WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Interview with Kroc Center administrator
Majors Tim and Cindy Foley share insight on operating the Army’s premiere facility in San Diego, California.
On June 19, 2002, the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center opened its doors in an economically depressed area of downtown San Diego. Currently, the center serves over 2,300 people per day, over 800,000 per year, and over three million since its opening—all entering this “Doorway to Opportunity” seeking new experiences and personal betterment.
Today, as The Salvation Army in the West announces the sites for the territory’s new centers, New Frontier looks at the past four years in San Diego. Majors Tim and Cindy Foley, administrators there from the beginning—with the unique perspective of having guided the nation’s first Kroc Center through myriad challenges and opportunities—answered a series of questions posed by New Frontier.
NF: What is one vital piece of information that you would convey to Army personnel whose cities will receive a Kroc Center?
TF: Keep Joan Kroc’s vision fresh in your hearts and minds. She was all about giving children the opportunity to explore their dreams in a world-class facility. We would encourage other centers to learn from our mistakes, be dependent upon God for their needs, and be ready to move out into your community. There is a whole new field ripe for harvest and these centers may save both body and soul of countless thousands of people.
CF: On the practical side—spend time determining who, how and when the community will use your facility and then design it to allow for that access in a safe, controlled and efficient manner. On the evaluative side—you will know that your community center is successful when it becomes the center of the community.
NF: How has the Kroc Center impacted the surrounding community?
TF: The positive economic impact on the community is evident, with new businesses attracted to the area, a rise in nearby home prices and realtors who use the Kroc Center as a key selling point.
CF: The center has been a magnet—strip mall occupancy was at 30 percent when we opened; after one year, it was at 100 percent. The Kroc Center is now the meeting site, and lead member, for a newly formed business district association.
The center has over 120 active partnerships with non-profit-organizations, for-profit businesses, public agencies and private foundations. These collaborations assist us in multiplying our ability to assist the community. Last year, contributions from community leaders totaled over $730,000 in fees paid for facility rental and corporate events held at the center. This income supports the portion of the cost of the programs not covered by program service fees, endowment or scholarship funds. For example: A child pays $10 per month for membership privileges that cost the Army $60 per month to provide. The business community helps to fill in this funding gap by choosing to hold their budgeted events at the Kroc Center rather than in a hotel or other facility.
NF: What is one challenge the center has overcome since its opening?
CF: Due to the size of Mrs. Kroc’s gift and the existence of other municipally funded community centers in the city, a large portion of the community assumed that access to the Kroc Center would be completely free. Our marketing and public relations focused on the high quality of the programs and services that are available at a less than market rate cost and the availability of scholarship funds to accommodate those who could not otherwise afford to participate.
Key programs and partnerships provide opportunities for those whose culture, language, or other circumstances might make them less likely to participate without assistance. In San Diego, we have a large number of African immigrants—many of these families would never find The Salvation Army on their own due to the barriers of language and personal experience. We partner with Project Concern International to offer translation, free memberships, socialization activities and other services to these individuals and families.
NF: How have the community’s expectations/impressions of The Salvation Army changed since the center’s opening?
CF: The Kroc Center showcases the Army’s ability to meet the needs of the whole person, by including the arts, recreation and educational programming, along with access to spiritual services and programming. The center has shown the community than the Army can provide a wider array of programming, in one location, that they had ever thought possible. Additionally, many community groups and organizations, who might not previously have taken the initiative to work with The Salvation Army, now see an opportunity to better their community at a facility that gives exposure to their organization. Frequent and high exposure media attention contributes to the heightened interest; the Kroc Center averages four live-remote TV broadcasts and two print articles per month.
NF: How would you summarize the work of the Kroc Center?
TF: We are a safe, fun and holy place. We celebrate the joy of living and encourage others to have fun in life—they can do that here. We promote “holy” by offering “divine hospitality” with our dedication to complete customer service that reminds people that God really does love them.
This Kroc Center is a special place. While it is challenging to operate, there is a great sense of contentment in knowing that the donor, Joan Kroc, was so pleased with what she saw happening here that she entrusted The Salvation Army with her money to build more centers. She believed in our holistic approach of having our heart to God and our hand to man.
We encourage not only Kroc Centers, but all centers of operation to be bold to proclaim the message of hope—giving people the opportunity to explore their dreams in any local Salvation Army center of operation.
The 21st century calls for a fresh vision and a more pragmatic approach in proclaiming the gospel. These centers will attract people who would not ever consider darkening the doorstep of a church. It’s a wonderful opportunity to practice the ministry of presence and to remind people that God is still in love with his creation, especially the creatures created in his likeness