Center Aim

The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center aims to unite Memphis families

By Jeffrey Bain

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A family pulls into a parking lot at the Mid-South Fairgrounds and heads to a state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot community center. Smiling families are leaving; other smiling families are entering. Welcome to the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center of Memphis. A soccer game is in progress at one of the center’s two NCAA-regulation fields. There’s something going on at the chapel, which is also a performing arts theater. People are eating lunch at the wellness center’s cafeteria, having finished a workout at the neighboring fitness center. Teens are playing basketball in the gym. The family walks to the natatorium and splash park, and another family strolls through the courtyard on the way the multi-challenge area.

At the multi-challenge area, children are playing interactive virtual games. It’s straight out of a video game as they navigate through lasers, work through an obstacle course, and carry out tasks as part of the Have a Standard Foundation’s C.R.O.S.S.Fire Commandos (handling Critical Rescue Operations in Severe Situations). Or maybe it’s straight out of a comic book—the Commandos have a comic book of their own. Either way, it’s geared as the place to be for children to have fun and stay fit. As the foundation’s president, Ty Cobb, told The Daily News, “It’s kind of like Navy Seals training for young people.”

The start date is still unknown, but the Kroc Center is already reaching goals. With $25 million in donations and an $85 million grant from the Kroc Trust secured, contract bidding underway, and program development steadily moving forward, breaking ground is the next step toward making this community center a reality. It will be one of 25 nationwide operated by the Salvation Army and partially funded by the estate of Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. These Kroc Centers provide communities with cultural, devotional, educational, and recreational facilities all in one space. The Memphis center will give the Buntyn, Cooper-Young, Orange Mound, and Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhoods particularly close access to these resources.

Material aspects like the soccer fields and the multi-challenge area provide activities within a much larger service. The basic goal is to provide a safe place for people from many walks of life to meet. General membership to the center will be free, so people can be social contributors regardless of economic status. Donations and fees for additional services (e.g., practice space and special classes) will keep it that way. “Getting to know people, getting them to interact with each other as a community” is what Lt. Jason Burns, a Cooper-Young regular and the Salvation Army officer over the Kroc Center, cites as the center’s social service. The center is a way to both celebrate Memphis’ diversity and strengthen common bonds by bringing Memphians together.

The effort to strengthen the community also depends on responding to community needs. “Our program will be dictated by the people,” says Burns. Development of the center includes spaces to grow with the community as the needs of Memphians change. Burns notes that the different needs of different people at different times means “it all comes down to the people.” From early-morning workouts to evening art classes, visitors will vote with their feet, give feedback, and influence the center.

Christian principles are the basis for the Kroc Center, but being Christian is not a membership requirement. “If you have a pulse, we want to minister to you,” notes Burns. He envisions the Kroc Center as exemplifying the Salvation Army’s Christian principles in Memphis’ diverse community in terms of providing rather than preaching—affecting people positively is an inherent “encounter with the living God.” Those interested in purely social activities can do purely social activities. Christian resources are available to those who want them.

At the heart of it all is a dedication to uniting individuals, families, communities. The center’s website, krocmemphis.org, has more information on how the Salvation Army and supporters make this happen. Meanwhile, a family anticipates the day to pull into that community center parking lot.

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