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Youth crime-prevention center planned at Lockport Salvation Army

LOCKPORT – The Lockport chapter of the Salvation Army plans to sponsor a program to steer adolescents away from crime, its local commander said Wednesday.

The “Bridging the Gap” program, the first of its kind in upstate New York, willl be made possible by building an addition to Salvation Army headquarters at 50 Cottage St., where a groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday.

Construction on the $2.4 million project, which includes renovation of much of the space within the existing building, will start next month, said Maj. Jose Santiago, pastor at Lockport.

Mulvey Construction of Lockport will be the general contractor, and work is estimated to take about 16 months, Santiago said.

Wednesday’s ceremony kicked off the public portion of the fund drive for the project, which seeks to raise $200,000.

Santiago said the Salvation Army has $2.2 million in hand already through gifts from some prominent Lockport citizens and local foundations, including the Grigg-Lewis Foundation, the John R. Oishei Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Thomas S. Kenan Foundation, the William Kenan Trust and the Hadley Family Foundation.

“This is a generous community,” said Dan L. Wilson, chairman of the Salvation Army’s capital campaign and treasurer of its advisory board. “They all wanted to see some action, and now they’re going to see some action.”

The Salvation Army started raising money 3½ years ago for what was billed as a $3 million project, but Santiago, who took over at Lockport in June, said that was merely a rough estimate of the cost.

The plan as originally approved by the city Planning Board in January 2012 called for a two-story, 7,600-square-foot addition, but that has been scaled back to a one-story, 5,700-square-foot addition on the north side of the building, with a separate entrance.

The second floor of the existing building will be remodeled to host “Bridging the Gap.” The program is aimed at 12- to 15-year-olds who have already had one nonviolent brush with the law.

“It’s an intervention type of program,” Santiago said. “We work with the court system, probation officers, to reach children who have violated the law for the first time.”

Adolescents from all over Niagara County would be referred to the program by the court system. Santiago said the Salvation Army will hire a director and a staff of what he called “professional volunteers” for the counseling effort.

Although not yet tried in upstate New York, “Bridging the Gap” has been a success in Massachusetts, where 90 percent of the teenagers who go through the program do not commit more crimes, Santiago said.

“The youth become engaged,” he said.

Santiago said the new wing will contain a new kitchen, food pantry and storage area and a new dining hall that will seat a maximum of 150 diners, up from the current capacity of 70.

The Salvation Army currently serves an average of 170 lunches a day at its dining hall, a number that grows with special meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The food pantry supplies help to about 200 families a month.

The gymnasium in the existing building will be remodeled as part of the project, with new locker rooms and restrooms.

Donations may be mailed to the Lockport Salvation Army, 50 Cottage St., Lockport, NY 14094-4342.