The Salvation Army released a report on Monday that shows a nationwide increase in the demand for youth programs throughout the economic recession. Unfortunately, the report, titled "Growing Up in a Downturn," also reveals that many such programs have at the same time had to make cuts in staff and programming, and in some cases have even closed down, due to a lack of funding.
According to the study, 81 percent of Salvation Army youth programs saw an increased demand for youth services in 2011, which is up from 75 percent in 2008. Of the programs surveyed, 60 percent of them saw an increase in demand of up to 30 percent, and 11 percent saw an increase in demand of 50 percent or more.
While some bright spots stick out – like the 62 percent of youth services that have seen an increase in the number of volunteers – the Christian organization is facing an uphill battle in trying to meet the needs of the youth in local communities.
In 2011, for example, one-third of the organization's youth programs saw a reduction in charitable giving. Since 2008, 41 percent of the programs have either cut back on services or simply shut down.
"Potentially for years to come, parents across the country may be forced to make hard choices every day about the welfare and safety of their children," said Commissioner William Roberts, national commander for The Salvation Army, in a statement. "Regardless of their troubles, The Salvation Army will be there to help them through these trying times so those hard choices are a little easier to make."
The study was conducted in October 2011 and includes information as reported by 100 Salvation Army youth programs from 80 cities across the United States. This is the first time the organization has released internal data about its youth programs, and they have done so with the goal of rallying public support for them.
"Even as America pulls itself out of the pitfalls of the recession, we expect to continue to see clients, young and old, coming through our doors," said Roberts. "The Salvation Army will continue to serve communities that still struggle with the loss of business, jobs and homes and help those struggling to get back on their feet."
The Salvation Army was established as a church in 1865, and provides assistance to nearly 30 million Americans every year.
Major Todd Thielke is the senior officer at The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Omaha, Neb., a community center that offers programs in education, arts, health and fitness, sports and recreation, spiritual development and more. He says the center, which opened in November 2009, has seen a 27 percent increase in overall use in the last year.
"We are seeing many more youth coming into our centers for our after school program," Thielke told The Christian Post on Tuesday. When spring break starts for local schools next week, he said, the center will probably have about 200 children a day coming in for daytime classes.
The Omaha Kroc Center has felt the pinch of an increased demand and tighter funding too, but Thielke says they continue to try to get more volunteers and bring in more donations. As far as youth programs are concerned, they have already cut back on what they had hoped to offer the community.
"It has caused us to cap some of our programs at a much smaller scale than we'd hoped to, and to limit the amount of people that can come through at a particular time. However, we are looking for more and more program underwriting so that we can reach out to more youth that are at-risk and low income families," he said.
Thielke says the Omaha Kroc Center is located in the middle of a low-income neighborhood, though anyone from the community can use it. He believes community centers can play an important role in a young person's development.
"We believe it's important to inspire every youth to discover their God-given talent, and we want them to have an opportunity to have access to facilities where they can try a new sport, a new language, a new art class or music so that they can become the people God created them to be," he said.