Inside the Salvation Army’s new center

EPIC PROPORTIONS<br>Clothing donated to the Salvation Army reaches almost to the ceiling of a new facility near the Chico airport.

Clothing donated to the Salvation Army reaches almost to the ceiling of a new facility near the Chico airport.

Photo By Bryce Benson

For 22 years George Walker envisioned a Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Chico. That vision finally came to life Friday (Oct. 5), the start of a two-day open house of a gigantic 53,000-square-foot facility named after Walker.

Chico has needed the center, which will treat alcoholism and drug addiction, for a long time, Walker said. He’s a well-kept man with a charming sense of humor who has lived in Chico for 53 years and volunteered with the Salvation Army for 34 of them. Addiction, he said, has reached epidemic proportions. The six-month rehabilitation program offered in exchange for labor will be a valuable resource for those in the community who want to live a clean life.

The staff from the Torres Community Shelter couldn’t agree more. On Friday, they were led on a tour by Councilman and Salvation Army Advisory Board member Larry Wahl.

They gawked at the center’s spacious intake offices, patio spaces, showers, the bedding in the dormitories, and especially the kitchen, which is nicer than most professional kitchens. They weren’t jealous; they were shopping, planning for the expansion of their own services.

In what seems like an annual let-down, the Torres Shelter was unable to secure the federal funds and finalize the plans necessary to build the expansion needed to serve the community’s homeless population, Executive Director Corla Bertrand said. They couldn’t help noting the amenities the Salvation Army center had.

“Look, stalls in the shower,” Torres Service Coordinator Pat Clark said.

“Better than the gang shower we have,” Bertrand added.

CENTER’S NAMESAKE<br>George Walker has dreamt of building a rehab center in Chico for years. Now his dream is a reality.

Photo By Bryce Benson

While the new rehabilitation center will be another resource for the Torres Shelter in helping out the addicted homeless population, the facility will not be limited to those without a residence.

“Our focus is on putting broken lives together and putting broken families together,” Walker said.

Anyone with addiction can use the ARC’s services, Program Director Cynthia Allstead said. The men and the women in the program, called “beneficiaries,” will live on site, working in the warehouse distribution center in the rear of the facility and attending daily rehab classes, including a mandatory five-times-a-week 12-step program.

In the warehouse, which occupies roughly half the building space, the beneficiaries will work sorting good donations from the unusable. The merchandise is then assembled at the five loading docks, whence it will be delivered to the three Salvation Army Thrift Stores in Chico, the one in Paradise and the one in Oroville.

Those who don’t work in the warehouse will be able to work in the kitchen, where they can learn important job skills from the center’s chef, Tula Cope. They will make more than 150 meals a day and be prepared to make food for disaster-relief efforts.

The kitchen has a pantry and walk-in cold storage the size of small bedrooms. The equipment was provided by Cope’s husband, Bob, who owns BDS Restaurant Supply in Chico. Cope worked in the state prisons as a chef for many years and said she’s happy to start her job at the George Walker Center.

“It’s tough working in the prison system, because there is no rehabilitation going on there,” Cope said. “Here, give me someone who wants to work for six months, and they’ll be trained with the skills to work at any restaurant.”

The center, located at 13404 Browns Valley Road, south of the Chico airport off Cohasset Road, plans to start taking beneficiaries in November.

For Walker, it’s about time. He’s pushed for the center since 1985, working closely with former Major Ray Yant the last three years.

“You know we raised $5.3 million to build this place,” Walker said. “The higher-ups in the Army say that is the most a community this size has ever raised. That says something about Chico and its commitment to a healthy community.”