Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center of Chicago

The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is more than just an aquatic or fitness center. It’s a holistic approach to bringing the community together to change lives, and help to end the violence in Chicago. — The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division, 2012

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Studies have shown time and again that the earlier children are introduced to meaningful learning environments, the better they tend to perform academically in later years. The research to date also suggests that because philanthropic resources are scarce, it is important to use these funding resources to their maximum advantage in delivering the wide range of social and educational services needed by many inner-city and lower socioeconomic populations today. Therefore, by identifying and comparing the types and quality of services provided by such organizations represents a timely and valuable enterprise. To this end, this paper provides an examination of the neighborhood context, including the history of the area, a description of current issues affecting the area including unemployment, foreclosure, high school education and violence rates to demonstrate why the Kroc Community Center is needed. A discussion of the various services that are offered at the Kroc Community Center, including its target population for these services, and the fee required for these services is followed by a discussion concerning whether there or not local families can afford these services. Finally, a discussion concerning the Kroc’s Center building and operating costs and sources of funding is followed by a comparison of services offered at the Kids Off the Block organization with respect to grassroots or corporate philanthropy. A summary of the research and important findings concerning the foregoing issues are provided in the paper’s conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Context of the Delivery Setting

Prior to World War I, a number of districts were forged out of the region south of Chicago, including South Chicago (Lewis, 2008). During the same period, George Pullman transferred his railroad passenger car factory from Detroit to the planned industrial suburb which bore his name (Lewis, 2008). According to Lewis, “While Pullman built a model town designed to produce individual profits and social harmony, another form of land development took place at West Pullman” (p. 57). The “other form of land development” involved separating the industrial district of West Pullman from the residential districts in the surrounding communities (Lewis, 2008). In the following years, the West Pullman community was divided into discrete residential and industrial districts, as well as separate areas for the more affluent citizens (Lewis, 2008). Property restrictions kept most African-Americans out of West Pullman until the 1960s, at which point blacks were able to gain access to fringe properties (Reiff, 2004).

As a reflection of the fundamental demographic changes that have taken place in this Chicago district, in 1930, West Pullman was almost completely (98.4%) white, with just 0.6% of its population being black, and 1.0% other races; by contrast, in 2000, there were just 945 whites left in West Pullman (or 2.6%), with the overwhelming majority of its residents being African-American (34,399 or 93.9%) (Reiff, 2004). Today, the community is faced with the legacy of its industrialized past, and part of the West Pullman industrial district has been designated as an EPA brownfield as a result (Reiff, 2004). In addition, high foreclosure rates that were concomitant with the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008 and current high unemployment remain significant constraints for many West Pullman residents, making the need for additional community resources all the more pressing (Reiff, 2004). It was in this context that the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center was conceived by Joan Kroc, the wife of the founder of McDonald’s. According to the Kroc Center’s Web site, the vision was to “build state-of-the-art facilities in underserved communities throughout the nation with the highest quality recreational and arts facilities to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to build their natural gifts and talents” (Kroc Center, 2012, para. 1). In fulfillment of this vision, following her death in 2003, Mrs. Kroc endowed the Salvation Army with the largest private donation in history, almost $2 billion, for the specific purpose of constructing these centers across the country where they were most needed and provided the funds to operate them in perpetuity (Kroc Center, 2012). The community and social service facility is situated on 33 acres located in West Pullman with a wide range of facilities that are grouped into the following categories: (a) Family Life and Education Center; (b) Academy of the Arts; (c) Sports Training and Recreation Center; and (d) Aquatic Center (Kroc Center, 2012). These four general facilities include numerous specialized resources and services. For instance, according to a recent report from Lipkin (June 14, 2012), “The Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center, in West Pullman, is expansive — the building is 160,000 square feet on 33 acres of land. The center, which opens officially on Saturday, features a theater, recording studio, classrooms, four gymnasiums, an indoor track, a fitness center, two pools, a football field, and a baseball field” (2012, para. 1). The construction costs for the Kroc Center were estimated at $70 million (Lipkin, 2012).

Services Offered at the Kroc Center, Target Population and Funding Sources

The facilities, services and programs offered at the Kroc Center are not free, but they are modestly priced (memberships for children are $15 a year, $20 for senior citizens, $35 for adults, and $60 for a family of five; however, even these modest charges are waived for families who cannot afford them (Lipkin, 2012).

Discussion of Kroc’s Center Building and Operating costs and Sources of Funding

The Kroc foundation donation for the Kroc Center in West Pullman was split fifty-fifty, with half being used for construction and the other half as a fund to operate the facility in the future (Kroc Center, 2012). Although no precise operating costs are available yet, some indication of just how expensive it will be to maintain and administer this expansive facility and its grounds can be discerned from the amount of money that is being set aside for this purpose. For instance, as part of the endowment, though, Mrs. Kroc also required the Salvation Army to add $55 million in matching funds to assist with future operations. To date, the Salvation Army has raised $37 million, a total that includes $1 million each from the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls professional sports teams (Lipkin, 2012). A 34th District (which includes West Pullman) alderman, Carrie Austin, told Lipkin that, “Nothing ever gets to this end of the city. Because by that time, the money is gone, the program is over. That made us in need and neglect for years and years” (quoted at para. 2). As a result, most young people in the community lacked after-school resources and programs, a gap that the Kroc Center is now filling (Lipkin, 2012).

Comparison of Kroc Center to Services Offered at the Kids Off the Block Organization.

As noted above, the Kroc Center is an entirely privately funded initiative, operated and managed by the Salvation Army that is virtually bristling with state-of-the-art equipment and modern facilities. By sharp contrast, although the Kids Off the Block organization has received large donations from private citizens, including Buffalo Grove resident Steve Kaplan, a successful businessman, best-selling author with an appearance on television’s “Secret Millionaire” to his credit (Sotonoff & Cilella, 2012), this organization lacks the expansive facilities featured at the Kroc Center. In fact, Billups (2009) reports that the Kids Off the Block is a far more humble operation that was launched by Chicago resident Diane Latiker who was alarmed at the gang violence and drug activity in the city’s inner-city neighborhoods. According to Billups, “Latiker runs a program for at-risk youths out of her home in the city’s Roseland neighborhood. Ms. Latiker uses three rooms of her six-room apartment to run a nonprofit program called Kids Off the Block” (2009, p. 11).

Although Kids Off the Block does not have brand-new swimming pools or gymnasiums, the program does offer inner-city youths an alternative to street life and its influences. In this regard, Billups adds that, “Latiker offers tutoring, mentoring and travel opportunities designed to show Chicago youths who want successful futures that the violent culture they see daily is not the norm” (p. 11). Since that time, the Kids Off the Block has acquired Kids Off The Block is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization status and partners with a local high school and elementary school to fulfill its stated mission “to provide at-risk low income youth positive alternatives to gangs, drugs, truancy, violence, and the juvenile justice system” (About Kids Off the Block, 2012, para. 2).

These two local schools help Kids Off the Block provide many of the same types of recreational and healthy alternatives offered by the Kroc Center, but it is apparent they are doing so at a fraction of the cost. According to the Kids of the Block Web site, the Chicago facility provides services to more than 1,000 young people during 2012 through the following structured programs and events:

1. Tutoring/Mentoring;

2. Drama;

3. Music;

4. Sports;

5. Community Service;

6. Local/Out of Town Travel;

7. Job Readiness;

8. GED Preparation;

9. Health/Fitness and Nutrition; and

10. Cultural Arts (About Kids Off the Block, 2012).


The research showed that the need for social and community services in South Chicago was great, with many young people being exposed to a daily routine of street life involving gang violence and drugs. In the past, there were few resources available to these young people that provided a viable alternative to these harmful influences, but that has changed in recent years thanks to organizations such as Kids Off the Block whose founder operates a privately funded facility in the Roseland district. Likewise, the research also showed that thanks to the generosity and vision of the founder of McDonald’s, the South Chicago community of West Pullman now enjoys an even more elaborate multi-million dollar facility in the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center. Given the great need, though, the research suggests that these programs and more like them are needed throughout the Chicago area as well as in other inner-city communities where young people lack the resources and tools they need to help them avoid a life of gang activity and drug abuse, together with the increased involvement with the law enforcement community caused by these lifestyles. In the final analysis, it would appear that Kids Off the Block’s business model achieves more “bang for the charity buck,” but the young people in West Pullman are going to love the Kroc Center despite its enormous funding requirements.


Billups, A. (2009, May 13). Record 36 students killed this school year across Chicago. The Washington Times (Washington, DC), 11.

About Kids Off the Block. (2012). Kids Off the Block. Retrieved from http://www.kidsoffthe block.bbnow.org/.

Kroc Center. (2012). Kroc Center: Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.kroccenterchicago.org/.

Lewis, R. (2008). Chicago made: Factory networks in the industrial metropolis. Chicago:

Lipkin, M. (2012, June 14). Salvation Army center set to open. Chicago Tonight. Retrieved from http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2012/06/14/salvation-army-center-set-open.

Reiff, J.L. (2004). West Pullman. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved from http://


Scott, J. & Cilella, J. (2012, June 28). ‘Secret Millionaire’ experiences, fights poverty secret:

Millionaire helps charity boost staff, space. Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL, 1-2.