salvation army basketball court

Ryan Smith of The Pine Bluff Commercial Staff

One year ago, the newly arrived operators at the Salvation Army of Pine Bluff declared their dream: Within the year, the old gymnasium turned decrepit storage unit would be transformed into a fully functioning basketball court complete with air conditioning units. Now, that dream has come to fruition.

Capt. David Leonard and his wife, Major Geraldine Leonard, arrived on July 19, 2013, to a gymnasium with concrete flooring and packed full of lawnmowers, nonperishable food items and everything in between.

“When I arrived that first day, I was taken aback by the amount of stuff being stored in this gymnasium,” David Leonard said. “But I never discount the Lord’s ability to work through an individual, so we decided we were going to get the gym back to its original purpose: to provide the youth — especially at-risk youth who can’t afford a gym membership — and the community with a top-notch basketball gym.”

David Leonard had not the slightest inkling as to how he would fund the gymnasium project, but he was determined.

And then adversity struck.

In January a storm tore through Pine Bluff, ripping parts of the roof off of the Salvation Army building and causing significant structural damage. To repair the storm damage, Leonard feared he would have to spend the money he had set back for the gym and ask for additional funds from his superiors.

But the universe tends to balance itself out.

As David Leonard prepared to make a conference call requesting the money he needed, his bookkeeper told him, “Come with me David; I have something I think you’ll want to see.”

What David Leonard found was a personal check for the payment in full of both the costs to repair the damages to the building and the gymnasium project. The donor asked to remain anonymous, despite David Leonard’s pleas to allow the gymnasium to be named after him.

“To me, it was an affirmation that God wanted us to do this project,” David Leonard said. “The donor’s action really speaks to the people of Pine Bluff. The people here are good. Even if they don’t have a lot to give, they’ll still give it.”

He compared Pine Bluff’s giving nature to the Gospel account of the poor widow quietly tithing her mite to the Lord, while the Pharisee and the richer people conspicuously throw in more money — the widow’s mite means more to God, David Leonard said.

“This donor doesn’t realize the profound legacy he is leaving to the community by giving us this gym,” David Leonard said. “This is a marvelous opportunity to give young people a Christian environment with safe and healthy alternatives to what they have now. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

The refurbishing project didn’t begin until March, because David Leonard said there were many provisions to be made. The gym had served as a storage unit for more than 12 years.

He said with the help of Lowes providing metal racks, the food was move inside of the administration building. After Walmart and other stores held can drives, he said the Salvation Army has actually increased the amount of people they serve on a weekly basis.

Once the construction company began the actual work, David Leonard said they had to remove the bleachers from the walls and install a three-quarter-inch subfloor. Then the actual maple tongue-and-groove planks were placed and the bleachers were reinstalled. The gym was also freshly painted, and new breakaway rims and backboards replaced the overused ones of the past.

David Leonard said he has hired a staff member to take charge of community outreach and developing programs for the youth or church leagues who wish to rent it out.

“I would love nothing more than the gym to be restored back to its glory days when the Pine Bluff Police Department and Fire Department had their annual game here,” he said.

They should bring their A-game and show us what they got.”

The gym will also double as a volleyball court, and he wants to make tournaments available for everyone.

The gym will be open starting the week following July 4 weekend, free to everyone. Hours will vary, he said, based on how much staffing is available to maintain a safe and secure drug- and alcohol-free zone. Once open, the gym will be available for public use from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Evenings and nights will be reserved for those wishing to rent it for games or tournaments.

“We truly hope the community will get behind us on this so we can stay open for more hours and make more programs available,” David Leonard said.

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