Dorchester Heights is the central area of South Boston. It is the highest area in the neighborhood and commands a view of both Boston Harbor and downtown a critical and successful component of the American Revolutionary War. General George Washington commanded the siege of Boston, and drove out the British with the firepower of two cannons brought over from Fort Ticonderoga.
In the 21st Century, a war of a different kind is in progress on the very spot where patriots helped win liberty.
The Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, opened in 2011, is the daily scene of battles being waged by men, women, and children struggling to learn life-skills in physical, emotional, social, and spiritual realms.
“I look at this place as a citadel of hope for building brighter futures,” states Major Edgar George, Boston Kroc Administrator. “That can take many different forms, but a person is changed for eternity if Christ is in the center of it!”
New England’s largest and most comprehensive community center represents The Salvation Army’s ongoing commitment to building communities of faith, hope, compassion, and grace.
“The Boston Kroc is an investment that is changing the lives of Boston’s neediest families for generations to come. At the Kroc Center, children play. Learners discover. Parents dream. Troubled spirits find healing. Families come together. Our community has a place to gather,” Major George explains.
Two exceptional ministries set this facility apart in Dorchester Heights: the Culinary Arts School and a first-time juvenile offenders rehabilitation program, called Bridging The Gap.
The Culinary Arts program takes both unemployed and unemployable would-be chefs and preparing them for careers in the food industry.
“We’ve had a pretty good success rate with the dozen or so classes already graduated since 2014,” says Chef Timothy Tucker, the program’s culinary prof. “On average, we’ve had a 90% graduation rate and about an 80% job placement record.”
A 10-week program, instruction includes all basic fundamentals in the food industry, proper food handling, and serve-save management. Graduates receive certification and a culinary apprenticeship somewhere in New England.
While most graduates are now functioning very well in the culinary job market, Chef Timothy proudly reports that some have even gone on to become entrepreneurs of their own restaurants.
“We teach them life-skills as well, because it’s very important they learn how to work as a team with others around them,” Chef Timothy says. “We bring on a life-coach as part of the curriculum to ‘peel the layers’ from potential personality conflicts. By the time they leave here, they should be working as a team, connecting with other employees, and mindful of each other’s concerns and traits.”
Graduates have ranged from as young as 19 to over 76. And although the average investment per student is $4,000 (food, education, textbooks, kitchen supplies) there is no tuition cost—underwritten by government and private grants made to the Army for this program. At the beginning of new semesters, four countries are selected for the students to learn ethnic food preparation.
“We have so many unbelievable success stories!”
Success stories also come from Bridging The Gap, a 10-week curriculum for juveniles who are court-ordered in the hopes of avoiding a life of crime.
Jovan Zuñíga is the director of the Boston Kroc version of Bridging The Gap, one of 13 such programs operated by The Salvation Army in the Massachusetts Division.
“Bridging The Gap teaches life-skills to youth from ages 12-18,” Zuñíga says. “An offender can be referred to us through several ways: judges, probation officers, lawyers, or even the District Attorney’s office.”
The teens learn conflict resolution, writing resumes, addressing drug/alcohol addictions, constructing budgets, paying bills, setting goals, and going on job interviews.
“This is a real chance to catch them before they wind up in prison,” Zuñíga points out. “It’s like we’re saying to them, ‘You are at a crossroads; you don’t have to go down that road!’ There’s some redemptive stuff here. Hopefully they’ll won’t wind up where so many before them have gone before a program like this was available.”
Bridging The Gap comprises three units of instruction: Health & Wellness; Me and My Community; and, Education and Future.
“Health & Wellness is about character building,” Zuñíga says. “While Me and My Community explores how growing up in your community impacts you personally. And Education and Future teaches how each one can become a successful member of society.”
Isaiah Thomas, point-guard for the Boston Celtics, was very impressed by what he saw when he visited the kids recently at Bridging The Gap.
After signing autographs and an endless stream of selfies, the NBA All-Star told the kids, “Look around you. These people care about you. Listen to them!” referring to the Boston Kroc staff.
Thomas further remarked that “the energy in this place is tangible” and that he intends to “partner with the Kroc” for future work with the teens.
Captain Darrell & Lieutenant Willow Houseton are the Kroc Corps Officers, shepherding a corps family that was formerly the Boston Roxbury Corps from the early 1890s.
“This is a very traditional corps that has embraced a cultivating culture offered by a Kroc facility in order to welcome people of all ages in the 21st Century,” says Lieutenant Willow
Ironically, the Lieutenant received the CSM Edward Gooding Award upon her commissioning in 2016. CSM (Corps Sergeant-Major) Gooding, promoted to Glory at age 95 just a few years ago, is acknowledged in the USA Eastern Territory as a great man of God—and was admitted into the Order of the Founder, the Army’s highest honor, for his many years of service at the old Roxbury Corps and for a brief time at the Boston Kroc Corps.
“It is an honor for me to serve here at ‘his corps’ for my first assignment,” she says.
CSM Gooding’s widow, Catalina Gooding, served alongside her husband for most of the 67 years they were married. He was able to see the Kroc center shortly before his passing.
“He would certainly approve of all that is going on here to reach people for Jesus in so many unique ways,” Mrs Gooding says.
Patricia Yearwood is the current CSM, and another transplant from Roxbury.
“Having this marvelous facility is a great opportunity for evangelism,” CSM Yearwood says. “This is a sanctuary to come to for physical fitness, social services, and spiritual food. Our Kroc encompasses The Salvation Army’s total mission of ‘Heart to God, Hand to Man.’”
Deanie Robinson was “very happy” in the church she was attending in 2012 when she decided to see what the excitement was about on Sundays at the Kroc, although she had worshipped occasionally at the Roxbury Corps.
“I came my first Sunday to worship at the Kroc Corps and I’ve been coming ever since. I never did go back to my other church!” Mrs Robinson exclaims.
In fact, with the exception of Saturdays, Deanie comes to the Kroc everyday, especially for seniors’ activities.
Lisa Welds moved back to Boston in 2011, from Newburgh, New York, where she and her husband were soldiers in the corps there.
“My husband came to the Kroc on the Saturday just before we started to attend here,” Lisa says. “We knew the Majors Yearwood, and it just felt so right!”
Chris Sumner calls the place where he works, “The most incredible Sunday School from Mondays to Sundays!” He is the Kroc Chief Operations Executive, overseeing day-to-day operations and supervises the Kroc employee staff. He worked for 30 years for non-profits, but was never able to share his faith.
“This city has never seen anything like this,” says Sumner, who is also an ordained minister in another denomination. “The Kroc is a tremendous potential to redefine ministry, and be a light of hope to everyone around!”
Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor