Editor's note: This is the 10th in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. The next article will run in Saturday's edition of The Telegram.

By DEREK THOMPSON

dthompson@gctelegram.com

Though the Salvation Army may be synonymous with red kettles accompanied by smiling faces and ringing bells, the faith-based agency does more than canvass doorfronts of shopping centers.

Through a variety of programs, the Salvation Army offers area youth an alternative to trouble-making decisions.

"What we're trying to do here is let them see that they can be better than they think they can be," Capt. Craig Lurtz said.

The Salvation Army is set to receive $20,000 from the Finney County United Way to help fund the agency's youth programs. Last year, the Salvation Army received $17,000 from the United Way funds used to support social service initiatives.

The two local agencies long have been entwined, having partnered since the United Way's first fundraising campaign 62 years ago, Lurtz said. The agency that doles out funds to local organizations is in the midst of its annual campaign drive, with a goal this year of $550,000.

The Salvation Army projects set to benefit from the United Way funding include a summer day-camp program, a Tools for Schools backpack program, a free after-school program at the Salvation Army Youth Activity Center, and a leadership training program, among other programs.

The $20,000 from United Way represents about 10 percent of the operating cost for the agency's youth programs, Lurtz said. The remainder of the budget is filled through a variety of donations and grants. And those funds benefit hundreds of children in the community, and ultimately, positively impact the local economy, Lurtz said.

"It's probably the best thing that we can do. In order to stop the social service program from growing almost exponentially, we have to break the cycle of poverty and poverty thinking young with the children. By the time they're out of high school, it's too late."

Robert DeLeon, community center director with the Salvation Army, agreed.

"I tell these kids that education is the greatest equalizer. No matter where you come from, no matter where you've been, if you get an education ... I don't care the color of the skin, I don't care your economic background. If you get an education, that's your greatest equalizer. You can become and do anything you want with an education," DeLeon said.

Local youth can become involved in the Salvation Army's after-school and other youth programs by basically "showing up," the captain said.

Not only do the youth programs keep kids off the streets, they keep food in their stomachs, as well.

"One of the biggest needs we see is a nutritional need, if you can believe that. A lot of the families have trouble feeding the children well enough, so at any event we have, we have food," Lurtz said.

Staff try to keep a fully-stocked pantry to distribute food to needy individuals, but community donations and volunteers always are welcomed and much appreciated.

"Thank you to the United Way and to our donors. You've been there for us, and we'll be there for you when you need us," Lurtz said.

Other agencies that will benefit from the 2012 United Way funds include: Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; Catholic Social Service; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; Community Day Care; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

Salvation Army

Contact: Capt. Craig Lurtz or Robert DeLeon

Address: 216 N. Ninth St.

Phone: 276-4027

Hours: Youth Center, 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday