Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center dedicated

Joan Kroc’s vision becomes a reality in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

by Robert Docter –

Members of the Kroc family gather for a tour of the Center with Commissioners Philip and Pat Swyers and Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither.

The dedication and opening festivities of The Salvation Army’s San Francisco Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center and Railton Place signals a makeover for the city’s famous and infamous Tenderloin district. This squalid 57 square blocks of poverty, homelessness and crime also houses the city’s highest concentration of children (approximately 3,500), immigrants, SRO hotels (single room occupancy) liquor stores, prostitutes and strip clubs. Perhaps the attendance by more than 800 community activists, local politicians and neighborhood residents, signified just how important the new center will be to the Tenderloin and San Francisco.

The Army has been a symbol of hope in this area since 1886. The Army’s long service to the Tenderloin began on Turk Street just a block or so closer to Market. In the 70’s the program moved into a larger building on the same street a block north. This building, built in 1906 following the disastrous fire that had destroyed all structures in its path, had a remarkable history through the “speakeasy” days and the war years. Some bullet holes remained to remind people of its days of high drama. It served well with a number of Army programs over the last 35 years.

Expanding the footprint
Land is at a higher premium in San Francisco than almost any other American city. The Turk Street property alone was not large enough to support a Kroc Center. The Tenderloin, however, fit Joan Kroc’s criteria perfectly. She dreamed of a large program effort that could lead the way for renewal of an entire neighborhood. Through extensive efforts by local advisory board members and strong Army leadership, they were able to purchase an adjacent parking lot next to the Turk Street building. It was razed and new construction began in the summer of 2006, almost 100 years after the construction of the original structure.

The current eight-story 135,380 sq. ft. facility focuses on corps activities as well as educational and recreational programming. Adjacent to the San Francisco Kroc Center is Railton Place, a separately funded 113-unit, transitional and permanent residence program for individuals who cannot afford housing of their own. Of these units, 27 will be provided to youths between the ages of 18-24 who have “aged out” of the foster care system. Another 83 units will be available to chronically homeless adults and veterans. Three units will be available for resident managers.

VIP tours
The day began with morning tours led by Majors George and Dawn Rocheleau, Center administrators, to introduce the building and its programs to special guests, including members of the Kroc Family. Seven of her very active great-grandchildren, all under the age of ten, were in tow and tried out all aspects of the Center. People marveled at the excellent use of space that provides room for a ground floor chapel seating approximately 150, a regulation size gymnasium, a swimming pool, a game room, a large dance facility with mirrored walls for teaching, a fitness center, a climbing wall, extensive educational facilities including a library, computer rooms supported by Wells Fargo and United Parcel Service, a graphic arts studio and several mentoring classrooms.

A professionally designed entrance control point handles admission to both facilities. Special card keys limit elevator access to different floors depending on the objectives of the program participant.

Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither, the Army’s national leaders as well as Commissioners Philip and Pat Swyers, territorial leaders, spent the day with those in attendance. Gaither spoke eloquently at lunch to those assembled for the tours and other supporters and major donors to the facility. “We are determined,” he said, “ to preserve the dignity of the poor. We can’t afford to lose those moved to the margins of life.” He commented on society’s increasing separation of people on the basis of various criteria and added firmly: “We must not allow society to escape into social isolation.” In concluding, he added: “It’s time to resurrect hope,” and then thanked the guests for helping make Joan Kroc’s dream come true.

Service of dedication
Over 800 guests filled the gymnasium for the standing-room-only afternoon service of dedication.
San Francisco Advisory Board Chair, Bert Decker, led the festivities. During the service Kroc’s daughter, Linda Ardell, talked of her mother’s vision, how helping the desperate and helpless was born in the lives of the family, She recognized that “the world needs tender, loving care,” and thanked the Army for everything they are doing for human kind.

Ardell’s daughter, Amy Ragen, also spoke of her grandmother’s vision. She suggested that while it is grandiose, it is also quite simple—help hurting people and give children a chance to shine.

Following introductions by Major Joe Posillico, Golden State divisional commander, via video Senator Diane Feinstein (former Salvation Army San Francisco Board member) and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi both addressed the assembled guests from Washington and expressed appreciation for the Army’s commitment to the poor of the Tenderloin during difficult economic times and to Joan Kroc for her vision. Both Feinstein and Pelosi call San Francisco home.

San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, also spoke of the challenge of the Tenderloin and expressed the city’s appreciation for all the Army has done and will do in this area.

Swyers thanked the staff, the architects and engineers for the magnificence of the facility, for donors who made it happen, and for the tremendous trust Joan Kroc demonstrated in the Army. Our 130 years of service by dedicated officers and soldiers earned that trust. In reality, however, we must thank the Lord for everything he has done to make all of this possible. To San Franciscans he said: “We are partners with you in the challenge of not only loving the lovable but also the unloved.”

Keynote address
In presenting the keynote address, Gaither also emphasized Joan Kroc’s vision. “Essential to this vision—this dream fulfilled—are the people of this community whose courage, passion, grace and sacrifice are melded into the very foundation of the center. To them I say thank you for believing that it is possible for people and places to be transformed by God’s amazing grace emerging through dedicated people who just love to serve.

“This is a center of dreams—dreams of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, dreams of opportunity other than failure. This is a center of dreams. Silent dreams must not be overtaken by doubt. We, in this Army, refuse to be held hostage to hopelessness. Dream keepers believe that every child can succeed. These children are safe here. In here, dreams are not deferred. This is no time in the Tenderloin for naysayers—this is the time to honor God’s dream for the Tenderloin,” Gaither said.

Commissioner Eva Gaither then offered a prayer of dedication, “that this place will honor God and that joy may be constant here. We, hereby, dedicate and give back to God this facility.”

The day ended with a free communit carnival attended by approximately 900 neighborhood children and their parents.

“The potential for ministry in this neighborhood is staggering and the future is very bright,” said Kroc Center Administrator Major George Rocheleau.

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