NORFOLK, Va. - Joan Kroc was philanthropist who dreamed that people both rich and poor would one day come together to enjoy the finer things in life. Her dream became a reality through a partnership with the Salvation Army.
Now communities across America are reaping the benefits.
The Hampton Roads Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps. Community Center is the latest example of Kroc's vision for bringing people and communities together.
The newly built 92,000-square-foot community center is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Norfolk, Virginia.
A Vision Realize
In 1998, Mrs. Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, donated $90 million to the Salvation Army to build a community center in San Diego.
She wanted to create a place where children and families from different backgrounds could enjoy experiences that they otherwise might not be able to afford.
When she died in 2003, she left more than $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army to continue that work for 28 additional centers across the country.
On April 28, 2014, the Norfolk Kroc Center became one of the final three centers, completing the historic effort.
Local support for the project has been overwhelming.
"So many businesses and individuals have come together to contribute and to give their support to the center and it's just been really wonderful to see," Chelsea Sherman, a Salvation Army marketing and web assistant, said.
Heartbeat of Hampton Roads
The latest Kroc center is designed to be the heartbeat of the Hampton Roads community, complete with an indoor water park and a state-of-the-art performing arts center.
CBN News got a firsthand look at the center, which boasts the largest fitness floor in the area. The indoor themed pool area includes a two-story, 150-foot water slide, lap lanes and a lazy river.
Hampton Roads Salvation Army Capt. Brett Meredith is thrilled to have the Kroc center in his city.
"For Norfolk to receive this is very exciting thing, very exciting time for the Salvation Army but also for the community because of the transformational nature of these centers," Meredith said.
Kroc centers have also been built in Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and Dayton, Ohio. It is estimated the center will also bring at least 200 jobs to Hampton Roads.
Norfolk resident Douglas Pratte joined the Kroc Center the first day it opened its doors.
"I'm really excited about what it's doing for the community," Pratte said. "I live right down the street."
"Norfolk's really stepping their game up, and it makes me really proud to be a citizen of Norfolk," he told CBN News.
Valerie Gray is also excited about the new state-of-the-art center. She explained why she was so eager to become a member.
"It was close to where I live at and also it had everything that I wanted to do - go in the pool, got exercise classes, all the exercise machines," she told CBN News.
The fees for joining the center run from $48 for adults to $85 for a family of six. Scholarships for membership are available for people can't afford the fees.
Bridging Socioeconomic Strata
"Joan Kroc's vision for these centers was that it would serve all socioeconomic backgrounds, that when you walked in you walked in on level ground and that when folks were served it would be side by side," Meredith said.
"And whether you have a million dollars in the bank or a hundred in the bank you receive the help and assistance that you need," he added.
He said the Norfolk facility will enable the Salvation Army to make an even greater impact on those it serves, while maintaining its spiritual emphasis.
"I think there are great needs in terms of education and cultural experiences and we're going to work at providing those every day," Meredith said.
"Many of the families will probably have never been able to walk into a facility this nice and enjoy the amenities and enjoy the educational programs that we're going to offer," he said. "And the powerful thing is it all happens in Jesus' name and that's what's important."