A Safe Place for Fun
"People may ask, ‘Why do sports programming? That’s not the greatest need right now. People need financial help and all these other things.’ This is true – people need those basic things, but they also still need a safe place and people to cheer them on.”
Lt. Josh Hubbard has seen firsthand how important youth programs have been over the past year. He oversees operations at The Salvation Army Eagle Creek Corps Community Center, where in-person activities ground to a halt a year ago when much of Indianapolis shut down. Over the summer, children began to return to the community center in smaller numbers to allow for social distancing. Today, the building is hosting youth activities five days a week as part of its continuing ministry to the west side of Indianapolis.
“Young people need a safe place,” Lt. Hubbard explains. “There will be long-term effects from the pandemic, both financially and emotionally. These children have been robbed of so many opportunities, like interacting with adults outside the home who are champions of the child.” With this in mind, Lt. Hubbard and his team have found ways to make youth programs work in pandemic conditions. On Wednesday nights ballet classes meet in the chapel while first Club Arrow and then Taekwondo class meet in the gymnasium. The groups are limited in size but are currently being offered free of charge thanks to COVID-19 funding and grants.
“Children are isolated at home all day long and these sports activities get them out of the house and moving,” says Lt. Hubbard. Youth ministries aren’t new to The Salvation Army, but the physical and psychological impact of these programs is more clear today than ever before. “The kids get to see people,” he continues. “I think it has even more of a place now than it had when we started those programs. With the COVID funding we can offer that to anyone. There are no barriers.”
Some activities are still not operating in the building, but a little creative thinking has kept popular programs like Tuesday’s “Thrive Family Night” going. Before the pandemic, families would gather for dinner, kids would participate in character building groups while parents enjoyed coffee and fellowship, and then everyone would come back together for music lessons. In the fall the Thrive program shifted to a drive-thru model where families can interact with staff from their cars and take activity kits and dinner back home to enjoy together.
“There’s still this physical, face-to-face interaction,” Lt. Hubbard shares. “We provide materials to go home, so now their parents can do character building with them. I love that we still get to see our people and get in some social interaction. That’s why The Salvation Army is here. We’re here and still serving.”