By Jennifer Byrd
The great Dr. Seuss once said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and to The Salvation Army, a child’s needs are just as important as anyone’s.
What many people may not know though is that The Salvation Army is committed to providing a safe space for children to play, learn and grow in character. Through a variety of programs, youths are provided warm meals, friendship, education, music classes, athletic opportunities, arts and crafts, camping, Christian fellowship, character-building experiences and more. And many of the youths who take part in Salvation Army programs are at-risk and do not have access to opportunities outside their immediate environments to experience educational enrichment, life skills development, and spiritual and physical wellness.
One of my favorite youth programs that The Salvation Army offers has always been summer camp. When I worked for The Salvation Army in San Francisco, I would sometimes visit Camp Redwood Glenn, one of The Salvation Army’s residential summer camps right outside of Santa Cruz, Ca. And there was a certain session of kids from the inner city of San Francisco who would stay for about five days. Normally, these kids were not able to play outside safely, let alone breathe in clean summer air, so it would bring me great joy to see kids running and playing with each other outside or swimming in the pool and squealing in delight, as they would get into (gentle) water fights! I grew up able to play in the woods or romp around an overgrown field in the summertime, so I know first hand how important nature can be to a child – how freeing it can be to run around, safely, until the sun goes down.
It’s opportunities like these for youths that have been hindered by the economic downturn, not only at Salvation Army programs, but at all social service organizations. To better understand the recession’s true impact, The Salvation Army released an internal study, “Growing Up in a Downturn,” on how our youth programs have been affected by the recession. We discovered some interesting, if not all together surprising, information.
To begin with, The Salvation Army has seen an upward trend of people in need, providing assistance to 30.2 million Americans in 2010, up from 28.9 million in 2007. Eighty-one percent of Salvation Army youth programs saw an increase in demand for youth services in 2011, up from 75 percent in 2008. Fifty-six percent of Salvation Army youth programs are at or beyond capacity. As a result, resources, including funding and staffing for these programs, are stretched to provide the same level of assistance as before the recession.
It was interesting to note that some of the most requested services and activities by youth from The Salvation Army included after-school tutoring, summer camp, mentoring, sports and music programs. One that especially struck me was that many youth ask for dinner. I am grateful that The Salvation Army is able to help these children, and in turn, their families so they do not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
And what about the support we are seeing for these programs?
Last year, one-third of Salvation Army youth programs saw a reduction in giving. And since 2008, 41 percent of Salvation Army youth programs have been forced to cut back services or close programs completely due to demand surpassing funding.
But not all findings were bad. Donations and support flourished in 2011 in some areas and allowed Salvation Army programs to remain open or even expand for youths. Sixty-two percent of Salvation Army youth services have seen increases in volunteerism, and with continued support from community members, 92 percent of Salvation Army programs expect to meet the increased demand for as long as the children come to the Army for assistance.
Thank you for your continued support so that we are able to help America’s youth.
For more information on “Growing Up in A Downturn”, click here.
You can help families and children in your community by supporting your local The Salvation Army.