Mola Lenghi, Arlington Reporter
The Salvation Army is clearing the way for an 8,000-square-foot addition to its Arlington center that will house the North Texas Youth Education Town.
Construction will soon begin on a youth center in Arlington with a $1 million donation from the NFL.
The NFL donates $1 million to every Super Bowl host city for a Youth Education Town, a facility that offers educational programs to youth and their parents.
The programs will range from tutoring, life skills and character-building to opportunities for kids to play sports and take dance, music and art lessons. Educational and career-building programs will also be available for adults.
"I think every person in life has had someone have a helping hand within their life," said Emmitt Smith, former Dallas Cowboys player and chair of the North Texas Youth Education Town. "For us -- my brothers and family, for me -- it began at the Salvation Army. It's where I began playing football for the first time ever."
The Salvation Army branch where Smith got his start only lasted for two years before folding, something he does not want to see happen in Arlington.
"He's holding our feet to the fire, making sure this works," Salvation Army Maj. Ward Matthews said.
The North Texas YET project involves the renovation and expansion of the Salvation Army center in Arlington. The YET is funded by grants from the NFL, the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Arlington Charities and the Super Bowl XLV Host Committee.
"It's going to be the biggest and the baddest Youth Education Town ever built in this country, I promise you that," Mayor Robert Cluck said.
On Tuesday, Smith, Matthews, Cluck and Cowboys executive Charlotte Jones Anderson took sledgehammers to a wall of the Salvation Army to launch the facility's expansion.
The North Texas YET project will add 8,000 square feet to the Salvation Army center. Construction is expected to begin in the coming weeks and be completed by the summer of 2013.
The project has been three years in the making.
"When you step up and do something of this nature and this size and of this importance, you want to make sure you do it right," Jones Anderson said.
Smith said the challenge moving forward is to develop the right programs for the Arlington community.
According to the Salvation Army, Arlington has 22 identified gangs. The organization also said that 42 percent of Arlington students fail to graduate in four years and 27 percent of the city's kids are in need of after-school programs.
The North Texas YET is already working with Arlington schools to identify at-risk students and parents who could benefit from its services.
"The kids who come here are going to see that they have the best facilities a community is providing, the top-notch facilities in the city, and that can change a life," Matthews said.
Smith said that the North Texas YET cannot force people to take advantage of the center.
"You have to make the necessary sacrifices, and young people need to understand that this is not an entitlement situation -- this is an opportunity," he said. "If kids and parents look at it as an opportunity and take advantage of some of these programs, then maybe we can see a turnaround in a person's life."
Matthews said that Smith, a Salvation Army product turned Pro Football Hall of Famer could possibly be its greatest ambassador.
"For kids who otherwise have some pretty stiff challenges, to know that Emmitt is behind them -- they'll see Emmitt from time to time, see the Cowboys -- we can't put a price tag on that," he said.