A River Runs Through It

Image of the Phoenix AZ Kroc Center Building

The Salvation Army didn’t know it at the time, but God set the wheels into motion some 44 years before the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center—located in the South Mountain portion of Phoenix, AZ—came into being.

“South of the Salt River, land was dirt cheap back in 1968,” explains Major Gwyn Jones, Phoenix Kroc corps officer. “About 12 acres in South Mountain became the home of the old Phoenix South Mountain Corps—which happened to later be my first appointment as a new lieutenant in 1992.”

That part of Phoenix, which is situated on the south bank of the river, has always been very blighted and crime-infested. Middleand upper-class Phoenicians often avoided “crossing the bridge.”

“Believe it or not, it’s better today than it was about 25 years ago when I was serving as the South Mountain Corps assistant officer,” Major Gwyn says.

“That building was dilapidated. My office was in the basement, which I called ‘the dungeon.’ But we were building relationships since our beginnings here and that continues today on a much bigger scale!”

That seems to be an understatement when you gaze upon the Phoenix South Mountain Kroc— a 147,000 square ft. facility setting on 15 acres dedicated to the glory of God and service to humankind.

The Phoenix Kroc boasts some 7,056 members, with some scholarships available to members who cannot afford to pay. With about 150 employees (250 during the summer!) efficiently running the Kroc operations, Majors Gwyn & AnnMarguerite Jones can afford to be a pastor to their staff as well as the 7,000+ members, including the soldiers and friends of the corps.

“We can promote our corps center in the community, attracting new members and potential donors,” Major Gwyn says.

The Jones bring rich experience as corps officers from their previous appointment, San Diego Citadel. “The Kroc is a much bigger entity than San Diego Citadel, but the necessity to build relationships is the same. The same applies here,” he says.

“For instance, we had a gymnasium in San Diego, but not like the one we have here! Also we went from about 50 attending Sunday worship services in San Diego to having up to 200 here at the Kroc on Sunday morning!”

Their message to their congregation: see the Kroc Corps as your church, and also as a center that is drawing people who are in desperate need of Jesus!

“Sure, we could have built the Kroc about five miles north, or even on the north side of the Salt River—and we would have more members who could easily afford higher membership fees,” Major Gwyn points out, “but that’s not necessarily where we belong.”

Major Gwyn says he believes every Salvation Army Kroc—every corps and rehabilitation center, in fact—should be about “social justice.”

“If there is a reduction, or even no gang violence, isn’t that social justice?” he puts forward. “That’s exactly what William Booth meant about rescuing ‘the drowning masses,’ in my opinion.”

The major points to the Kroc’s unique boxing program as one tool that’s helping teach gang members to change their culture: “to keep from shooting one another, and to stop stealing stuff!”

South Mountain is exactly where the Army needs to be—where William Booth and Joan Kroc would want a Kroc Corps Center.

There’s substantial evidence that the Army in this neighborhood is making a difference—dating the old Phoenix South Mountain Corps to the greatly expanded role with all the Kroc facility brings to the table.

“Coming here saved my life,” admits one Kroc staff member. “I came to the center and hung out here; and not ‘out there’ (the streets). It was a place where I could see my friends and avoid getting into trouble.”

Major Gwyn says of her, “It’s great to have an employee who is so excited to be ‘giving back’ while helping kids along who are where she was not long ago.” He also points to another local youth who came to the old corps community center—today that person is a member of Congress.

Soldiers of the Kroc Corps are committed to the outreach afforded by the new facility.

Jesusa Sebastian began her soldiership 14 years ago in the old South Mountain Corps. She works at the nearby Irene Lopez Elementary School fulltime, and teaches first–to–third grade children at the Kroc.

“I work with after-school kids here and of course, on Sundays,” Jesusa says. “To me, it’s so exciting to see many of them attracted to the Kroc Corps Community Center, whether it’s for athletics, for play, or for worship.”

Anthony Velasco has been a Salvationist in south Phoenix “for all my life.” He was enrolled as a Junior Soldier at age seven. As an adult he got in trouble with the law and served time in prison until his release in 1998.

“God opened doors for me in 2010, when I came back to the Lord and to my roots at The Salvation Army,” he says, adding that he wants to keep young people from making the same mistakes as he.

By contrast, Michelle Jones is a new soldier of less than four years. She came to Phoenix from California for a new home and a new church family.

“I felt the love and acceptance from the people here right from the start,” Michelle says. “Its so wonderful to walk through the door and discover ministry that you can belong to and share with others!”

Another “newcomer” is Lieutenant Larry Carmichael, who became the assistant officer at the Phoenix Kroc Corps right out of the Training College in June 2016.

“This is my first appointment and is proving very beneficial for me to be a part of this dynamic ministry,” Lieutenant Carmichael says. “The reality is that my next appointment may likely not be anything like this, so I am learning a lot. My goal is to identify as many ‘future leaders’ as I can.”

Word is getting around Phoenix that the Kroc Corps Center is making a phenomenal difference in people’s lives.

“I have to admit that there remains some reluctance for people to ‘cross that bridge’ and check out what the Kroc is doing in South Mountain,” Major Gwyn joins
back in.

He is constantly on the lookout to bring individuals and group to the Kroc in order to showcase what great things are happening there.

“We get people here and they discover that the area is not as scary as they’d think—and they get ‘on board.’ Once they see what is happening, their whole perspective changes.”

The major says that the remark he hears the most from folks from north of the river is: “I had no idea!”

—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor