SA sends mixed signals on Hazel Center finances

Community leaders who have been working to raise money to save the Hazel Youth Center say they are stunned by comments made by a Salvation Army official, who told them – weeks after a committee was formed and in the midst of fundraising – that there never were plans to close the building.

“Major (Gene) Hogg came to a meeting and he clearly made statements that this situation, as he referred to it, the community being up in arms and concerned about the youth center, has been going on for 15 years ago, that there has been a deficit every year for 15 years,” said Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, who, several weeks ago, took the lead to save the building and programs offered there.

“He was very nonchalant. He made statements that he didn’t understand why any of us in the community received information that their building was closing.

“My response was, ‘What are you talking about? We got the information directly from Major (Vic) Tidman. He said it publicly. He said it on the phone. He said it in a meeting. We’re not sitting here playing mental games with the community,’” Sample-Hughes said.

Tidman is commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Salisbury.

“Major Hogg said, ‘Well, we’re not closing.’ He said there won’t be any interruption in service,” the delegate said.

Also at that meeting last week, were County Executive Wayne Culver and County Administrator Wayne Strausburg.

Hogg told the Salisbury Independent this week that the Hazel Center has lost $75,000 or so every year – sometimes more or less – for many years but that closing would be a last resort and is not planned.

“We have 15 years invested in that program. We don’t close a building because we have a shortfall. We just work around it and we will work around it again. We always have,” Hogg said.

Still, he said, he appreciates fund-raising efforts and certainly welcomes donations.

The next Hazel’s Haven’s meeting was scheduled for July 26, but Sample-Hughes said after speaking to Hogg, it’s now tentative.

“We can’t just hand over money to the Salvation Army and have no accountability,” she said. Agreeing, Hogg said the Salvation is “always open to accountability.”

She asked him when the community will be informed that the building will stay open and he said in a week or two. Meantime, she’ll write to the main Salvation Army office asking for clarification.

“What is interesting to me is that he was questioning what the county was doing, how much the building was being appraised for. Why are you so interested in knowing this information if you said it’s not going to close?” Sample-Hughes said.

When Hazel’s Haven Committee met last  week, two days before that private meeting with Hogg, its members planned  money-making efforts, including selling barbecued chicken at the county fair. If the money doesn’t go to keeping the youth center open, it will be given as scholarships.

Mike Dunn, Greater Salisbury Committee CEO, said he shares “in Sheree’s frustration and confusing messages that have been given by the Salvation Army.”

The committee meeting was, he said, “yet another case of this community, when it needs to and has a reason to, is wonderful about stepping up — from the county executive to members of the House of Delegates to the Greater Salisbury Committee to Kathleen Momme at the United Way and the Donnie Williams Foundation, through parents, members of the community and the Salvation Army community members who have been working so hard for so many years.”

“Nobody is shying away. The issue was presented, a desperate issue of closing or threatened closing, and the community is here to offer its help,” he said.

Hazel’s Haven was formed June 29 to help Tidman, 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.

Tidman wasn’t specific about figures, but Culver told the Salisbury Independent 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 so to speak, then take it from there,” said Culver, who is on the committee.

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.

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.

Mayor Jake 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.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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