A charitable organization says the Town of Smithfield would not allow them to use a public pool for their youth summer camp forcing them to drive to another county.
The Salvation Army in Smithfield says they were not allowed to return to the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) after their first visit when a child in their youth summer camp was assaulted by an adult while at the facility.
Major Keri Booth said the Salvation Army had 65 children enroll for the 2016 summer camp. They were allowed to take the children to the SRAC in June. During the visit, Booth says the SRAC staff was more concerned about the admission fee than anything else. Booth said staff demanded to know if the children lived in-town or out-of-town so they could be charged either a $4 or $6 admission fee.
While at the SRAC, Major Booth said a child, not part of their group, struck one of the juveniles in the summer camp. Booth said the juvenile struck back. The father of the child then forcibly grabbed and held the juvenile with the Salvation Army organization.
After the assault, Booth said SRAC officials told them the child and his father were SRAC members and the children in her group were not. “They said kids in our group are never going to become members,” Major Booth said Wednesday. “Our kids are poor, primarily African American with a few Hispanics, and they cannot afford to be members.”
Booth said whether a child is rich or poor should never influence if they should be allowed to return, but she claims it did. Booth said they were told by SRAC officials they did not want them back.
An adult volunteer, a retired member of the military, helping chaperone the group also said the SRAC staff didn’t want to listen or to help the kids in anyway.
Booth says the Salvation Army was forced to drive to a pool in Wilson where they are charged a lower rate of $2 per child. The group has been going twice a week for nine weeks without any incident. They also feel welcome at the Wilson pool, unlike the SRAC in Smithfield. However, it has cost the Salvation Army over $2,000 in travel and other related expenses.
Parks & Rec Director Disputes Claims
Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Gary Johnson disputed the Salvation Army’s claims. Johnson said if a group were to be asked not to come back he would be notified. He said he was never made aware of any incident during their June visit and was not informed about the child being grabbed and forcibly held by a SRAC member.
“They were not denied because of that incident,” Johnson said. He claimed SRAC staff offered several different dates for the group to return but the group turned down all the offers.
“They are as welcome as any group. We want anybody and everybody to use our facility,” Johnson said. “We do a schedule, a calendar, and every date is pretty much full. We try and accommodate as many folks to use our facility.”
Johnson promised a complete investigation into the June visit and what staff may have told Salvation Army representatives.
Smithfield Town Councilman Marlon Lee mentioned the incident during Tuesday night’s town council meeting. At the meeting Johnson told Lee the SRAC simply didn’t have openings for the group to return. Lee said he accepted the comments Tuesday night but when he heard the Salvation Army’s complete side of the story on Wednesday he said he became “infuriated.”
“Here again you’ve got the Crown Jewel treating the underserved and poor kids like that. For them to look at this group of kids and treat them this way, this is the same way East Smithfield kids are being treated,” Councilman Lee said. “They don’t have anything over there. That’s why the East Smithfield pool should be open.”
Asked about the adult grabbing the child and it not being reported Lee said, “I am very concerned this assault was not reported. Is it a cover up? I am disappointed in the staff at the SRAC. This should have been something that should have been reported.”
“Something has got to change. Who is to say they haven’t been doing this to other groups or persons. This is the Salvation Army. This is a group in Smithfield. I hope moving forward groups like that will be given a chance to do things. The kids can’t help the situation they are in. I hope the staff and town manager can dig into this. This is management right here. The employees are going to do what management tells them. It’s a poor decision. It is a Smithfield cover up. It make me more mad they keep covering things up.”
Town Councilman Perry Harris said, “It is disappointing to me if what is uncovered is true. It is disappointing to me our staff did not come forward with the whole story. It worries me we are not taking care of our citizens and our local group and that has always been a concern of mine.”
Johnson says he plans to investigate the incident to see if there was a misunderstanding and offer a full report to WTSB News once completed.
Major Booth says there was no misunderstanding. The Salvation Army was told by SRAC staff they didn’t want the summer camp participants to return.