programs, activities and events.
Jones-McKinney previously talked to the Courier about how she started reaching out to other young people when she was only in middle school. She described how many of the contributions she was able to already make to the Flint community and beyond came as no surprise to her.
“I knew as a child, from the age of 8 years old, that I would be working with young people,” she said. “At the age of 6 years old, I knew that God had something special for me to do. I knew I was going to be a motivational speaker. I knew that I would be playing professional basketball, even though they didn’t have a women’s sports program at that time. I was the first female to play on the boys’ basketball team in elementary and middle school. I knew that I would eventually build a youth activity center.”
Jones-McKinney has now been working with young people for over 40 years. She had her own youth program, School of Champions and a self-organized program called The New Direction Program. She’s worked with 21st Century, Bridges to the Future and YouthQuest. She is known for working as community relations director for the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV). According to SBEV’s website, The Flint Sports Complex, to be located on the campus of SBEV, will be a premier youth development, health and athletic destination that will act as a catalyst in changing the narrative of Flint. Jones-McKinney will continue to be involved with SBEV’s work and mission, though not working physically on the campus.
“I’ve done programs all over the world,” Jones-McKinney said. “All over Italy, I’ve done programs. I am a youth advocate.”
At the young age of 6, Jones-McKinney felt there was something greater than life and greater than herself.
“I would go off to myself and sit in this presence. I know now that it was God. Often, I would go off to myself on a curb or on the porch. There was a church in my neighborhood. I would go sit on their porch. They seemed like they had the door open for me to sit there and listen. I would listen to the sermons, the singing and the testimonies.”
At age 8, Jones-McKinney started clubs for youth. When she went to middle school, she would hold all-school assemblies and talk to other kids about their dreams and their purpose.
In around her junior year of college, Jones-McKinney felt a call and dedicated her life to Christ. She recalls churches that were open 24 hours a day overseas. She was able to deepen her personal relationship with God. Though because of her successful basketball career, Linnell Jones-McKinney Day was celebrated in Viterbo, Italy, she eventually felt a call once again to come back to Flint and start youth programs.
“The past few years, I’ve been feeling that heavy call again. Salvation Army’s Major Randy Hellstrom reached out to me last year. We would be at the YMCA talking about basketball, talking about the Lord. Early last year, he told me ‘Hey, we’re going to have this new building. We want to be more impactful in the Beecher Community.’ I was advising him on how. Then, the opportunity presented itself and I felt like it was God calling me into ministry.”
Although Jones-McKinney will be, for the most part, doing the same things she has been doing at SBEV, she said it will be more intentional towards the purpose of introducing Christ to the young people, their families and the community.
“Everything we do, from tutoring to basketball, to arts, to dance, is for this purpose.”
The center also offers a music program, technology, mentoring, skilled trades and more. Jones-McKinney said they are also bringing in mental health organizations. In addition, they are in the process of starting a chess club.
In April, there will be a reopening of the center to let the community know about all the programs.
There is also a “dinner church” from 5-7 p.m. on Sundays. Attendees can enjoy a wholesome dinner, hear speakers and have table talk. Open basketball takes place afterwards for those who are interested. Dinner church and all its activities are open to the public.
The center used to be known as the Salvation Army, but it is now the Life Center.
“We have turned it over to more structured afterschool programs, as opposed to it just being a community center.”
The kids will be taken on field trips. There is also a concert being planned for April, as well as a resource event being planned for the future.
Jones feels that in the past the Beecher has been “like a lost child,” lacking resources.
“I’m excited because I feel that they’ve been kind of left behind. I’m excited about being able to share the gospel and share the resources to a community that I think has been left behind.”
Jones has been attending both the Family Worship Center, her home church, and the Salvation Army’s downtown location.
One group she is particularly interested in bringing closer to Christ is those 30 and younger. Jones feels her generation, as a whole, has not done a good job of meeting this group’s needs and giving them the opportunity to see that God is real.
Jones-McKinney said she doesn’t believe ministry for her necessarily involves giving sermons behind a pulpit. Instead, ministry for her is to be with people she is influencing.
She points out The Salvation Life Center-Beecher still gives away diapers, has a food giveaway from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. every Tuesday and will have their food pantry open daily.
“I pray that everyone on the face of the earth be able to understand their purpose. For me, the purpose is to serve God and serve His purpose.”
All The Salvation Life Center-Beecher’s programs are free to the community.