Back to the future in Tulare

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THE TULARE CORPS’ entry in the Tulare County Fair parade.

There’s a youth hangout in Tulare, Calif. – and it’s The Salvation Army. Eighty-nine kids play in the youth band, and youth fill the worship service each week. And unlike most corps, youth attendance increases during summer. How does this happen?

“We want them here every day, because every day the world is out there,” says Captain David Scott, corps officer.

Scott characterizes Tulare as a “tough town.” An agricultural town of about 40,000, with high unemployment and teen pregnancy, it’s also a town that values the Army—the corps receives strong community support and has a superb advisory board.

A look back in time shows how Tulare became the “kids’ corps.” In 1991, Captains David and Ruth Scott, armed with a plan, opened the Tulare Corps. They envisioned a vacation Bible school (VBS) from which the corps would grow, and they canvassed the community, seeking the most needy families. They invited the young people they met to attend VBS, promising to pick up and take home anyone wanting to attend.

After the one-week VBS, the corps held its first Sunday service, with 75 attending, most from VBS. The corps then began a full schedule of standard corps programming. Scott says that first month was the lowest attendance the corps has had in their 12 years as corps officers in Tulare. Currently around 200 attend a typical Sunday meeting.

From that beginning, the youth have just kept on coming to the corps. Is it because of innovative, trendy programming? “We do the Army,” says Scott, “all the Army. And we do the historical and traditional activities: Sunday school, Junior Legion, Young People’s Legion, Corps Cadets, Y.P. Band, Y.P. Timbrels, Sunbeams, Girl Guards, Adventure Corps and all the senior activities as our families increase and our youth age in place.”

The Scotts format each activity on the models of the 1930s-1960s; the only changes are revisions that reflect current vernacular and style. Scott emphasizes, “The heart and mind have not changed since the creation so the concept of the Army’s traditional activities remain relevant. Only the presentation need change.” Today over 500 kids a month are involved with the Tulare Corps.

Future plans include a Silvercrest within the year, which will involve youth through programs such as Jr. Community Care Ministries (formerly League of Mercy) and Foster Grandparents. The corps is also developing a proposal for a Red Shield type facility, which will bring a new dimension of outreach to Tulare’s evangelism and services.

Is there a secret to the Scotts’ success? One element, he notes, is the length of their tenure there. “Continuity,” he explained, “is the advantage of serving in a corps for an extended number of years. Sometimes, when an officer takes over a corps, he or she has to rebuild the programming.”

Scott believes the key to the Tulare Corps’ growth is its focus—proclaiming Christ. The one thing that keeps the kids coming back? Christ’s love.

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