A Boost for Binghamton
Binghamton, N.Y., is emblematic of a depressed upstate economy, where 47 percent of local schoolchildren live in poverty and 87 percent qualify for the free or reduced meal program.
The existing 13,000–square–foot Binghamton Citadel Corps has also seen better days. Dedicated in 1905 and remodeled in 1959, the corps is in a downtown commercial section on a narrow street with little parking. The facility is cramped and chopped up into small spaces and corridors.
“There are barriers to our ministry here in the downtown area,” says Major Ronald Heimbrock, the corps officer in Binghamton, along with his wife, Major Marilyn Heimbrock.
The current two–story building is not wheelchair–accessible and many of the mechanical systems are old and expensive to maintain. And due to a lack of air–conditioning, an upstairs gym is virtually unusable in the summer.
“It’s very difficult to do some of the programs,” Heimbrock says.
However, that’s all about to change.
A new day coming
The Salvation Army hopes to break ground later this year on the new Binghamton Center for Worship and Service just a few miles away. The 30,000–square–foot building will be a one–stop shop that offers a host of support services for people striving to advance economically.
The vision of the corps is to transform the North Side from one of perpetual poverty “to one of economic opportunity and personal empowerment,” the vision reads.
“Working together with the community, The Salvation Army will embrace anti–poverty initiatives and collaborate with program partners and service providers to offer sustainable, transformative programming, specifically designed to help individuals and families escape hunger, unemployment, and ongoing poverty.”
The Salvation Army hopes to break ground later this year and open the corps and community center in the fall of 2017.
“When we move to the North Side, we’ll be right in the middle of a neighborhood where children play and families live and where there are a lot of community needs. Our ministry will take on a whole new dynamic. We’ll be able to reach out to a new group of people with many more programs.”
Michele Tarnow, director of community engagement for the Salvation Army’s Empire State Division, said, “Our program study showed that Binghamton is in need of comprehensive programming across all aspects of life: economic empowerment, lifelong learning, community building, recreation, food service, and health and wellbeing.”
A chance to advance
“People need better jobs and more steady jobs with opportunities for growth,” Tarnow says. “That’s our focus.”
To that end, the new center will offer job training, a technology center, and two computer labs.
“The new community center will enable us to do things that we could never do in our current location,” Heimbrock says. “We’ll offer programs that lift people up and help them meet their practical needs to utimately thrive economically.”
Also on the premises will be two commercial–grade kitchens offering meals twice a day and a culinary arts job training area.
Binghamton is home to several food manufacturers. The Binghamton Food & Beverage Incubator will have a presence at the center through partnerships with Cornell Cooperative Extension and SUNY Broome.
“We’ve been working with local employers to make sure that they’re aware and ready to hire local people as we train them,” says Laura Hamilton, capital campaign director for the Army’s Empire State Division.
“We asked the community, ‘What does it really need?’ Then we thought outside the box,” Hamilton says.
“We’re taking what we’re doing well here and bringing it to the new space. We’re also partnering with other community agencies to bring strong, successful programs to the new community center.”
The place to be
Among the organizations that will have a presence at the community center are Binghamton University, Broome County Health Department, Healthy Lifestyles Coalition, VINES, Office for the Aging, and many more.
“The people who have the resources and willingness are already there. They’re ready. They see the value of the space as we do,” says Chet Schultz, vice president of First Niagara Bank in Binghamton and chairman of the local Salvation Army advisory board.
The center will also include a 135– capacity sanctuary and a playground, basketball court, and soccer field.
Other features include food service and a pantry, health checks and management, music and band programs, a community garden, a full-sized gym with rock climbing, community meeting space, and licensed programs for youth and seniors.
Refreshing the gateway
Tarnow said the center will sit next to a complex with about 400 apartments.
“We’re really moving where we need to be to serve the whole community,” she says.
Schultz, who helped start a church in Binghamton and knows the community well, said the programs will be “life–changing” for families.
The new location is at the northern “gateway to the community” that includes several shuttered stores, Schultz said.
Bright future ahead
“This is going to be a catalyst for that entire gateway,” he says. “What this is going to mean is that hundreds of people will be able to take advantage of services that will be available at one location so that they can see an improved quality of life.”
Hamilton said the fundraising for the center is unique.
“We hope we can take this into other corps,” she says. “We’ve really immersed ourselves here and built partnerships in the community.”
State funding will bring in about 20 to 30 percent of the $5.6 million cost with the rest coming from local foundations, corporations, individual contributors, and the sale of the curent corps building.
Schultz said he interviewed volunteers last year when one told him, “We need to be relevant. I’m afraid we’re losing our relevancy in the community.”
Today, Schultz is buoyant about The Salvation Army’s future in Binghamton.
“This project and the expansion of the programs … put The Salvation Army in the center of relevancy as a leader in this community,” Schultz says.
by Robert Mitchell