Features

Millions served

"Millions served" Continued...

Issue: "Street warfare," April 7, 2007

Not so in San Diego. A 2006 statistical study by the research firm First View found that the "likely faith involvement level and preference for historic Christian religious affiliations is extremely low when compared to national averages." But the same study found that residents in the area did express some church-program preferences that were likely to exceed national averages. Those included sports and camping programs, cultural programs including art and music-all of which are available at the Kroc Center.

San Diego director Van Cleef, who has wrestled with the mission-creep aspect of Joan Kroc's gift, notes the bridge-building potential of such demographics. "Is hockey our mission? Are drama troops our mission? Yes, they are now," he said. "All of these things give us opportunities to connect people with the Army's core mission of 'soup, soap, and salvation.'" The three-S formula refers to the human hierarchy of social-services needs-physical, esteem, and spiritual-as envisioned by founder William Booth.

To fulfill that vision, the San Diego center offers family services, including emergency financial assistance, a parent aide program, kids' summer camps, Christmas toy and food assistance, and parenting classes. It also leases chunks of its sprawling facility to various community and government groups.

One is Project B.R.O., an abstinence course that is part of a San Diego juvenile court program for troubled teens. In the gym building, about 20 kids crowd around foosball and ping-pong tables. Others are playing pickup basketball or doing homework. Mostly black and Latino, they are dressed for a hip-hop video or a night in the 'hood. But, as their probation officer, "Mama J," points out, they know that the Kroc center is definitely not the 'hood.

"Look at them," she said, pointing to three boys who are quietly reading. "Their backs are exposed. They could never do that in the park or in the 'hood. In the 'hood, you sit with your back against a wall."

Mama J, a probation officer for 22 years, shepherds the kids, mostly boys ages 13 to 17 who've been in trouble for theft, drugs, or gang violence. When kids complete Project B.R.O., they receive a free membership to the Kroc Center. "Most of my kids could never afford something like this," said Mama J, who didn't have her department's permission to speak with WORLD, and therefore did not use her real name.

She said her charges "know that the 'other half' lives differently than they do. The shame is that a lot of them are hopeless." The Kroc center, she added, exposes them to sports and culture that people in other income groups take for granted. "It gives them something to aspire to, and even a place just to meet where no one is up in their face or wearing colors."

Mama J is impressed with the hospitality of Kroc Center officials and managers. "Do you know how many places, if you call them up and say, 'Hey, I want to bring 30 emotionally disturbed, criminal kids on probation to your place,' will say yes? Nobody."

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