More than 7,500 people are enrolled as members with the Kroc Center, which opened Aug. 6, 2011, on Broad Street. In mid-January, that number was 4,600.
The Kroc Center employs 118 full- and part-time staff, and 623 people, on average, use the center each day.
Maj. Bert Tanner, the Salvation Army’s Southern territory director for Kroc Center development, said Augusta’s center stands out nationally for its strong enrollment numbers, top-notch facilities, high-quality programs and well-trained staff.
The Salvation Army operates 22 Kroc Centers in 17 states. They were built using a $1.5 billion gift from McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc.
“It’s well on track of goals right now,” Tanner said.
Capts. Tony and Vicki Perez assumed leadership of Augusta’s Salvation Army on June 21 after the former administrators, Todd and Wilma Mason, left for new roles with the organization.
Tony Perez said he’s identified two priorities to work on: maintaining visibility in the community and boosting membership by 18 percent in the next year.
Twenty percent of the current members receive scholarships based on household size and income level, he said. Forty children attended 150 weeks of summer camp at the Kroc Center on scholarship.
Another focus for the second year will be developing relationships with the surrounding Harrisburg neighborhood. Throughout a fundraising campaign, the Kroc Center was promoted as a vehicle for more business and real estate investment in the area.
LaVerne Gold, the president and CEO of the United Way of the CSRA, said it is working with the Kroc Center to turn more attention toward Harrisburg. United Way moved its offices to a building on the Kroc Center campus, where it offers social services, but Gold said the first year was spent acclimating to a new facility and partnership.
“I do expect for us to have more dialogue with them,” Gold said. “I don’t think we have been doing that recently since we moved into the building.”
She said the organizations can establish more relationships with what’s already in place nearby, such as the neighborhood association, health clinics, food pantries, small businesses and churches.
“Some Harrisburg folks are getting memberships, but there needs to be more listening to them at community meetings,” she said.
Perez said he’s still trying to get a grasp of relationships between the Kroc Center and Harrisburg, but he agreed that the organization needs to explore more avenues for involvement. Two administrators of the Salvation Army of Augusta Church, which meets in the Kroc Center, are assigned to outreach in the community, he said.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., population 188,040, the Kroc Center enrolled more than 6,000 members at its
one-year mark, said Stephanie Denton, the branch’s marketing and membership
director. Since then, membership has dropped to about 5,000.
“The first year you are open you are really trying to figure out what the community wants and how they will respond,” Denton said.
Phil Williams, the president of the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association and a Kroc Center board member, said expectations for the center’s ability to transform the neighborhood were set unrealistically high, though he thinks it will ultimately make a difference.
“Some people thought that it was going to be a magic wand, and that’s just not the case,” Williams said.
Instead, he said, positive changes in the past year are the result of a “halo effect.” The fresh facade of the Kroc Center encourages property owners to keep up their homes and lawns, he said.