AUGUSTA — The new home of the Salvation Army in Augusta is warm and cozy, with theater-style seating in the worship room, smaller meeting rooms, offices and a kitchen as well a food pantry.
The location at 36 Eastern Ave. in the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is a big step up from the Capital Region Corps’ former site on North Pearl Street.
The church and offices there lost heat at the end of the October, and the search was on in earnest for a new site for The Salvation Army’s programs and worship services.
They were able to find a temporary location at the Marketplace at Augusta during their busy holiday season, but moved in March to the Eastern Avenue site, not far from Arsenal Street.
On Thursday they held an open house to welcome community members and others who had helped, and people wandered through the building talking about all its possibilities.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to secure either an existing building or the money to build a building,” said Chuck Dutton of Augusta, who has been on the Salvation Army’s advisory board for more than 25 years. “It has accommodations we can grow with in terms of youth programs and church worship services.”
“At least now we can concentrate on programs,” said Maj. David Dickson, Salvation Army Corps officer and pastor.
His wife, Maj. Karin Dickson, a pastor as well, said the effort to start youth programs in the new location started with a performance by a Christian rapper Sunday night and was to be followed with a screening of the movie “Frozen” Thursday night.
“This is the beginning of our outreach,” she said. She added she was grateful to the former occupants for leaving the furniture since it is in such good shape.
Along with youth groups Sunbeams, Girl Guards, Boys Adventure and Jr. Soldiers, adult ministry and fellowship programs and community services, the Salvation Army Capital Region Corps offers general assistance to community members in the form of clothing, food, and money for rent and utilities.
Karin Dickson said the Salvation Army’s direct emergency aid is a last resort fund and that people receiving assistance usually have gone through other municipal and charitable aid programs first.
Dickson said the budget for the Capital Region Corps and its various programs totals about $800,000 a year, with the Christmas kettle drive and direct mail appeals as major fund sources.
She said there is a movement now to put counter-top kettles at Augusta-area businesses, a fund-raising effort that has worked well in the Waterville area.
Now that the new headquarters is set, David Dickson said The Salvation Army plans to sell its 11 North Pearl St. property in Augusta as well as its former church site on Main Street in Waterville.
Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire, another member of the advisory board, said the new site is more centrally located, more conducive to the KVCAP bus route and closer to neighborhoods in need.
Gregoire pointed out that to the Bread of Life Kitchen at 157 Water St., the warming center at 44 Front St., and the Salvation Army’s new headquarters are all within walking distance of each other. He said the Augusta police occasionally refer people to the Salvation Army offices for help as well as other agencies.
Advisory Board member Donna Cote, a retired banker, said the new location has enough land to permit a separate recreation building to be erected.
“There’s such a need really,” Cote said.
The Salvation Army said it helped 4,045 people in the Augusta/Waterville area with general assistance and 646 with holiday assistance in 2013.
Rod Scribner of Pittston, who served on the advisory board years ago, came to tour the new location Thursday. He recalled when the Augusta corps had its headquarters on Winthrop Street several decades ago.
“It was an older house with fairly small rooms, very crowded and very expensive to heat,” Scribner said. “North Pearl was better than the one on Winthrop Street.” The new one, he decided, was even better.
The Capital Region Corps began July 1 with the merger of The Salvation Army’s Augusta and Waterville corps. The Salvation Army Thrift Store remains open in Waterville as does an office for social services. Along with the Dicksons, Lt. Erin Smullen is also an officer and pastor in the The Salvation Army Capital Region Corps.