Boston resident Isaura Mendes has lost two sons to street violence. As a result, she has become one of her community’s most prominent peace activists. After receiving a visit from then–Massachusetts Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Fred Van Brunt, she also became increasingly involved in The Salvation Army.
Mendes’s story is symbolic of the community in which the Army’s Boston Kroc Center will be built. The neighborhood lies on the border between the Roxbury and Dorchester districts and is one of the city’s most densely populated areas; 58,000 people—19,000 of whom are under age 19—live within a one–mile radius of the center’s future location.
Although they are typically above the poverty line, most community members require the aid of service agencies such as The Salvation Army.
“This is the poorest neighborhood in Boston, from a financial perspective,” says Drew Forster, Boston Kroc Center planning coordinator. “However, from a community perspective—in terms of the degree to which residents work together and support each other—it’s one of the richest.”
It is a neighborhood, Forster says, that began a process of self–improvement long before the Army’s Kroc Center initiative.
“This community has brought itself from the ashes.”
Expanding the vision
One thing the populous urban neighborhood has always lacked is a communal gathering place. Residents, dreaming of such a venue for decades, had drawn up specific construction plans well before Joan Kroc made her historic bequest of $1.6 billion to the Salvation Army to build community centers around the nation. The Salvation Army in Boston, Forster explains, has been privileged to help residents both extend and realize their dream.
“We’ve been able to come to them and say, ‘We love your vision. How can we expand it?’ ” Forster says. “The Salvation Army is not coming in with a formula as a monolithic agency, but is truly saying ‘What do you need most?’ ”
Members of the Dorchester–Roxbury community are personally invested in the project: close to 2,000 people have assisted in planning the center. More important, they already view the Kroc Center, projected to open by 2011, as an important part of the neighborhood. During a recent conversation with Salvation Army leadership, Mendes remarked, “I feel like this center is going to be just like my home.”
“If that’s what we can accomplish here,” says an elated Forster, “for people to feel that this is just like their home, then I think we’re accomplishing Christ’s mandate for us as Christians—the Salvation Army’s mission to meet human needs in His name without discrimination—and Joan Kroc’s vision.”
‘Blow the doors off’
Currently serving the neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester is the Roxbury Corps, which, like the residents of these neighborhoods, has long had big dreams. After the Kroc Corps and Community Center is constructed, the corps will hold its services in a new chapel at the center.
The seating capacity of the corps’ current chapel is 100, but attendance on Sunday mornings regularly exceeds that number. When Kroc planners announced that the new chapel would hold 250–300 people, the congregation reacted with disappointment. “They chastised us because our vision was too small,” says Forster.
“The Roxbury corps vision is to blow the doors off this place as far as evangelism goes,” he explains. “This is a corps that was looking to grow itself whether Kroc ever came or not.”
Members anticipate attendances of 500 on Sunday mornings. To get there, dedicated local soldiers have already launched evangelistic programs in the neighborhood. “We are working hard to extend our congregation,” says Major Yvon Alkintor, commanding officer at Roxbury corps. “Greater things are going to happen here.”
Major Raphael Jackson, Massachusetts divisional general secretary, says the corps’ vision transcends even the limits of the sweeping Kroc program.
“They say, ‘This is not only our Kroc Center, but we have to take hold, for God, of the community. The Kroc Center needs to be a launching pad from which we claim the community for Christ.’”
Just the beginning
Everything about the center will be home–grown. Plans call for 85 percent of the center’s employees to be community residents, and The Salvation Army is currently involved in an effort to hire local workers to erect the structure. The Boston Kroc Center is also tailoring its programs to suit the expressed needs of the Dorchester–Roxbury community. These programs will be helpful and accessible to residents of all ages, offering “…a holistic approach to the entire person and the entire community.”
Jackson calls the Kroc gift “an unbelievable opportunity.” He predicts that, despite the administrative challenges it presents, the Boston Kroc Center will be a boon both for the local community and for the entire Massachusetts Division. The heightened standard of excellence demanded by the Kroc donation, he says, will be contagious.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Jackson says. “As we lift our standard, not only the Kroc boat but also everything The Salvation Army does will be lifted. Who knows? Maybe the Kroc centers will be just the beginning of what we can do in the future.”