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Salvation Army keeps faith that youth center will be built

Summertime is here, and as is often the case, kids need something to do while school is out.

Capt. Leonel Ortiz of the Port Arthur Salvation Army is trying to give youth something to do not only for the summer, but year-round with the construction of a boys’ and girls’ club.

“Our goal is to one day have our own boys’ and girls’ club facility,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been working on funding for years, but it’s difficult to raise funds in Port Arthur. We were working with Beaumont and Orange [Salvation Army offices] for a funding project seven years ago. They’ve already built theirs.”

According to Ortiz, it would have cost around $845,000 to build a boys’ and girls’ club seven years ago; now it would run around $2 million.

“We’re short on funds and there were big donations given to Orange and Beaumont to build,” he said. “A facility for youth is needed in Port Arthur. Last year we had 65 kids for the summer and the number will go up this year.”

The Salvation Army sponsors a summer day camp in a space they rent from Solid Rock Baptist Church on 7th Street and Nashville Street.

“We don’t have the facility here for the camp,” Ortiz said. “This is our first week and we have 37 in enrollment.”

If the Salvation Army takes in enough donations, Port Arthur’s boy’s and girl’s club would be built adjacent to the Salvation Army location on 25th Street. The building would come complete with a game room, a computer room, classroom and a gymnasium. When school is back in session, the facility would offer after school programs.

“We would be hiring a full time boys’ and girls’ club director to go out and let the community know about us. A lot of people don’t know we’re in the community,” Ortiz said. “We were built in 1958 and we’re very small. We have to make use of space and the kids have to go outside for activities because we have no room for indoor activities.”

Regardless of whether the boys’ and girls’ club facility is built, Ortiz said the present office may have to move to another site for space needs in order to expand programs.

He gave as an example basketball teams the Salvation Army sponsored in the past who had no place to meet. They practiced outdoors at the pavilion downtown near the Hotel Sabine until the Memorial 9th Grade Center allowed them to use their gymnasium.

Ortiz believes ultimately the center will offer young men, women and children a place to stay off the streets, particularly after school. Parents would have the assurance their child is in a safe environment to play sports, socialize or do their homework.

“The Salvation Army’s goal is to be a role model and build youth spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally and develop them into well-rounded citizens,” he said.

To make a donation or to volunteer at the Salvation Army, please call 983-2229 and ask for either Capt. Leonel and/or Maria Ortiz, Cathy Bolton, or Sue Byers.