LYDIA HUTCHISON returns a serve as children enrolled in the Salvation Army’s summer enrichment program play in the gym. Other activities offered in the program include math and reading games, crafts, swimming and field trips. The agency will also offer Vacation Bible School for youth in August. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

It’s not just about red kettles and ringing bells at the holidays; the Salvation Army keeps busy all year long.

There’s no down time, said Major Dianna Morales who, along with her husband, Major Mike Morales, are the commanding officers at the Salvation Army in Findlay.

“We don’t take the summers off,” she laughed.

The local corps focuses on children in June, July and August. A summer enrichment program is held each weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with activities including games, crafts, swimming and field trips.

One recent morning, kids from kindergarten to age 14 were practicing their math skills using decks of Uno and Skip-Bo cards.

“The game in here is all about, adapt to what their abilities are,” said Cathy Shurtleff, who is coordinating the program with Dianna Morales. “On math day we do all kinds of things, at their level.”

There are lots of ways to create games using the decks of cards, she said. “Anything with colors or numbers can be adapted to a math game.” Some of the children attending have special needs, Shurtleff added. “So we just adapt.”

Shurtleff provides some educational exercises each day so the campers don’t lose any of their math and reading skills over the summer.

“That summer loss is a big thing,” she said. “So hopefully these kids don’t experience that at such a drastic rate, so they’ll go back to school ready.”

Each child has a box they’ve decorated with drawings and stickers that holds their personal items, similar to a locker at school, Shurtleff said.

“We also do reading where they read stories. Sometimes they partner read. Sometimes they read by themselves,” she said.

According to Morales, the summer program hasn’t been offered locally for several years. But it was one of the things she wanted to add when she and her husband were assigned to Findlay a year ago.

“It’s kind of one of the things I like to do,” she said. “I love day camp. I love spending time with the kids. I love encouraging them.”

Shurtleff, who is a licensed teacher, handles the educational part of the program, while Morales takes charge of activities in the gym.

Craft time is held on Wednesdays. The children have been creating art by gluing crayons together in the shape of their first initial.

There’s also a Bible story each day, and Morales teaches the kids Bible verses. Anyone who memorizes a verse gets a special prize. She said one of the youngest campers, who just turned 5, memorized Proverbs 3, verses 5 and 6.

“That’s two verses. I was so proud of him,” she said.

The group travels to Glenwood Middle School for lunch. In the afternoons, they go swimming at Riverside Park or take special field trips to places like the Mazza Museum, a Toledo Mudhens game or the bowling alley. They also visit different parks in the city.

“We have bubbles and sidewalk chalk, and we take a ball when we play at the park because we’ve got little guys and we’ve got big guys, so we try to give them a variety of stuff to do. They like the park days,” said Shurtleff.

Enrollment is limited to 20 children, and all of the openings are currently filled.

Vacation Bible School for school-age children follows from Aug. 12-15, and a free carnival is planned for Aug. 17.

“It’s kind of to get the people around the block to know we’re here, because sometimes I think they forget who we are or where we are,” said Morales. “But anybody’s welcome to come.”

The idea is to become more visible in the community, she said.

“That’s another reason we like to get out with day camp, so people can see we’re still moving, we’re still doing stuff, we still need help,” she said.

The children all have special blue T-shirts they wear on field trips. This year’s theme is “Survivor Summer,” like the television show, Morales said. “And because we are a church, we have ‘Redemption Island.'”

The agency’s regular services, including food, utility and prescription drug assistance, continue throughout the year.

“We still need food for the pantry,” Morales said. “In fact, somebody had extra funding and they brought us snacks for the kids. And that is so great because we have to spend that money, and this helps free up money for other things.”

Free hot lunches are served the last full week of each month, with the exception of November and December, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The meals, often provided by local churches and volunteers, are open to anyone.

“Even if you just don’t want to cook and you want a really nice lunch or to socialize, come out,” she said. “It’s a community effort, so it’s a community meal. We’d like people to know about it.”

Hot showers are also available at no charge from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Those taking advantage of this program should bring their own towel and hygiene items.

On Sundays, fellowship begins at 9:15 a.m., followed by Sunday school at 9:45 and morning worship at 11.

Morales said Youth Troop (the Salvation Army’s version of the scouting program), adult Bible study, women’s ministries and music programs for all ages will start up again in the fall. Applications for Christmas assistance are taken in October. Monetary donations are accepted throughout the year to help support these programs. (Donations of craft supplies such as white school glue and markers would also be appreciated.)

“We’re very visible at Christmas and not so much the rest of the year,” said Morales. “We just want people to know we’re still here.”

For more information, call the Salvation Army at 419-422-8238.

Wolf: 419-427-8419
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