Officials working to save West Salisbury Salvation Army center

Members of the newly formed Hazel’s Haven Committee will explore ways to solve the Salvation Army’s financial woes, so its West Side youth center remains open.

Formed at a public meeting June 29 and spearheaded by state Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, the 25-person committee will gather Tuesday at the Greater Salisbury Committee office.

“We are meeting with government officials, other philanthropic entities and community leaders to try and bring resolution to this problem,” said Mike Dunn, Greater Salisbury Committee CEO.

The organization is among those eager to help Maj. Vic Tidman, commanding officer of the Salvation Army, who has, for more than a dozen years, been struggling to balance funds received with fees and dues that must be paid to the national office.

Sample-Hughes, who got involved after learning a financial shortfall could cause the Richard Hazel Youth Center to close.

Tidman wasn’t specific with figures, she said, but County Executive Bob Culver told the Salisbury Independent early this week that the local office owes $800,000 to the national organization.

That amount will be forgiven, he said, but future losses must be brought under control. For every $1 donated locally, 10 cents goes to the national office, Culver said.

“We want to bring these people together on the committee and stabilize it, stop the bleeding, stop the bleeding, so to speak, then take it from there,” said Culver, who is on the committee.

Sample-Hughes said she wishes Tidman would have asked the community for help sooner.

“He only came to the community because he was forced to come to the meeting. But if we had known about this even five years ago we could have helped. The community would have been there,” she said.

The youth center is funded by an endowment from the late philanthropist Richard Hazel, as well as private donations and The United Way. Some organizations willing to donate can’t, because the Salvation Army is a religious organization. “That’s a hindrance. It challenges the ability for it to thrive,” Sample-Hughes said.

“There were so many people at that meeting, at AME Zion Church, where we met, that we had to move the meeting to the sanctuary, from the fellowship hall. It was a very good meeting,” the delegate said.

In attendance were business leaders, members of fraternal organizations and elected officials. A panel asked Tidman about shortfalls and were passionate about gathering information and working toward a solution, Sample-Hughes said.

She and Culver have talked about the possibility of the youth center, built in 2002 and located on North Lake Park Drive, being taken over the county. If that happened, it would become part of the Recreation and Parks division.

“Overall, the meeting was what we needed to happen first, before we can make any decisions. A lot of people needed to understand that a certain percentage of money that local Salvation Army gets has to go to national for fees and dues,” the delegate said.

Among those who volunteered to be on the committee is Kevin Lindsay, whose 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son go to the youth center.

“Everybody on the committee wants to try and help. We have to look into it. My concern is that it doesn’t close. I was told by (Mayor) Jake Day and Bob Culver that it won’t close,” he said.

Day said city leaders will help in any way possible, but that the building is on county property, so county officials are in charge. “We could annex it, but it’s under the county’s jurisdiction,” Day said.

“My kids like it there,” Lindsay said about the youth center. “We want to make sure their voices, our kids’ voices, are heard more than anything,” he said.

Sample-Hughes stressed the importance of the youth center.

“If it closed, we would lose a vital part of our community center. I don’t want to lose that. We definitely do not need that to happen with all the negativity we hear about concerning youth today,” she said.

Tidman couldn’t be reached for comment, but he has told the Salisbury Independent he, too, wants a solution. He refused to elaborate, saying only, “Public donations are always appreciated. We’re looking for a long-term solution.”

State Sen. Jim Mathias praised Sample-Hughes for taking the initiative to schedule a community meeting and vowed to work closely with her to try and save the center.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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