“Underground” uses technology to bring in youth

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Outreach program in Farmington, N.M., attracts thousands of local teens.

by Christin Davis –

Youth spend time at the Underground, a cyber cafe hosted by the Farmington Corps.

The Farmington (N.M.) Corps thought of a unique outreach program four years ago to attract young people from the communitya cyber café. Operating from the corps’ basement on Friday and Saturday evenings, it is now credited with the addition of seven new soldiers to the congregation.

At the cyber café, called “the Underground,” teens have access to eight computers, a pool table and foosball table, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, a music room where small bands can practice, and (prescreened) PG-13 movies. Upon signing in, teens receive two free tickets for Italian sodas, lattes, cappuccinos, or espressos. Other items are available to purchase such as soup, hot pockets, chips, and cookies. To attend, every teen must fill out a registration form and have it signed by their parents. They then receive a pass to enter the next time they return. More than 21,000 registration forms have been collected since July 10, 2004.

“Getting to know the kids and listening as they share their struggles and joys is a privilege,” said Corps Officer Major Cindy Anderson. “Many of them come in reluctantly at first. Some of them try to shock us or get us to push them away. When they find that the adults enjoy being with them and accept them, then we get to see glimpses of the rest of the person inside.”

The cyber café opened in April 2004 with a two-fold purpose: as a response to an unmet need in the community to offer teens in Farmington a safe place to congregate with their friends after hours and to provide an opportunity for corps members to volunteer and build relationships with teens. The adults bond with the teens in a fun atmosphere that allows the young people to talk about their concerns, issues and problems.

“Many of them have become our friends and greet us openly in the grocery store, the mall or at Wal-Mart,” Anderson said. “That’s one of the many joys of our officership.”
The new soldiers include three generations of individuals from one local family, the result of two teens stopping by the café. Their newly enrolled grandmother will soon be commissioned the corps’ Home League secretary. Another newly enrolled soldier participated in service corps.

John Battaglia brought his younger brother to check out the cyber café in the summer of 2006 and decided to become a volunteer. After completing a background check, he worked nearly every Friday and Saturday evening the rest of 2006 and 2007. He became fully active in the corps by the fall of 2007.

“Volunteering at the cyber cafe changed my life,” Battaglia said. “After my parent’s divorce, I felt disconnected and sad. When I volunteered at the cyber cafe and listened to the teens, I realized that my family was not the only one with struggles. I kept praying about what God wanted for me, because I felt he wanted more than I was giving. I finally said ‘yes’ to Godto full time ministry in The Salvation Army.”

John is now an enrolled soldier and is applying to the College for Officer Training at Crestmont.

“Not only has the corps been blessed, even though we are still a small congregation,” Anderson said, “but nearly 300 teens have been restored to their home church and are going to church in their own neighborhood or with their parents as a result of their experiences with The Salvation Army and the cyber café.”

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