By Jim Haddadin | MetroWest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM — With its staff and volunteers under a new roof, the Framingham Salvation Army Corps is retooling for the future.
The group, which recently left its home of more than 30 years on Concord Street, is adopting a new focus on youth and family services at its new facility on Howard Street.
The Framingham Corps recently launched a new after-school program for children in kindergarten and elementary school called Club 3:16. The free service, available 4-6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, addresses a pressing need on the Southside for more youth programming.
The Salvation Army is also in the early stages of establishing a youth diversion program. Based on successful models used by Salvation Army chapters in Lowell, Springfield and Cambridge, the 12-week program would be targeted toward children 12-17 who are either at risk or facing adjudication through the juvenile justice system. Those who complete the program would be eligible to have their records wiped clean.
Staff from the Salvation Army have consulted with the police chief and are seeking grant money for the initiative, Salvation Army Business Manager Wendy Kountz said Friday. They hope to have it in place for the coming school year.
This month marks a farewell for the 126-year-old group, which is set to hold a moving sale Saturday at its longtime home at 35 Concord St. The Salvation Army has been headquartered there since 1980. Now in need of significant renovations, the building would be costly to maintain, and is too large for the Salvation Army’s needs, Kountz said.
The group has also faced pressure in recent years to chart a different path for the Concord Street site, which is viewed as prime downtown real estate. Town officials focused heavily on revitalizing the Concord Street corridor — efforts that may soon pay off with the construction of luxury rental housing one block away at the Kendall Street intersection.
Developer Wood Partners plans to break ground this year on a $60 million project that would create 197 apartments on several parcels that are now home to parking lots, warehouses, a church and vacant stores. The site, located at 75 Concord St., would include a six-story parking garage with 315 spaces.
Kountz said the Salvation Army, which began relocating to Howard Street in December, is slated to close on the sale of its Concord Street building next month. The group plans to lease space on Howard Street while it searches for another permanent location to occupy for 30 to 50 years.
“We need to stay in Framingham because this is where our clients are,” Kountz said, “and there just wasn’t property available at the time.”
In the move to Howard Street, the Framingham Corps retained most of its existing services, but ended one of its long-running programs.
The Miracle Kitchen, a feeding program launched in 1980, was discontinued. With no food service space on Howard Street, Kountz said the Salvation Army entered talks with the United Way of Tri-County about expanding the United Way’s Pearl Street Cupboard and Cafe.
The United Way now offers meals five nights a week, Kountz said, up from two previously. Many volunteers who previously worked with the Salvation Army — including representatives from 39 schools, businesses and religious organizations — have started donating their time to the United Way, Kountz said.
“That was our goal was to make sure that people still got fed,” she said, ”(and) that people were still receiving the services they needed.”
The Salvation Army still operates its food pantry, which is open by appointment Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It also continues to refer clients to social services in the community, and provides heating assistance. The group is also sponsoring monthly family movie nights.
In the future, Kountz said the Salvation Army hopes to relocate from its two-story, 5,000-square-foot space on Howard Street into a site well-suited for family programs.
“It will work for us for a temporary space until we find something permanent,” she said. “Ideally we’d like to find a location where we could also have a gymnasium for youth programming.”
Photo By Wicked Local and Daily News Staff Art Illman