A simple chapel, perhaps with stained glass, a brass band and weekly Sunday services, is a major element of Coeur d’Alene’s quest for a $29 million community center.
But the religious aspect is often overshadowed by local exuberance over Coeur d’Alene’s prospect of getting swimming pools, gyms, and a performing arts center.
Coeur d’Alene is a finalist, along with seven other Western towns, for a Salvation Army grant to build a large community center on Ramsey Road, just south of Ramsey Park.
“The thing I love about the Salvation Army and their mission is that in order to save souls you have to meet people’s basic needs, too,” said Sandy Patano, who is on the local committee working to get the grant.
To her, that’s the beauty of the community centers being built across the country with the $1.5 billion bestowed on the Salvation Army by McDonald’s heiress Joan B. Kroc. The local center would have recreation facilities, a computer lab, commercial kitchen and a good dose of spirituality.
Yet that’s optional. Church membership wouldn’t be a requirement to use the community center or any Salvation Army services or programs. It’s anticipated that the majority of users would come just to swim, take a cooking class or play indoor soccer.
“It doesn’t do us any good to force people to go to our church in order to access our services,” said Maj. John Chamness of the Salvation Army’s northwest division in Seattle. “We just want to be here for those who don’t have a place to go.”
The Salvation Army is a church with an evangelical Christian doctrine similar to the Nazarenes. Founded in 1865 and known for its red-kettle bell-ringers who collect donations during Christmas, the Salvation Army is often seen as a social services charity instead of a denomination.
“A lot of people are surprised to know we are a church,” said Maj. Ben Markham, who acts as pastor of the Salvation Army’s Spokane Chapel. “It’s a battle we’ve fought forever.”
Markham said evangelist Billy Graham once referred to the Salvation Army as “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up” because it is willing to work with the poor and unfortunate.
Markham’s voice filled the small, concrete-walled chapel last week as he showed off the space where he preaches to an average of 125 people each Sunday. Some people are third-generation members, while others are sampling the service while they live in the Salvation Army’s transitional housing apartments next door.
Coeur d’Alene probably won’t find out until February whether the Salvation Army will build a Kroc center on Ramsey Road. But if it does, Markham expects the chapel to look similar and hold about the same number of people.
He is excited about the possibility of having a more visible Salvation Army presence in Kootenai County. Coeur d’Alene, Wallace and Kellogg used to have Salvation Army churches, but Markham thinks they died out in the 1950s.
The closest Idaho church is in Lewiston.
The church has a field representative who oversees North Idaho and Western Montana, helping people in emergency situations.
Volunteers at Community Action Partners, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department and the Post Falls Food Bank have the ability to give people emergency vouchers for gas if someone’s car is stranded, a few nights of lodging for families leaving violent homes, or prescription drugs for patients who are late getting Social Security payments. In June, the Salvation Army sent 50 local children to summer camp in Spokane.
Field representative Janice Husmann said up to 100 vouchers are given out a month in Kootenai County.
“Usually a town the size of Coeur d’Alene would have something much larger than just volunteers,” Husmann said.
The Salvation Army has been interested in expanding services in Coeur d’Alene for years but never has had the money. Chamness said the Kroc center is the perfect opportunity.
Other local churches seem to welcome the addition, saying there are many people to help in the rapidly growing area. An informal survey conducted by the local grant committee of area churches resulted in nothing but praise.
The Rev. Ronald Hunter of the Coeur d’Alene Church of the Nazarene doesn’t think any area Christian churches will feel competition from the Salvation Army, which isn’t known for aggressive proselytizing.
“You don’t make converts by squirting them with a water hose,” Hunter said. “You have to do some things that are attractive.”
Although the city is using its staff expertise to help with the grant application and Mayor Sandi Bloem is heading the local committee, the city would have no oversight of the Kroc center.
The Salvation Army would own and operate the center, meaning it would have full responsibility for generating the revenue to keep it running.
“No tax dollars would go to this at all,” Bloem said.
Kroc’s vision was to create “miniature peace centers.” She chose the Salvation Army because of its organizational skills and willingness to tackle tough social problems. At the dedication for a center in San Diego, Kroc said she was inspired by her desire for all to live in peace and for youths and adults to have resources that would let them reach their full potential.
Patano believes North Idaho has the ability to fulfill Kroc’s dream.
“It will be one of our beacons of light,” Patano said.
“This could be where the next Olympic swimmer comes from or an artist or a musician or a minister or a social worker – all because of the way they were treated at the center.”
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