Targeting a Chicago neighborhood where children can't play without fear of drive-by shootings, the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center promises not only a place of peace, but one where its leaders hope children will find their spark.
From the giant indoor water park and aquatic center to the basketball courts mimicking the Bulls' court at the United Center, to the music classrooms, birthday party rooms and job training and counseling, the Salvation Army has crafted a $160 million state-of-the-art facility expected to draw 2,500 people a day.
The impact has already begun to transform the West Pullman community, considered one of the most underserved in Chicago, as staff spent the past five years offering programs and camps the community lacked, says Lt. Col. Ralph Bukiewicz, The Salvation Army's metropolitan divisional commander.
The Chicago center, one of 27 planned nationwide, is the result of a $1.5 billion donation from Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc.
For one Chicago mom of 13-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, the center comes just in time. Andrea Sutherlin-Thames says her children are not allowed to go beyond a set perimeter around the house and she spends all of her time driving them from community to community for activities her own community didn't offer until now.
She booked the center's first birthday party and already is planning to sign her children up for every activity she can.
"It's just a miracle to see the young people that we've developed relationships with have a safe place to come, not just a safe place, but a state-of-the-art facility," says Maj. Darlene Harvey, co-administrator of the center.
"Now they will be able to discover their spark, something that will make them feel their purpose in their life."
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.