By Maureen Cummings
Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 1, 2003
[Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
HAMPTON - When Salvation Army Capt. Tracy Hughes was in her 20s, she searched for a place where she could share with others like herself. Her search ended with the Salvation Army in Utica, N.Y.
"I didn't come from a church background. SA is the first place I went to. I've been there ever since. I needed a place for regular people. This is what we're trying to offer here." said Hughes.
The "here" she refers to is the Salvation Army of Hampton and Seabrook. The agency boasts not only a new location - it moved from its former downtown location at 15 High St. to 34 Winnacunnet Road on June 1 - but several new and growing programs for children and adults. All of the changes stem from a desire to meet the many needs of the Seacoast.
Hughes, the corps commanding officer and head pastor, described SA of Hampton and Seabrook as both a church and a community center. The motivation for the move to its third location, next to the First Baptist church, came from the staff's decision to spend more money on people and less on overhead.
A wonderful opportunity
"It's a wonderful opportunity for us," Hughes said. She explained that the First Baptist Church congregation was looking for another Christian organization to move into the large, house-like structure beside the church building, forming a property partnership.
She said the new building, complete with a lawn, is very conducive to the community center atmosphere.
"The children can at least step outside into a small, grassy area. The boys recently sat in the grass, playing 'duck, duck goose.' Unless we took a trip to Tuck Field, that wouldn't have been possible for us."
The SA has no connection to its Baptist neighbors, the captain said. "It's only as Christian brothers and sisters."
The nonprofit agency is still in the process of moving, said Hughes, speaking from a small back meeting room with a poster on the wall that asks questions like, "Are you ready to make a difference, take a stand, stay committed?" under a Scripture quote.
Hughes said there's much work to be done on the Seacoast.
"There's exciting stuff in this area. I'm so blessed to be a part of what's going on. The Seacoast used to be without help, not because people didn't care, but because they didn't know there was a need. There's a great need here. Many people are falling through the cracks."
She is joined by staff members Lorraine Boyd, who serves as receptionist and caseworker, and April Griffiths, youth group coordinator and Hughes' assistant, as well as an "army" of volunteers.
Hughes also explained that much of the population SA serves is transient. Many are families who rent at the beach during the school year and are forced out by high rents during the summer season.
"These families may go to the campgrounds, or live with relatives, until rentals are available in the fall. A big cry from many families in the area is to get year-round, affordable housing."
The SA of Hampton and Seabrook serves clientele from those towns as well as North Hampton and Hampton Falls.
"We're a piece of a community network of services coming for families and youth," she said. "We are very aware we can't function in a vacuum. We need to team with other caring adults in the community."
This network included local schools, Rockingham County Community Action Program, Hobbs House in Hampton, Families First in Portsmouth, the medical van from Exeter Hospital, First Congregational Church of Hampton and other agencies. "We try to be aware of services going on in other parts of the community to make sure everybody's needs are met."
Like Hughes and Boyd, Griffiths also dons many hats. One of the programs Griffiths is looking forward to is the League of Mercy, in which teens visit such elderly residences such as Dearborn House in Hampton.
Teen Night, another program, began in the fall of 2000, as part of the staff's dream for a safe place for teenagers (especially from the beach) to hang out, play games or participate in arts and crafts and special activities.
Since its beginning, the group has grown from seven youths to more than 30.
"The group is so big that, in the fall, we will be splitting into two groups." Hughes said.
"We just want to be a place where they can come and have some good, clean fun (which is so hard to find these days), begin to make good life choices, make friends and reach out to others. God has exploded this group. If it's a place where kids feel comfortable inviting friends, then you've got it made."
The group is open to any youths. "Some are Catholic. Some have no church background. We're not a private club. Anyone can join."
One feature of the Teens Night is the presentation on the all-important issue of sex.
"They (kids) need a place to talk about it. Otherwise, they go out and get incorrect, unsafe information. I want them to know there are adults they can go to who won't be flabbergasted. That's what we're about."
Adults enjoy coffeehouse
For adults, there is a new open door/coffeehouse. This program includes munchies, music, fellowship and encouraging words from the Bible, all in an informal setting.
"It's exciting. I love to work with adults. I came to know Jesus at age 30," said Hughes.
These adult get-togethers are usually held two Saturdays a month at 7 p.m.
"We just had our first one on our new parcel. We had a group of five people. I brought out my guitar, enjoyed tea. It was very nice. We were encouraging and praying for each other. Who knows what form this will take over the summer?"
Looking back, Hughes wished she had something like SA as a younger adult. Now, she only looks forward.
"Our long-term goal is to have local leaders in place who can keep SA in Hampton vibrant and reaching out to people of all ages, even when pastors change. When I move on, which could be next year, or in three years, I'd love to see local people running these programs. It's wonderful to see all the volunteers who have become the heart of the corps," said Hughes.
Hughes would also like for the SA to be in its own facility a few years down the road. "We're enjoying our wonderful new location, but the Advisory Board is always on the lookout to be in our own building. That way, we don't have the overhead of rent, even though we would still have utilities and other costs."
And, they could focus even more on what's important - people's needs.
"The Salvation Army of Hampton is a place where people young and old can experience God's lives and have the opportunity to reach out to others in His name. If we're doing that, I'm happy."
For information about SA services or needs, call 929-1729.
Much to offer:
Among the many programs and initiatives the Salvation Army of Hampton and Seabrook offers are the following:
A food pantry and community center. Anyone walking in can receive bread donated by Hannaford or receive a food pantry order.
A back-to-school supply drive. "We are currently asking for donations of pens, pencils, loose-leaf paper, crayons and markers," Salvation Army Capt. Tracy Hughes said. Distribution takes place on Aug. 28, before the start of the new school year.
Besides the usual school supplies, this year, many donors are also providing portable phones with phone cards, said Boyd. "Every child has to go to school with access to a phone. They have to have a home phone, neighbors or some other access to a phone," she said.
Shots and physicals for children who don't have health care.
An after-school gospel arts program for boys and girls ages 7 and up, and the Sunbeams for girls in grades 1-5. The Sunbeams will begin in late September.