On a typical morning, 53 pregnant or parenting teens are starting their day at the Marian Pritchett School in Boises North End. The school is a partnership between the Boise School District and the Salvation Army.
A short drive away, at the Salvation Armys food pantry behind its thrift store on State Street, families are picking up boxes of food.
In Caldwell, parents with a baby or expecting one soon are learning parenting skills at the incentives-based Baby Haven ministry.
On the Boise Bench, one formerly homeless mother and her teenage son are getting settled in an apartment thanks to a new transitional housing program the organization has.
Now, if we spend time together, its because we want to, said the mom, Dianne Kelley. Not because were sharing a room at the shelter.
Thats all just a sampling of the Salvation Armys work, which is broader than many know, said Major John Stennett, who directs the local offices.
The organization began as an evangelical wing of the Universal Christian church in 1865. Its been active in the Treasure Valley for 125 years, and 20,000 families in Ada County used Salvation Army services in 2011.
Still, Stennett has called his organization the Treasure Valleys best kept secret, and he said thats not always a good thing. Because the charity has been around so long, its symbols holiday bell ringers, old-style soup kitchens and revival meetings have become iconic, but outdated.
The Salvation Armys mission has stayed the same: keeping people from becoming homeless, getting them back on their feet if they are homeless, and sharing Jesus with them if theyre interested, said Stennett. But its methods have evolved.
Were trying to be as efficient as possible, because were having to do more with less, he said.
The organization has lost some of its funding from foundations and the government in the recent recession. Individual donations are up in the Valley, which is keeping the organization in the black.
Were hoping that if people experience tax relief in the coming months, theyll remember that those reductions mean the government has cut back on services for people in need and theres a bigger burden on nonprofits, Stennett said.
The burden is not going away. In 2005, the local Salvation Army gave 925 food boxes to needy families. In just one month in 2010, the organization gave away 927 food boxes.
The new challenge on the horizon, as Stennett sees it, is proposed cuts in the farm bill that would end food stamp assistance to 2 or 3 million people, resulting in more demand on the Salvation Army and similar organizations.
If they do that, wow, said Stennett.
The organization is saving money through partnerships. Its working with the Idaho Foodbank to get emergency food assistance to Idahoans. Both programs use a client choice model at their pantries, meaning clients choose what they want, rather than taking home mystery boxes of food. It cuts down on waste, Stennett said.
A partnership with the early education center Giraffe Laugh provides day care for the students at Marian Pritchett. The agreement saves the Salvation Army $85,000 a year, said Stennett.
NEW PROGRAM MEANS STABLE HOMES
The Salvation Army operates family shelters in Boise and Nampa. A new program, Transition in Place, operates on a different principle: Homeless families move into apartments with assistance from the organization. Family members sign the lease and the group signs on to pay rent, utilities and other things, such as job training.
The Salvation Army started moving families into apartments last month, and staffers hope to have 20 families in apartments across the Valley by the end of the year. The organization is waiting to see whether it will receive a federal grant to pay for apartments for homeless veterans.
Its no free ride, said Stennett.
The program is finite, lasting up to two years. Program participants have to be making progress toward set goals, whether thats finding a job, paying off debilitating debts, or signing up for disability and other benefits.
The program means savings for the Salvation Army, too, because it cuts down on staff hours and the cost of running large facilities, said Stennett.
Other benefits are psychological.
Children can be in this program with their parents and not even be aware that theyre homeless, he said.
Kelley, 50, one of the first participants in Transition in Place, was left homeless after a divorce. She and her son lived in hotels until their money ran out, then at the Salvation Armys Boise shelter for eight months. They shared a room together and shared a bathroom with another family.
House rules meant they had to be out of the shelter between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. challenging in the winter because of the cold, challenging in the summer when her son was out of school.
In the new apartment, they each have a room.
Thats the first thing my son said when he saw it, said Kelley.
Having a stable home will give Kelley a place to build from, she said. Shes worked in retail in the past and now is looking for office work. The city bus, her mode of transportation, stops right across the street from her new residence, and her son has been able to forge a good relationship with a social worker at South Junior High.
They make sure he has his school uniforms, said Kelley.
She likes that the school has a uniform policy: You cant single out whos poor and whos not. Youre all wearing the same thing.
Anna Webb: 377-6431