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A place to connect

Majors Santa and Ismael Correa, corps officers; and Lt. Colonel Larry Ashcraft, divisional commander (2nd, 3rd, and 4th from left) stand with staffers, board members, and community representatives.

COVID-19 has delayed the public’s enjoyment of the newly renovated gym at the Allentown, Pa., Citadel Corps. Nonetheless, it looks great, thanks to a $75,000 state grant.

Major Ismael Correa, the corps officer in Allentown, said the gym will be used right now to sort and pack Christmas gifts to be distributed in December. However, he has high hopes for the future as the gym can provide a safe space for the area’s impoverished youth.

“The gym will help us create new contacts and friendships,” Correa said. “We’ll reach out to families and offer programs and church services.”

Correa said the renovations, which began in January but were slowed by COVID–19, include new floors, hoops, backboards, and a fresh coat of paint on the gym walls. The next step is to replace the gym’s fluorescent lighting with LED technology.

“We are still in need of funds for the refurbishing of showers and bathrooms,” Correa said.

The grant was secured by state Senator Patrick Browne, who worked with the previous corps officers, Majors Juan and Lydia Mercado. The Mercados now lead the Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division.

Among those people attending the dedication service were Lt. Colonel Larry Ashcraft, divisional commander of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division. He was joined by divisional headquarters staffers, the Allentown Citadel Corps advisory board, and others from the community.


Serving a diverse community

Correa and his wife, Major Santa Correa, arrived in Allentown in July after appointments at the College for Officer Training and Territorial Headquarters. Correa said Allentown is urban, diverse, and home to a large Hispanic, African American, and Caribbean population.

“The corps is in one of the most impoverished pockets in the whole city of Allentown,” he said. “Our numbers have increased dramatically as a result of COVID.”

Correa said unemployment remains an issue. The corps went from holding a food pantry twice a month to four times a month. The number of families helped has jumped from about 250 a month to almost 600.

Correa said that his return to corps work has resulted in feelings of “both excitement and trepidation.” Due to COVID–19, much of the ministry is being done online.

Church services have returned, but people are still wary.

“Attendance is not anywhere near normal,” he said. “Online is pretty healthy. We’re doing Sunday services, Bible study, and Home League online.”

Correa said attendance at the corps is about 80 or 90 a month for in-person services, but close to 500 a month for online services and 900 for Bible study.

by Robert Mitchell