In 2004, Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s franchise founder Ray Kroc, bequeathed $1.5 billion to The Salvation Army to help build community centers in cities across the United States. Greenville is fortunate to be the site of the only Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in the Carolinas. Besides offering a safe place for people from all backgrounds to gather, with life-changing programs for children and youth, the center has significantly altered the neighborhood where it was built.
Behind its construction is a remarkable story about how Greenville rallied to take advantage of the generous 2-for-1 match offered by the Kroc Estate, says Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation of Greenville. Local donors and foundations raised $12 million, entitling The Salvation Army to capture the match and open a state-of-the-art recreational facility, community meeting space, and tennis center. The Community Foundation’s contribution was its largest ever — $1 million — made as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.
“The Salvation Army board moved quickly to secure the funding to create the Kroc Center,” Morris says. “Together with the construction of A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering, the opening of the Kroc Center became a catalyst for the city to begin redevelopment of the surrounding area, including Unity Park.”
Built in 2011, the 73,000-square-foot Kroc Center rests on 25 acres on the west side of Greenville. Its award-winning tennis center has eight each of hard and clay courts, and is home to leagues, clinics, and events for children and adults. The recreation center offers a full schedule of fitness classes, including cycling, aquatic exercise, cardio, strength-training, dance, pilates, and yoga, with optional personal training. A lap pool and a zero-entry recreational pool with slides and play structures offer fun and fitness, as well as water therapy for children.
The Salvation Army Kroc Church holds Sunday services in the worship center, which can also be rented out for performances, ceremonies, and seminars. Conference space is available for events of varying sizes, with full-service catering. Children’s parties can be scheduled with gym, pool, or bounce-house options.
The Kroc Center’s youth programming includes soccer leagues, dance, music, art, physical education, and activities for home-schooled students. The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club serves about 400 at-risk youth in its after-school programs.
“The Boys and Girls Club summer day camp had about 170 kids every day, playing basketball, climbing the rock wall, swimming in the pool, and using the gymnasium,” says Maj. H. Andrew Kelly, area commander. “In the after-school program, they get homework help as well as recreation. Scholarships are available for students who need them.”
Rachel Wilkes, development director, said no two Kroc Centers are alike, with each designed to meet the particular needs in that city. Identified as an area that needed a community center, West Greenville became the home of Greenville’s facility.
“Each center is designed to be a ‘beacon of light’ in its community, a place where people can come together, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to be a part of a church community, work out with others, or participate in youth activities that are engaging and safe,” Wilkes says. “At the Kroc Center, everyone has access to fun, fitness, family, and faith. We are always trying to be good stewards, investing back in the people of the Greenville community.”