The Salvation Army's Red Shield Center is a safe place where kids from south Modesto can play sports, get help with their homework and a stick-to-their ribs after-school snack.
But Capts. Martin and Tory Ross also want the center to be a place where kids who need it can develop their character and the academic and social skills they need to be productive, wholesome adults.
More than 100 children -- from elementary age through high school -- pass through the center each day. And as the Red Shield's new administrators, the Rosses want to make sure that every child can dream of a life beyond south Modesto, an area plagued by gangs, crime and pockets of poverty.
"It's about the mind, body and spirit," Martin Ross said. "They come here to play basketball and soccer, swim and learn how to box. That's fine. But we also want to build their character."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
To that end, the Rosses have tweaked some of the programs.
For instance, the boxing class includes one segment a week -- called Boxing With the Books -- in which the boys and girls do their homework and then talk about what's going on in their lives with their coaches, who also lead their young charges in a devotional.
The Rosses are ramping up the center's tutoring program. There now is one tutor for every four children. The Rosses want that ratio to be 1-to-1 so the tutors also can be mentors to the children.
The Rosses are starting a program in which the children can earn Red Shield Dollars for good behavior. The money will be spent at the Red Shield store on such items as snacks, school supplies and small gifts for their parents and siblings.
The program will teach the kids the basics about money and the value of delayed gratification as they save their Red Shield Dollars for a more expensive item.
Maj. Darvin Carpenter with The Salvation Army's Modesto Citadel Corps said he is impressed with the Rosses' focus on character development.
"That's what I like," he said.
The Rosses came to Modesto from Compton, where they ran a community center. They started here over the summer and replaced Capts. Rene and Angie Carcamo, who took a post with The Salvation Army in San Francisco.
The Rosses are both 41 and met while students at the University of California at Berkeley. They have three daughters.
Martin Ross said he is optimistic about making a difference in part because of the commitment and caring he has witnessed from Modesto residents.
"I'm happy that God has placed us here," Tory Ross said. "... I'm just excited about what God is doing here."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.