Standing on Turk Street, directly across from the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in San Francisco, California, you’ll notice that it looks nothing like the other 25 Kroc Centers ministering across the country. Like most buildings in downtown, this Kroc is much taller than it is wide—soaring eight stories into the San Francisco skyline.
Width-wise, it can’t be much more than the space for two plots of land zoned for business. But there’s no arguing that what goes on inside is a beehive of activity, if not a tad cramped.
In point of fact, The Salvation Army does operate two separate, yet partnered ministries in the 135,000 square-foot campus sitting on only half an acre—the San Francisco Kroc Center and Railton Place, a transitional and permanent housing facility. Again, from a vantage point across the street, it’s hard to tell if it this a Kroc Center with a housing shelter, or a housing shelter that happens to have a Kroc Center.
Majors Raymond and Jennifer Erickson-King, Kroc administrators and corps officers, oversee both programs.
“The Salvation Army’s Railton Place is a 110-unit transitional and permanent residence for sober homeless,” explains Major Raymond. “Of these units, 15 are provided to young adults between the ages of 21-24 who have aged out of the foster care system. Another 83 units are available to chronically homeless adults and veterans.”
Residents living or temporarily staying at Railton Place have access to the programs offered through the Kroc. Of course, many memberships come from the surrounding area—although admittedly the homeless population in this portion of the city is astounding!
Major Raymond notes that “What makes [the San Francisco Kroc Center] unique over all other Krocs, is that there’s also this housing component. It takes two budgets and two employee staffs, although some employees intertwine between the Kroc and Railton.” The first three floors are for the Kroc Center and the top five for Railton Place.
The two Salvation Army ministries, working in tandem, are acatalyst for realizing individualpotential, and an epicenter of hope—igniting a renewed and vibrant community in the heart of San Francisco.
Services offered by the Railton Place Resident Program include case management and substance abuse counseling and a life skills program. Workshops and classes offered include cooking, education, employment assistance, computer skills, art, money management, music, fitness, smoking cessation groups and more.
In keeping with the mission of The Salvation Army, the San Francisco Kroc Center provides facilities, programs and services that encourage positive, life-changing experiences for children and adults, strengthens families and offers life-enrichment for seniors.
“You could not have picked a block in San Francisco that needed a Kroc Center more than this one,” Major Erickson-King says. “Within a half-mile of the city’s center, which is called The Tenderloin, 110,000 people are living with an average income of $28,000. For a long, long time this area has suffered a high crime rate. In fact, you can buy as much alcohol, drugs, and drug implements as you want, but you cannot buy a head of lettuce!”
The Salvation Army is no stranger to this stretch of Turk Street. The Kroc Center replaces the old San Francisco Turk Street Corps, which was a beacon in the Tenderloin since 1886—a continuous presence for more than 130 years.
With approximately 3,500 children living in a ½ square mile area, the Tenderloin neighborhood houses the densest concentration of children and families in San Francisco. Many of these families are recent immigrants, where English is a second language, and parents may be unable to help their children with homework or help them acclimate to their new cultural environment.
Education is a top priority. Children are given the opportunity to develop character in a safe and nurturing environment. The after school program offers daily homework tutoring, a nutritious snack and recreation and enrichment activities for youth from kindergarten through eighth grade. Activities include: art, literacy, science and computers. Students in middle school also receive mentoring for high school and access to workshops in community service, leadership, organization and practical skills. Daily recreation in the gymnasium, dance studio, courtyard or game room keeps children physically active and healthy. Children are given the opportunity to develop character in a safe and nurturing environment. Children can also choose to participate in weekly Salvation Army youth programs such as Adventure Corps Rangers, Explorers, Sunbeams and Girl Guards. They can also participate in the Kroc Center music program, which offers lessons in boomwhackers, guitar, ukulele, keyboards, brass band, strings and singing.
Tourists who come to San Francisco often have no idea of what is going on in the Tenderloin District, despite being so close to it. Market Street is only one block away, and the southern terminus of the world-famous San Francisco Cable Cars is about a three-minute walk from the Kroc Center’s front entrance.
“This center is bringing a little hope to this desperate neighborhood. There is no outlet like this available to them,” says one Kroc Center volunteer.
“If (the Army) came to us at any time and asked us to put together the perfect project that incorporates all the needs and disciplines under one roof, we honestly couldn’t have come up with anything better,” exclaims (then) San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom is presently the Lieutenant-Governor of California.
Sandra Ally is the Railton Place director. The five social services programs she oversees gives her a unique perspective enjoyed by no other Kroc Center, anywhere.
“This is an amazing Kroc Center, not only because of the community we are placed in, but for Railton Place, that all of our staff members are able to welcome and serve the same folks Mrs. Kroc envisioned we would touch. The need is so great here.”
The center has a capacity to serve 2,000 youth annually, and 30-40 meals are prepared onsite and served daily to low-income seniors.
“Being here keeps our members safe and off the streets,” Ally adds. “We are a community center and we focus on the community.”
“This is a center of dreams—dreams of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, dreams of opportunity rather than failure,” (then) USA National Commander Commissioner Israel L. Gaither said at the facility’s dedication in July 2008.
“Those who enter the Kroc Center will stand on their strengths and not fall on their weaknesses.”
Now entering its second decade of service, there is much evidence that the San Francisco Kroc Center is changing lives.
“I would not be the person I am today without the Kroc Center and the people who work and volunteer here,” says civic leader Christine Carr, a founding member of The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center Advisory Council.
—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications