THE MODEL: THE KROC CENTER NOW
by Shelby J. Gordon –
Amenities at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center include a performing arts center, a climbing course, a full-size gymnasium, an ice rink and an aqua therapy pool.
Through prayer, faith, determination, and the gift of hospitality, The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center has become exactly what Mrs. Kroc envisioned—a place of hope and opportunity for individuals to reach their maximum potential.
During a typical day at the center, which can range from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, an average of 1,300 individuals participate in activities including athletic classes and sports leagues, ice recreation programs, after school education and homework assistance programs, creative and performing arts lessons, intergenerational activities, Bible study and fellowship, corporate and social meetings, and leadership training.
Residents from the center’s surrounding communities have become involved through financial investments for membership and class enrollments, attendance at theatre performances and free special events, and the time they share volunteering for various center activities. The center’s neighbors have developed an enhanced sense of community spirit as they enthusiastically share with others their experiences at the center and the life-changing gift Mrs. Kroc made to their neighborhood.
Mrs. Kroc’s gift has also spawned the giving of others—evident in the thousands of dollars center members have donated to the scholarship fund. Also, during last fall’s wildfire crisis, the center, spontaneously, became a shelter and a key Army collection center for material and cash donations to assist emergency workers and fire victims.
Various local organizations have reached out to center staff to develop exciting and unique opportunities. Partnership development has brought programming to the center which otherwise would not be available.
Current partnership programs include:
Meet a Musician – A music education program in partnership with the San Diego Symphony, which provides a hands-on experience with various instruments, led by San Diego Symphony musicians. A January special event in the Joan B. Kroc Theatre for the Performing Arts entitled, “Toon Tunes for Tiny Tots,” will feature two performances by Symphony musicians of selections from animated features and popular cartoons. This event, the first of its kind by the Symphony specifically targeting pre-school and primary school aged children, will be free to the children.
Family Literacy Night – This free monthly program features a discussion on a designated theme by an expert from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Examples, many times live animals, are featured in the presentation. In conjunction with the evening’s theme, a “make-it-and-take-it” arts project is facilitated and a free book is given to every family to encourage reading at home. This program started in March, outgrew the original event site in the library and is now conducted in the multi-purpose room. Approximately 150 individuals attend each month.
Community Garden – The San Diego Zoo is known in many circles as much for its botanical collection as its animal collection. A Master Gardener from the Zoo leads gardening discussions with students for nearby Rolando Park School. Students are also empowered in the landscape development and maintenance of the community garden boxes adjacent to the Education Center.
Disney GOALS (Growth Opportunities through Athletics, Learning, and Service) – The Walt Disney Company funds this program, which works to create opportunities for children (ages 6 –19 years) to grow through ambitious and fun activities. Designed to build self-esteem, improve discipline, teach values, encourage social interaction, and create better communities, the Kroc Center program is modeled after a very successful program in Orange County. One day involves homework assistance—mentoring, volunteering or a guest speaker at one of two City of San Diego Park and Recreation Centers and the additional day involves hockey lessons or competition at the Kroc Center. All activities are free to the youth—transportation, hockey gear, lessons, and ice time.
Through all of the center’s successes, the staff has focused on facilitating highly productive, yet cost effective operations. With no model of a similar facility to work from, Administrators Majors Tim and Cindy Foley have led a handpicked management team in a challenge that is constantly evolving. While the center’s endowment offers the financial assistance many similar organizations do not enjoy, it provides only 30% of the center’s $6 million annual operating budget. Staff must be innovative and tenacious regarding generating viable revenue for its ten distinct businesses. The diversity of physical facilities and the addition, in the last year, of a Special Events/Catering team have increased the number and complexity of facility rental bookings by various organizations including The County of San Diego, Cox Cable, and the San Diego Unified School District. These efforts are key to balance and maximize the operational budget.
The Kroc Center has inspired many to explore opportunities they never would have considered, excel at skills that will enhance their lives, improve their physical health and spiritual well being. It pushes The Salvation Army into the 21st century, giving the Army permission to think outside of the box. The facility also offers never before realized opportunities to minister to the lost and teach the saved to serve. “Safe/Fun/Holy” has been the staff’s internal catchphrase. While staff will not push the gospel onto anyone, they do attempt to serve all who come to the center in a way that shares the love of God.
A key philosophy of the center’s staff development was inspired by Ray Kroc, who said, “No one of us is greater than the rest of us.” That spirit of team cooperation has proven to be both crucial and beneficial in very trying times. God’s gracious hand has been shown repeatedly and proves a statement by the great missionary Hudson Taylor, “If we do God’s work God’s way, God is obligated to support his work.”
Community residents have recently discovered the corps activities, under the leadership of Corps Officers Majors Brian and Millie Bearchell, and are filtering into weekly services. Staff members have come to know and accept Christ, and the center’s name and reputation has opened doors to share both the holistic vision of the center and the message of Christ to a variety of audiences.
Joan B. Kroc was an inspiration to us all, and she will be greatly missed. People may never really know the true depth of her generosity or appreciate the genuine concern for all humanity that motivated her gifts. It took the Army some time to catch up to her vision for the Kroc Center and its place in the community. But on her last visit she stated, “The reality of what the Kroc Center has become to San Diego is beyond my imagination.”