Salvation Army Kroc Center offers recreational, educational and cultural arts opportunities

115: An inside look at unique offerings of the West’s seven Kroc Centers

Twenty years ago, the first Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center opened in San Diego, California. It was a realization of Joan Kroc’s dream for all people to have recreational, educational and cultural arts opportunities.

During her final visit to the center before her death, Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, said “The reality of what the Kroc Center has become to San Diego is beyond my imagination.”

In October 2003, she left a $1.5 billion bequest to The Salvation Army to build similar community centers around the country.

In the following years, Salvation Army units across the U.S. applied for Kroc Centers. As part of the process, locations had to show possession of property, the ability to develop matching endowment funds and community support.

The result is twenty-six Kroc Centers—a network of state-of-the-art community centers that provide children and families with opportunities to both discover and develop their passions and talents within their own neighborhood, just as Joan Kroc dreamed.

The centers are designed to be an integral part of each community, created as a response to each community’s needs and offering classes, services and amenities unique to that area. They create opportunities for all with scholarships and reduced-price memberships to make it possible for everyone to attend life-enriching activities. And they are a place of community outreach and worship with a church as a key component of each center where guests can worship and experience the love of Jesus.

To help us celebrate this 20th anniversary of the first Kroc Center in San Diego, I’m joined today by a local representative of each of the seven Kroc Centers in the western U.S. They will introduce themselves and share an inside look at the unique offerings at their Kroc Center.

So, allow me to introduce to you today the Kroc Centers in San Diego; San Francisco; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Salem, Oregon; Phoenix; Kapolei, Hawaii; and Suisun City, California.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center San Diego, California
Opened 2002

My name is Deidra Davis and I’m the Arts and Education Director at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center San Diego, California, which opened in 2002.

Our vision focuses on providing “opportunities that facilitate positive, life-changing experiences” whether it be through art, athletics, community service or spiritual discovery. With hundreds of classes to choose from, the Kroc Center here in San Diego provides opportunities for everyone to get involved no matter their age, interests or abilities.

In one program, called Kroc Fit Kids, children from third to fifth grade take a six-month, research-based journey that’s designed to prevent obesity. A child’s physical health is measured at the beginning of the program, including recording one’s height and weight as well as other metrics to provide a baseline for program results.

To learn more about a child’s at-home behaviors, parents are provided with a Family Nutrition and Physical Activity survey before and after the program to track and calculate final results. Throughout the program, kids are provided with education on health and wellness in addition to guided physical activities to teach them how to implement healthy habits. Field trips and access to specific activities at the Kroc Center are also provided monthly at no additional cost.

In another program, the 18-week Operation Change program, Spanish-speaking community members are invited to come together to learn about nutrition, mental health and social support. Group movement classes are included in the program and range from yoga and salsa dancing to aqua Zumba and even belly dancing. Motivational leaders also help guide and support participants on their journeys toward greater health.

We hope you come visit us at the San Diego Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center San Francisco, California
Opened 2008

My name is Katherine Au and I’m the Assistant Center Director at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center San Francisco, California, which opened in 2008.

Joan Kroc’s vision became a reality in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district with the opening of the Kroc Community Center—an eight-story 135,380-square-foot facility focused on educational and recreational programming as well as corps activities.

We are probably one of the most unique centers in that we also have a 110-unit housing program called the Railton Place, directly attached to our center, here in the heart of one of the challenging parts of the city with such a diverse community. Railton Place provides housing for veterans and aged-out foster youth, along with transitional living, permanent supportive housing, job readiness training, general casework and counseling.

Our Kroc Center also offers after-school and summer day camp programs, which have helped students with literacy, general education and grade advancement, along with social skills and parent and student engagement. During COVID, we were chosen as a primary learning hub by the city to host distant learning initiatives and to aid in learning loss recovery. Now, transitioning out of COVID, we are slowly regrowing our participants and planning for a phase two—a middle school and high school program.

Come visit us at the San Francisco Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Opened 2009

My name is Major Don Gilger and I’m the Corps Officer at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which opened in 2009.

The Kroc Center opened its doors with the vision to become a “safe place to belong and grow” in Kootenai County. Here, people can come in and better themselves in whatever capacity they need to.

We also work to bridge the gap for unmet needs in the community through our outreach programming. One of these is Mobile Kroc recess support, through which we partner with local elementary schools for support at recess at no cost.

School representatives had called recess time “chaotic,” with “no consistent rules,” and often, fights on the playground breakout due to limited staff and resources. Currently, seven elementary schools in the district have opted into the Mobile Kroc program, where Kroc Center employees lead activities at recess, impacting roughly 3,000 students.

Another ministry of the Coeur d’Alene Kroc Center is The Well, a wellness program that provides families with life skills training, access to group exercise and medical professionals all at no cost. In 2021, 50 families participated in The Well.

Come visit us at the Coeur d’Alene Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Salem, Oregon
Opened 2009

My name is Captain Quinton Markham and I’m the Corps Officer at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Salem, Oregon, which opened in 2009.

The 92,000-square-foot Salem Kroc Center is located in northeast Salem, next to an industrial park and a 22-acre city-owned nature preserve.

Our center focuses on meeting the community’s need for educational assistance, particularly for high school students. This includes a partnership with the Salem-Keizer School District to assist families and teens who are in danger of slipping through the cracks with their educational and career pursuits.

Our REBOUND Drop-in Program, which can accommodate up to 100 teens, offers after-school drop-in resources including Wi-Fi, workspace, Chromebooks, iPads, tutoring and snacks in an environment where students can feel safe holding each other accountable toward finishing school and achieving their goals. The program is free, as is the 10-week M3 REBOUND program, which explores the benefits of healthy eating, movement and mindset. Students who complete M3 receive a free fitness tracker and a 12-month Kroc membership.

Additionally, thanks to a recent partnership with a local escape room company, our center now features two escape rooms. The first, Escape Extinction, is a race against time in a World War II enemy bunker to deprogram mind-controlled dinosaurs battling against the Allies. Our second one, KROCBUSTER, is a retro throwback to the golden age of the video store, where participants must open on-time and hopefully not get fired.

These are growing in popularity around the country, and they present an exciting, group-building challenge with tons of fun right in our own facility.

Come visit us at the Salem Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Phoenix, Arizona
Opened 2012

My name is Captain Caroline Rowe and I’m the Corps Officer at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Phoenix, Arizona, which opened in 2012.

We’re just five minutes from downtown Phoenix and we have 147,000-square-feet. We serve a neighborhood with very high diversity—the highest number of African Americans in the state of Arizona.

One of our unique offerings was to establish a task force to determine what our community needs. We recruited about 25 community members from local government and other nonprofits in recent years. This task force allowed The Salvation Army to form several key partnerships. We also conducted a survey of the four zip codes nearest to the Kroc Center. We found shortcomings in people’s understanding of budgeting, savings, investing, credit—kind of the basics when you look at those measures that lead to disparities in wealth.

So we drew up a proposal to fund a two-phase curriculum on financial literacy, and The Salvation Army secured a $22,000 grant from T.L. Williams to fund the program for three years. We’ll get that, hopefully, every year. And we also secured some funding from a local bank that helped to underwrite some of the cost as well.

Our first free 10-week “Smart Money” financial literacy class was in 2021. Ninety-nine percent of our participants and teachers were people of color and represented our community. We covered the basics of managing a checking account, reducing debt, buying stocks, purchasing a home, boosting credit and other key tools to help participants manage their money. A second session, actually, almost doubled our numbers. We’re happy—we see some measurable outcomes from this. We follow up with participants six months after graduating and we’re hoping to see some of them buy a home or start a savings account and get their finances under order.

So I invite you—come visit us at the Phoenix Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Kapolei, Hawaii
Opened 2012

Aloha! My name is Major Lynn Stewart and I’m the Corps Officer and Administrator at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Kapolei, Hawaii, which opened in 2012.

In addition to the bounty of athletic and community programs at the Hawaii Kroc Center, our team at The Salvation Army has gone beyond the walls of our beautful facility to reach out into our community and transform the lives of our neighbors and ohana in need throughout island and our West Oahu area.

Since 2019, the Kroc Church Homeless Outreach Team has been walking around the Kapolei community in groups every first and third Saturday to visit our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. These individuals are often found not in encampments, but rather throughout the community, including beaches and tents, deep in the bushes, making foot travel essential.

The goal of the outreach, led by our Kroc Church members Jeannie Chan and Sam Ng, is to provide a ministry of presence through relationship building. We have seen many of our friends receive food and first aid wound care from trained specialists on our team, along with time taken out to have meaningful interactions. What’s even more incredible is that our own church people have gone back out to these places to pick up our friends in need and bring them to church on Sunday. I am blessed to see the love of God on full display through the work of this ministry.

Another way the Kroc Center reaches those in the community is through our Micronesian Assimilation to the Hawaiian Islands program, better known here as our MAHI program. Led by Mesina Refilong, the program aims to provide the resources and guidance needed to help those coming from Micronesia adjust to life in the U.S. I’m proud to say that one of the most impactful parts of this program is the assistance we provide with completing the Form I-94. This is the official record of an individual’s arrival and departure to the islands and it is an essential piece of documentation for life in Hawaii.

The program has evolved to encompass English and computer classes and has become a central location for many women in the Micronesian community transitioning to the area’s workforce. It truly is such an inspiring sight to see the bonds that have been formed among participants—many of whom are not originally from the same island. And the result has produced a beautiful and diverse group of people here at the center. We are so excited to see what God is going to do next.

Come visit us at the Hawaii Kroc Center!

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Suisun City, California
Opened 2012

My name is Major Joanne Loughanath and together with my husband Bob, we are the Corps Officers and County Coordinators at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Suisun City, California, which opened in 2012.

So this year, we will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary. The Western Territory’s final Kroc Center opened here in Suisun City, a bedroom community between Sacramento and San Francisco. Adjacent to a public park, library and elementary school school, and we provide a variety of services to the greater Solano County area.

One example of our service to the community is our Kroc Afterschool and Kinderkroc program supporting local children. Each weekday, staff members provide homework help for the older kids and help the younger ones with kindergarten concepts. Additionally, for kids ages 5–12, we’re offering Youth Basketball Camp in partnership with the Sacramento Kings. We also have an adult bb leage and our aquatics department offers swim lessons for both children and adults. In addition, we offer parent and tot swim lessons where both parent and child are in the water learning skills and safe practices together.

On top of the various sports and fitness classes, our social services provide emergency food assistance to those in need. We do this through our two offices located in Fairfield and Vallejo, and also through our mobile assistance unit that travels to various communities each week.

As part of our ministry recently, our Kroc Center began holding a single moms group that meets every fourth Friday of the month. This was a vision from one of our ministry leaders, to create a safe space for single moms, giving them an opportunity to come together, support one another through the challenges of parenting, and to grow together in Christ.

We’ve also had the privilege of receiving new members of the disabled community into our church family. They are fully immersed in our Sunday school classes and worship services, and while we don’t have a formal ministry for the disabled, it’s important we all learn from one other, encouraging, including and uplifting each one regardless of our different needs.

We also have a great group of seniors who come for our early morning group fitness activities. They call themselves the Kroc-ettes. They organize and plan their own get togethers, but the Kroc Center has been a central meeting hub for them. They are an energetic bunch who are excited to share about our Kroc Center in the community.

So come visit us at the Suisun City Kroc Center! We’d love to see you.

Additional resources:

  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
  • Have you ever found yourself wanting to volunteer but unsure of what to do or how to go about it? Here’s the key: You can make an impact in the Fight for Good with whatever time and skills you have. Whatever your interest, there is a you-sized need for goodness in the world. Get the guide on How To Be An Impactful Volunteer with 9 habits to make a difference when giving back.
  • Listen to the Do Gooders Podcast to learn more about life inside a Salvation Army Kroc Center.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now.

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