Kroc Center Issue

What do you call a place where every day seven kids commit suicide, six are murdered by firearms, 581 are arrested for drug use, 8,767 are abused or neglected, 1,923 babies are born into poverty? They call it home.

All too often America’s children are unseen, unheard and uncared for. They are the children of poverty—12 million of them. Seventeen percent of America’s children live in poverty. Another 22 percent live just above the poverty line. That’s roughly two out five who are poor or “near poor.” Children of poverty live in unsafe housing, often with inadequate food and clothing. They are far more likely to suffer neglect and abuse. Their harsh environment sows the seeds for drug abuse, gang membership, unwed pregnancy, teen crime. They need hope, a place that is safe, somewhere they can feel good about themselves and others.

Johnny was one of these children who are served by the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers. Growing up in a housing project that had lost its luster, his grandmother put him to bed in the bathtub to protect him from stray bullets from gangs and drug dealers. Most of the kids he grew up with had been killed, were in prison, or strung out on drugs. Johnny says the center was his safe haven after school. A caring staff mentored and looked after him, helped him do homework and encouraged him. It was a proud day when he graduated not only from high school but college.

Ray and Joan Kroc cared for kids. Mrs. Kroc said, “I realized the children desperately needed a safe gathering place with facilities and trained professionals to nurture their social skills, arts appreciation and athletic potential. We can help our city together by declaring our love to all of its children and show them the faith that we have in their future. I believe these young people will grasp the opportunity to become some of the finest leaders and citizens in America’s finest cities.”

We are humbled and challenged by the gift of these remarkable people who made possible 26 Kroc centers across the United States for tens of thousands of Johnnys.

Commissioner David Jeffrey

The Man at the Pool of Bethesda

1977. That was the year Apple Computer was incorporated, the miniseries Roots made television history and Radio Shack marketed its groundbreaking TRS 80 computer. It was also in 1977 that Jay Leno made his first appearance on the “Tonight Show,” the Space Shuttle made its first flight in earth’s atmosphere and the movie Rocky won the Academy Award for best picture. Star Wars made its appearance and the Concorde started its supersonic flights from Paris to New York City. Since 1977, 125 million people have been born in the United States, 35% of the current population. But worldwide, over four and a half billion people have been born since 1977 representing two thirds of its population. That was 38 years ago. The story we find in John 5:1-15 tells of a man who spent 38 years, not in marking progress but living in defeat, depression and desperation. Like the others who crowded around the pool of Bethesda, he believed that if he were the first to get into the water when it started bubbling, he would be healed of his paralysis. He held on to this slim hope because it was his only hope. Like a homeless person who has built a makeshift shelter from scraps, he likely had some rattletrap tent to shelter him from rain, to afford some protection from the cold and to give him a place to sleep — all the while waiting. When engaged in conversation he would have never lost sight of the water, and when he dozed off he would have wakened with a start to any noise that sounded like bubbling. Then, when the water moved, he would have tried desperately to drag his weakened body across the pavement through passersby as part of a pathetic race to waters that failed to heal him.

One day, Jesus approached him and asked, “Would you like to get well?” (vs. 6). Instead of answering, the man outlined the reasons why he couldn’t get better. Someone else was always unavailable to help him. The timing of the water’s bubbling was beyond his control. Someone else always succeeded in getting in ahead of him. Asking the man if he wanted to get well was an insightful question. This man had spent 38 years waiting to be healed; victimhood had become part of his identity. It was always someone or something else that prevented good things from happening. He could not give Jesus a simple yes or no answer.

There are people with a similar debilitated mindset who wait for someone or something besides God to save them. Some play the lottery. Some look to the government to care for them. Some live in a state of bitterness about their terrible lot in life. Some who are genuinely ill focus on their pain rather than the possibilities of using what remains.

Without waiting for a straight answer, Jesus gave three commands, all of which were impossible for a paralyzed person to do. “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” (vs. 8). Suddenly, the man felt strength where before he had felt nothing. Then he stood on the spot where he had lain helpless. The mat that had held him he now held in his hands. His feet, tender from years of disuse, touched the stone pavement, and when his toes kicked the small pebbles out of the way he felt a twinge of glorious pain! The unthinkable had happened: his legs had been healed.

There were those who did not share the joy of his healing. They did not see a lame man able to walk, but a man carrying a mat on the Sabbath. In their spirits they were more paralyzed than anyone who lay by the Pool of Bethesda.

The Soul’s Resistance

The man lost Jesus in the crowd, but Jesus did not lose sight of him. Finding him later, Jesus gave this man a unique warning. Jesus never said anything like this to anyone else He healed. “Now you are well; so stop sinning or something even worse may happen” (vs. 14). Perhaps his paralysis was the result of some criminal act or some moment of youthful foolishness that injured him. Perhaps his heart, darkened by deep bitterness, led him to curse the day he was born while he spewed hatred toward all humankind. That would have become a pattern that, once the euphoria passed, he risked slipping into again, despite his healing.

In the end, the paralysis of the soul is far more dangerous than anything that can happen to the body. All bodies wither and die one day. Our minds lose their vigor and our memories fail us. Only the soul retains the possibility of an eternal youth through the renewing of the Holy Spirit. But the soul can put up the most resistance to God’s grace and His miracles of transformation. To let bitterness rule is to place the individual in far more peril than any crippling disease or diminishing mind.

“Something worse may happen,” Jesus warned. All should heed that warning and seek the One who can keep us ever fresh.

By Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee

Catch Me, Daddy

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

What these verses instruct is easier said than done. Many of us have trust issues, causing us to trust God only to a certain degree. We might allow God into our lives up to a point, but then we take back control and, once again, lean on our own understanding. Is this really trusting in God? Is this the best offering we can give to Him?

A number of years ago, my eldest son was standing on the top of his bunk bed, and when I rounded the corner into his room he leapt into my arms, shouting, “Catch me, Daddy!” Caught off guard, I almost didn’t catch him. He didn’t know if I would catch him, he just leapt.

This instance brings to mind those two verses in Proverbs 3. In order to truly acknowledge Him we have to take a leap of faith. We have to leap and trust that God will catch us. We have to stop trusting completely in our own feeble human understanding and begin trusting in God, who created us. Don’t you believe He knows what He is doing? Then take the leap!

By Captain Scott Strissel

From Gravel Pit to Local Treasure

The people in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho always find a way to get things done. With an economy built on timber and mining, the town was at a crossroads when those industries deteriorated. So town leaders took advantage of the natural beauty of the surrounding area, which is marked by spectacular lakes, to transform Coeur d’Alene into a tourist destination.

Challenges arose when the town’s only community center closed its doors, followed by the YMCA. Water sports were popular for residents of Coeur d’Alene, and swim teams excelled. Without a pool available for practices and meets, residents sought other sources. Attempts to attract another agency to build its own facility and to cajole government leaders to help out failed, until Mayor Sandy Bleoum and Sue Philo learned of Joan Kroc’s generous gift to The Salvation Army to establish community centers in select locations across the U.S. They also discovered that the Army had formed an Idaho task force to choose a potential location for a Kroc Center. Sandy and Sue joined the task force and, despite facing steep competition from larger communities with definite need, persuaded the group to endorse their proposal over the others.

One problem remaining: every other proposal in the U.S. came from communities where The Salvation Army had established operations, but the Coeur d’Alene’s corps had closed almost 75 years ago. The closest Salvation Army operation was nearly 40 miles away in Spokane, Washington.

Sue and Sandy were elated to learn that The Salvation Army was open to building a Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene. Commissioner Phil Swyers met with them to deliver the bad news: “You have to put some skin in the game. You need to raise $8 million.”

The committee was stunned. The largest community campaign ever in Coeur d’Alene had raised $3 million—and that was a mammoth effort. The committee chose Jack Riggs, past lieutenant governor of the state, to lead the campaign. The fundraisers made a key decision. Every donor, regardless of the size of the gift, would have his or her name inscribed on a wall in the new building. All would be honored, from the $1 million donation from the Native American Coeur d’Alene Tribe to the little boy who emptied his piggybank.

Majors John and Martie Chamness were appointed to the Kroc Center in faith that the community would rise to the challenge, and it did. Later, Majors Ben and Joann Markham joined the team, eventually assuming full command when the Chamnesses relocated to Hawaii.

The site chosen for the Coeur d’Alene Kroc was ideal in many ways. Located on one of the main thoroughfares, it was near an interstate exchange as well as the Centennial Bike Trail, providing safe access to youth who lived on the other side of the superhighway. However, there wasn’t really a piece of land there. Instead, there was a massive gravel pit that had collected its share of castoffs and rubbish over the years. The town officials pitched in by giving the Army the land and then providing the fill needed to make it usable.

In May 2009, as opening day approached, the Army projected that it would reach 5,000 members in five years. In the first year alone, membership exceeded 16,000! At the same time, the corps opened its doors for worship services. Supplementing the Markham family were a few others who had previously attended an Army service. The corps blossomed, soon reaching attendance of around 150 to 200.

The full range of services offered at the center has made a profound impact on the area. (The Salvation Army Coeur d’Alene Kroc Center actually serves five counties in the panhandle of Idaho.) The biggest impact has been the aquatic center, which boasts a 10– lane, Olympic–size swimming pool certified for competition. Not only do the four local high schools use it for their swim team practices and meets, it has also hosted several state competitions and the local Special Olympics. A water safety program for third–graders has grown from 200 students to over 1,000, and will approaching 2,000 students annually in the next two years.

Some of the activities offered are weight training, indoor soccer, basketball, crafts and fine arts, theater, day camp, senior services, music lessons, dance, group exercise, health and nutrition classes, swim classes, wellness coaching and rock climbing. The center also has an indoor playground and a coffee shop. Two programs are in such high demand that the Army is considering expanding its already sprawling facility: the preschool program that allows parents to bring their children in to play while they study or exercise, and the after–school middle school program which was launched when the staff noted the increasing number of teens who came by each afternoon. Tutoring, mentoring, recreation and spiritual guidance have attracted so many participants to the after– school program that it has grown beyond the space allotted for it.

Now retired from public service, Mayor Bleoum reflects on the experience of establishing the Kroc Center: “I have learned from The Salvation Army that you can’t give enough. There is always something more.” Lifelong resident Jack Riggs summed up the general feeling: “In my lifetime this is one of the best things to happen to this community. We are glad all our previous efforts failed so that the door could be opened to this.”

By Major Frank Duracher

A Love Affair with Kerr County

Perhaps no other community its size has embraced a Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center more completely than Kerrville, TX.

“The population of Kerrville is 22,000,” reports Captain Jimmy Parrish. “And the total membership to date tops 3,300, which means that 15 percentage of the city’s population utilizes this facility on a fairly regular basis!”

It’s impressive, but that’s not all. A Kerrville Corps has existed since the 1980s. The Salvation Army’s presence in this gorgeous Hill Country community has been very respectable. A shelter, a social services office and regular corps activities thrived for nearly three decades before the ribbon was cut on the grand Kroc Center in November, 2010.

Having an established corps in Kerrville for nearly 30 years has been a great blessing,” explains Captain Jimmy. “In a smaller city like this, everyone knows everyone, and the community was already very aware of what The Salvation Army could bring to the table, especially with a great facility like a Kroc Center!”

Oscar De La Garza, a single father of two, is one of the soldiers of the former Kerrville Corps who has witnessed the evolution of the thriving corps community center from working there. He’s there seven days a week.

“I was sold on the Army long before talk about a Kroc being awarded here,” Oscar says. “But having this Kroc is a huge bonus, both for the Army and Kerrville!”

Adds Captain Lacy Parrish, “The City of Kerrville just loves the Kroc Corps Center and its mission. They know the Army’s mission and how we fulfill that mission.”

The community recognizes the Army as a religious organization that exists to meet the community’s spiritual, physical and social needs.

Its religious purpose is hard to miss—the chapel is the first thing you see when you enter the front door. One Sunday each month the Parrishes and their Kroc Corps members invite their neighbors to worship as part of Community Sundays.

“This facility gives our corps a unique opportunity to have dynamic worship, and connecting with the community in this way has proven successful in claiming for Christ many who were unchurched before,” Captain Jimmy says. “It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Boys & Girls Club, or activities in the gym or at the pool, or exercise areas. The message of the Gospel is quietly and steadfastly promoted.”

Support for the Kroc Center in Kerrville has been strong. Captain Lacy says that donors often come just to check in. Supporters can see how responsible Army personnel are with the money generated to run such a complex. She says the feedback they receive on what to continue and what to improve makes a huge difference.

An astounding 16,000 people come to the Kroc center each month for some type of activity, supporter give in this town of 22,000.

“To my knowledge, Kerrville is the only Kroc in the Southern Territory to not be under an area command,” he observes. “This can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing.”

Being free of an area command affords the Kroc Center the chance to branch out, but independence has its costs. In Kerrville the Army has other responsibilities not related to the Kroc Center, such as running a family store, a social services office and an emergency family shelter.

“But we don’t mind,” Captain Lacy chimes in, “and we embrace all we do in order to promote the Gospel through so many ways that many of our members would never see… There are so many opportunities to share who we are and why we do what we do in The Salvation Army. Its nice to have a city that loves us for doing just that!

By Major Frank Duracher

A Haven of Safety

The first thing that strikes you as you walk up to the front entrance of the Philadelphia Kroc Center is a BMW parked next to an old jalopy. That sight is indicative of the broad economic cross–section served at this facility, now in its fifth year.

Situated on 12.4 acres of a former impound lot northwest of downtown Philly, the center is surrounded by abandoned factories. Beyond those dilapidated buildings are neighborhoods plagued by crime and urban blight.

Surprisingly, these deserted plants turned out to be a huge plus for the Army’s investment here, according to Major Dennis Gensler, a Philadelphia Kroc administrator.

“Those old, empty buildings act as a buffer of sorts for the neighborhoods just beyond, and the result is that people feel they can come here in safety,” Major Gensler says.

He’d like to see Scripture verses posted all over the facility, so that people can see the predominant Christian influence.

“I’ve heard it said that the Kroc Center is today’s version of the open–air meeting—only brought indoors. In its day, the Army’s open–air meetings drew thousands. Today, thousands are coming into our centers, and we have a unique and sacred opportunity to evangelize in this state–of–the–art way,” the major says.

“The Kroc Center has already made a huge difference in the lives of individuals in the community. The area has been transformed from a junkyard into a family place, a fun place and a place where people from all walks of life can feel safe among friends,” he says.

“Let me give you an example of how diverse our members are,” Major Lynn Gensler adds. “We were invited to a prestigious dinner in honor of a man who was to be presented with an award from the city of Philadelphia for his philanthropy. The wife of the keynote speaker was telling me how she loved coming to swim at our center.”

Major Lynn continues, “I told her, ‘Well, tell all your friends about the Kroc.’ ‘Oh, I do,’ she said, ‘We all enjoy the hot tub!’”

That example shows how some of Philadelphia’s most elite and influential people are coming alongside Kroc members who receive scholarships. “They are using the same facility; working out on the same equipment; using the same locker room,” Major Lynn says. “It’s a remarkable thing to see!”

Captains Dennis and Sharon Young are the Kroc Corps Officers. The Youngs have an uncanny ability to attract people to the corps, greatly expanding Kroc membership to the max.

“The whole premise [of the Kroc Center] is the holistic approach to body, mind and spirit,” Captain Dennis says. “The Kroc is part fitness center and part spiritual center. In order to have a holistic experience, you must make your walk with God a fit relationship. Otherwise, your physical fitness won’t matter.”

The goal is to provide a good balance for every member, helping everyone to become both spiritually and physically fit.

“It’s one thing to look good [physically], but you also need to feel good about yourself [spiritually],” Captain Dennis says.

Calling the daily visitors “an endless flow of people,” Captain Dennis explains, “There is a tremendous opportunity to evangelize here.”

In fact, he estimates, in addition to the soldiery who came over to the Kroc Corps from the old Germantown Corps (when it closed five years ago), some 45 percent of the new soldiers came to the Army as a direct result of their membership.

Golden Gems is a seniors group that meets several times each week to enjoy various activities.Ian Dugan works as an education staff assistant computer literacy teacher in the Kroc computer labs. “Working here means so much to me because I can use the gift that God has given me to teach. I also love to share the love of God with others here in this Christian environment,” Ian says.

Another Kroc staff member, Coach Jim Ellis, oversees the impressive swimming pools that are a favorite of young and old alike. Coach Ellis is a nationally–renowned swimming and aquatics coach.

“It is fantastic for The Salvation Army to have a facility like this because it puts a new face on the Army and opens up to the community a myriad of things the Army does to reach out in an at–risk community,” Coach Jim says.

“We save lives by teaching [people] to swim and by wanting to get involved in wellness—physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he adds, calling the Philadelphia Kroc “a one–stop shopping” experience for total fitness.

Rebecca Davis is a soldier in the Kroc Corps. Her excitement over the religious aspect of the center can hardly be contained. She is a member of the Golden Gems, a seniors group, and serves as an usher on Sunday mornings in the worship service.

“We are a family here. Coming here means the world to me because our officers are friendly and loving; everyone is. These are loving and caring people, and I feel safe.”

One of the newest soldiers of the corps, Carolyn Carson, agrees, calling the Philadelphia Kroc “a beacon of light.” Which is what Joan Kroc said she wanted every Kroc Center to be.

By Major Frank Duracher

20 Acres of Ministry

If the original plans for the Grand Rapids, Michigan Kroc Corps Center been realized, the $15 million facility would have been limited to four acres of Garfield Park, not far from downtown.

There’s nothing wrong with four acres; you can have a fantastic facility on such a plot of land.

But 20 acres is better, and Majors Marc and Karen Johnson are grateful for what they call “God’s intervention” to make the extra space a welcoming, safe place for the religious and character–building programs suited to Grand Rapids’ diverse population.

The Grand Rapids center represents what Major Marc calls “the sweet spot of Joan Kroc’s vision.”

“It turns out that residents around Garfield Park didn’t want the Kroc built there,” he explains, “not so much because we are The Salvation Army, but because they wanted to retain the park itself, and that’s fine.”

When objections were raised, Major Marc says, the Kroc project nearly died on the drawing board.

“But God had other plans,” he beams.

Several advisory board members spotted a former gravel pit and multiple plots of blighted land vacated by failed businesses. This new site was only five blocks from the original.

“We were fortunate to get that land, and the result is what you see here,” Major Marc points out. The Grand Rapids Kroc facility is a whopping 105,000 square feet, with additional outdoor features, such as two regulation soccer fields, one softball field, 24 community garden plots, a multi–family picnic area complete with sand, a sand volleyball court, a basketball court, a 450–seat amphitheater and a hill perfect for sledding in the winter or a slip ‘n slide in the summer.

The center even has a stocked fishpond for youngsters to enjoy.

Inside are the amenities one can find at most Kroc centers across the country: exercise equipment, a gymnasium, conference rooms and a water park for aquatics and year–round swimming (a big draw during long Michigan winters).

Perhaps the most important feature of the Kroc Corps Community Center in Grand Rapids is the chapel.

The Johnsons make sure not to draw any distinction between the importance of the worship and recreational aspects of the center. Encouraging worship has been their primary goal since they were appointed here over four years ago.

“On our first staff meeting here—we only had about five to six employees then—we gathered together to learn what was going on here,” Major Marc says. “The program director gave his report about the wellness and recreational activities and then said, pointing to another fellow, ‘And he will tell you the part about the corps!’”

Major Marc said at that moment he felt his spirit wounded, so he spoke up, “Wait a minute. The last time I checked, there is only one ‘and’ in our name, and that is ‘Ray and Joan Kroc.’ There is no ‘and’ in ‘Corps Community Center.’ We are not separate.” Everything at the Grand Rapids Kroc concerns ministry, from the pool, to health and wellness class, to fine arts and education.

That is the mindset impressed on all 180 staff members now working at the Grand Rapids Kroc, and it is also apparent to the roughly 9,000 program participants who pass through the main entrance each month.

Kroc Center PlaygroundThe Johnsons encourage those 180 staff members, called the “Kroc Krew,” to talk to everyone who comes in. The goal is “to help everyone they come in contact with to take the next step in their relationship with God,” Major Karen says. “Taking that next step, they’re going to be that much more exposed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in their lives and within their families.”

Many soldiers of the young Kroc Corps became uniformed members in The Salvation Army after coming to the center to use the facility. One family came to the Army through the Christmas Toy Distribution program. They were invited to the corps and are now uniformed, faithful soldiers.

Yet another couple brought their children to play on the playground equipment. Major Marc struck up a conversation with them and invited them to church that Sunday; they’ve been coming ever since.

Sally Hendrix was looking for a fitness facility that also offered a seniors program. Two years later, she is 90 pounds lighter and walks to the center every day from her home near Garfield Park. Sally attends Senior Fridays at the center with other seniors who want to stay active and social.

There is no shortage of community activities for the soldiery to buy into: a Monster Mash is held every October, as is a Daddy and Daughter night in February, a Breakfast with Santa in December and a Mother & Son banquet in March.

“There are other fitness places here in Grand Rapids,” says Major Marc, “and there are character– building organizations all worthy of public support. But ours is the only one of its kind. This neighborhood was under-served before, but with this facility, all needs are met.”

The Kroc membership is diverse, reflecting the multicultural population of Grand Rapids. “There is a blend of Hispanic, African American, Anglo and Asian folks who both utilize our facility and attend our corps programs,” Major Marc explains.

In fact, he points out, 42 percent of Grand Rapids is Hispanic. For that reason, a translator translates the sermon each Sunday morning from English to Spanish and provides it to worshippers through headphones.

Before the Kroc Center was built, the neighborhood had an unsavory reputation. Currently, up to 56 different gangs operate in Grand Rapids.

“When we opened the police unnerved us a bit when they told us we have provided a wonderful place for gang members to hang out! I guess they were referring to the amphitheater and sports courts out in the open and hidden from the main road,” Major Marc says. “But we have not had a problem, and I believe that’s because everyone feels welcome here. It is a place of neutrality.”

As they say, art imitates life.

“The mission and vision statement we’ve developed is about sharing the love of Jesus Christ without discrimination. We want to show radical hospitality, which is intentional toward everyone, and to make them feel comfortable mixing here,” Major Karen says.

Everyone coming to the center should know they are welcome, she points out, and that religion will never be forced on anyone, but people’s lives can really change here. “There is no corps without the Kroc; just as there is no Kroc without the corps.”

By Major Frank Duracher