By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
The Salvation Army is closing its corps building and youth center and will no longer assign officers to Baker City, but the organization's commitment to Baker County will not decline, according to the divisional commander.
Services to low-income families, such as the food bank, thrift store and summer youth camp, will continue through a community service center beginning July 12, said Capt. Kenneth Hodder, divisional commander of the Cascade Division of The Salvation Army. Needy families will continue to receive holiday food baskets and gifts, and bell ringers will continue to raise money for the organization during the holiday season, he said.
The corps building at 1820 Estes St., which houses the church and youth center, as well as the officer quarters in the Hillcrest area will be sold, Hodder said. The proceeds will be used to pay outstanding debts owed to local vendors and debts to the organization's corporate level, Hodder added.
andquot;It is not possible for The Salvation Army corporately in light of the economy currently in the state of Oregon and in light of (Sept. 11) to keep extending credit to the community as we have in the past,andquot; he said.
andquot;Although economic conditions have determined that we can no longer maintain a Salvation Army corps in the area, we are committed to serving the spiritual and physical needs of the people in Baker City,andquot; Hodder said.
andquot;We have been serving the community for more than 105 years, and we will continue to do so in the years ahead,andquot; he added.
A field representative will be hired to continue the services the community has come to expect from the organization, Hodder said.
andquot;Ideally we want someone who knows Baker City and knows the needs of the community. That's always the best way to go.andquot;
And although that person will not be an officer of The Salvation Army he or she will be someone with an andquot;awareness and commitment to the spiritual dimensions of The Salvation Army's work,andquot; Hodder said.
The Baker City corps has employed nine people in the past. Some positions will be eliminated and some will be restructured under the Army's new strategy in the community, Hodder said.
The Thrift Store and Family Service Center at 2505 Broadway St. will be remodeled to accommodate additional programs and services, including a regular Sunday church service, he added.
Final staffing decisions, including the hiring of a field representative,
will be made soon. The new structure should be in place by July 15, he said.
Majors Laurie and Shirley Kirk, who have served as interim commanding officers in Baker City since March, have completed their contract with The Salvation Army and have returned to their home at Nampa, Idaho, Hodder said.
They will volunteer to provide religious services each Sunday to the 25-member congregation of The Salvation Army, Hodder said.
andquot;This represents the spirit, not only of the Kirks, but the tremendous commitment at every level to do everything possible to maintain continuity,andquot; Hodder said.
Troy Lepley is chairman of The Salvation Army Advisory Board in Baker City. Other board members are Dennis Teske, Nelson Creech, Doug Humphress, Randy Guyer, Don Everson, Bill Smith, Doyle Perry and Bill Lee.
Hodder said the board will be reorganized as a Service Unit Committee and assume more responsibility for operation of the Army's programs in the community.
Lepley said he believes the biggest loss under the reorganization plan will be the closure of the youth center, which The Salvation Army has operated at the corps building for the past several years.
The program provided supervision for children at a minimal cost throughout the year.
Attendance has declined this summer when families were informed that the program would end soon, according to Monica Hansen, youth center employee.
Only about 30 children per week are attending the center as the closing date nears. In the past it has served as many as 25 per day, Monday through Friday, she said.
The program served pre-teen and young teen-age children who might be old enough to stay home alone, but whose parents would prefer they receive supervision during the day.
Hansen said she is concerned that some of the young people will find themselves in trouble without the youth center service.
andquot;The youth center has been very, very important to the community,andquot; she said.
The Salvation Army will ensure that every Baker County child who wants to attend the summer camp program near Boring has that opportunity again this year, Hodder said.
The restructuring does not mean The Salvation Army would not re-establish a full corps operation and purchase other property in the future should economic conditions improve, he said.
A public Service of Thanksgiving is scheduled Sunday to commemorate the organization's many years of service in the community. The service will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the Baker City corps building at 1820 Estes St. Hodder will be the guest speaker. The program also will include installation of new Home League officers.
andquot;Our message is that The Salvation Army is here to stay in Baker City,andquot; Hodder said.