Thursday, April 25, 2013

With new Kroc Center, Salvation Army offers more than just a fitness center to Memphis area community

With new Kroc Center, Salvation Army offers more than just a fitness center to Memphis area community
By:  Michael G. Lander

The Salvation Army's Ray and Joan Kroc Corps 104,211 square foot multi-
million dollar, multipurpose community center is located on 15 acres in
Midtown Memphis.  Its grand opening took place on Feb. 23, 2013.

The Salvation Army may best be known for its ringing bells and red kettles during the Christmas holiday season, and for its yearlong work with the poor, hungry, destitute, and needy, but with its new action-packed Kroc Center in Midtown Memphis, it will likely change how people see this non-denominational Christian organization.

Imagine, if you will, getting the chance to feel like you are actually part of a video game in one of about a dozen themed adventure rooms, or being able to listen to or perform live music, watch and maybe even participate in theatrical productions, or use a state-of-the-art recording and multi-media production center.

Along with that, consider getting a chance to play in a NBA-sized gymnasium, work out in a fully equipped fitness center, attend classes with certified instructors, swim, relax in a hot tub, or play with a water blaster and even experience  something called a hydro storm spray?

Swimming lessons for children are one of the many programs offered
by the Salvation Army's Kroc Center in Memphis.
The 104,211 square foot multi-million dollar, multipurpose center is located on 15 acres in Midtown Memphis at 800 E. Parkway South.  It is the only one in the south central U.S.

"The Kroc Center has a lot to offer with something here for everyone.  It is designed with entire families in mind, with activities for all ages," fitness and aquatics manager, Rick Ellis said.  

Families can do many activities together and parents can also take advantage of a two-hour child watch program that is offered by the center. 

Among  its many amenities is an aquatic center that can be enjoyed by all ages and varying levels of swimming abilities.  It has a pool with three lap lanes, a zero-depth entry pool, a hot tub, a two-story waterslide, blaster bonanza squirt guns, and cascading water tower with a hydro storm spray.

Ron Huery works with toddlers in the morning and with older youth in the
Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM) in the evening at the Kroc Center.

Near the aquatic center is one of the most unique parts of the Salvation Army's facility, which is the AutoZone Challenge Center.  Ty Cobb is the Challenge Center's program director.  Cobb said that the one-of-a-kind 20,000 square foot area has 11 themed adventure rooms, on three levels, where groups of half a dozen students or adults can participate in exciting physical and mental challenges including simulated rescue training scenarios that he describes as having a video game or a comic book-like atmosphere.

Each group that enters the Challenge Center is given a mission or task that they must complete in a certain amount of time before they can move on to the next.  

Ron Huery and Kacie O'Kelley work with toddlers and children on each
weekday morning.

"The experience is structured to be fun, yet educational as well with the ultimate goal of enhancing each participant's team and leadership building skills, to solicit creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and to improve their decision-making abilities," Cobb said.

Cobb first conceived of the interactive and experiential concept of a challenge center years ago, which he said the Salvation Army was quick to embrace and wanted to have at their Memphis Kroc Center.  Since then, Cobb said that local area schools and universities have shown great interest in it as well because it is a powerful new teaching system that is both exciting and fun for each of the participants. 

The Kroc Center also has a large fitness center with wireless technology, treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, free-weights with Zumba, spin, and other classes with on-site fitness assistants. 

"Many people struggle with physical fitness and one of the exciting things that we have been able to recently do is to offer free personal training.... Everybody who pays dues can get a customized fitness plan," Ellis said. 

In addition to this, the center also has a 300 seat theatre, a party room, a teaching kitchen, a recording and multi-media production education center, a NBA-sized gymnasium with garage band stages, two outdoor NCAA regulation soccer fields, an outdoor splash park, a sports lobby, and a handful of multi-purpose rooms throughout.

Dr. Ruth Williams, in the baseball orange cap, teaches
her first class in the Kroc Center's aquatic area pool.

There are 27 Kroc Centers around the U.S., including one in Hawaii.  Each one of these is different, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they had to meet a certain criteria beforehand.  This was determined by Joan Kroc, who was the widow of McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc, who bequeathed $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army to build community centers throughout the U.S.

Each of these centers had to be located in the center of the city where they would be accessible to everyone.  The cities also had to be able to raise matching funds for an operating endowment and it had to be able to provide services focused on the arts, education, recreation and worship. 

For one reason or another, not every city that sought to get a Kroc Center was able to qualify, but that was not the case for Memphis.  The city, through corporate and private donors, was able to raise $25 million locally and, in turn, received $60 million from the Kroc Estate.  

Dr. Ruth Williams, in the baseball orange cap, provides
aquatic fitness training in the Kroc Center's pool.
In 2006, the Salvation Army purchased 14.89 acres at the Mid-South Fairgrounds with the groundbreaking taking place on March 22, 2010.  Since its grand opening on Feb. 23, it has proven to be extremely popular. 

"We currently have about 6,000 members who have joined," Ellis said. 

The Kroc Center is open to everyone in the community and, for those who are interested in joining it, there are various pricing options that they can consider.  The annual membership for an individual is $360 per year or $600 for four individuals living at the same residence.  Monthly memberships are available for $30 per month or for $50 per month for up to four individuals residing at the same location.  It is from these memberships, along with rental fees, ticket sales, and endowment interest that the center is able to remain self-supporting.

 Ty Cobb is the program director for the Kroc Center's Challenge
Center.  It offers team building, physical and mental challenges
and is the only one of its kind among the 27 Kroc Centers.

Even though the Kroc Center is an entertainment and physical fitness mecca for its members, it is first and foremost a church.  Lieutenants Jonathan and Anita Howell lead the church and outreach ministry and Lt. Ruth Cancia is the youth development officer.  They meet on Wednesday evenings and on Sunday mornings and they have special programs for men, women, and children. 

"Since the Kroc Center opened its doors in February, the church has really been growing," Lewis said. 

In addition to its church services, the Kroc Center is also home to an afterschool program on Monday through Friday, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. that is run by the Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM).  As indicated on their website, MAM works with at-risk youth in the city with a goal to develop and guide them into spiritually strong, productive adults who love God, others, and themselves. 

Ron Huery is one of its members.  Huery played basketball for the University of Arkansas from 1986 to 1991 and received a silver medal on the USA's basketball team in 1987.

"I came to the Kroc Center to work with kids.  This is a good, Godly place and I came here to give back to the Lord and to the community," Huery said.

Mekea Johnson is one of several who leads Zumba classes
at the Kroc Center.

The Salvation Army's message, throughout its history has been to provide physical and spiritual relief and renewal. 

"For more than a century, the Salvation Army has been helping hungry and homeless people in Memphis, public relations manager, Ellen Westbrook said.  "With the new Kroc Centers, that same caring mission is expanded in a proactive way.  By
strengthening skills, families, groups, and neighborhoods upfront, we build a better Memphis and help to prevent crises and despair downstream.  At the Kroc Center, we all work, play, learn and grow together."

Along with mission, the Salvation Army also has goals in mind for its Kroc Center. 

"Our main goal is that this center will be a catalyst to bring our community together," the Salvation Army Area Commander, Captain Jonathan Rich said.

Kyle Bennison spots John Bradford in the fitness room at
the Kroc Center.
To help in achieving that goal, Rich said that they have formed a Kroc Council made up of community leaders from the neighborhoods around the Kroc Center, representing the arts, education, and wellness
so that they are true to their mandate.

"We welcome any and all people in our community to participate and to offer feedback about how we are doing and how we might reach out to the community in the days, months, and years to come," Rich

The Kroc Center currently has 150 employees with 40 to 45 full-time and the rest working on a part-time basis, Ellis said.  He indicated that he expects that this number will increase in the summer months when there will be summer and art camps taking place.

Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM) works with the Kroc
Center to provide activities and mentoring to Memphis
area youth.

Kacie O'Kelley is the recreation manager who oversees all activities in the gym, sports court, the outdoor soccer fields and all the kid camps. 

"The exciting part of working at the center is that you meet so many amazing people from different walks of life.  You build relationships with individuals and families... and I want everyone who comes to our facility to feel important and cared about," O'Kelley said.  "I love working with kids.  They are the future of Memphis and our world, and we don't take our job lightly of trying to help them grow."

Stephen Hackett is the information technology (IT) and multimedia manager at the Kroc Center.  He works and oversees audio/video, IT, design, and multimedia matters.

 "I love my job... and solving puzzles, and my job is an unending list of them," Hackett said.  "I also think it's vital that people know that there is something at the center for everyone.  We're far more than just a fitness center." 

The Kroc Center fitness and aquatics manager, Rick Ellis,
(on the left), & director of operations, Steve Carpenter,
meet inside the area that Ellis oversees.  The Kroc
Center's fitness area has weights, exercise bikes,
elliptical machines, and treadmills.

Those who visit or join the Salvation Army's new Kroc Center will find that out for themselves.  Those interested in finding out more can also visit their facebook page at:

To view more photos of the Kroc Center, here is a link that you can check out:

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