by Jill Harman
Community engagement is a familiar concept to The Salvation Army, and the Omaha, Neb., Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is no exception. The Army’s mission of holistically meeting human needs in Christ’s name without discrimination is the essence of our community engagement. One central biblical way of saying much the same thing is to follow Paul and think of the Church as the “Body of Christ,” the single body in which every individual, and every local community, is a limb or an organ. The Omaha Kroc Center views itself as a single body with its surrounding community.
“The early Christians worked hard to live their lives as an extended family, caring for one another in a way that families do,” said A/Captain Tracy Gantner. “That’s how we view our members and surrounding community. As a church, we must never forget that greater calling.”
Each season the Omaha Kroc Center makes a concerted outreach to the surrounding community. For instance, last fall the Kroc Center hosted a “pet blessing” where four-legged creatures of all shapes and sizes accompanied their owners to an afternoon of tasty treats, warm snuggles and sweet blessings. Pet blessings have a strong historical connection deeply rooted in theology.
“In Genesis, God offers us an awesome and specific responsibility to be good stewards of all of creation, to celebrate the joy, light and life that they bring into our lives. It certainly seems like a worthy way to spend our time,” said Spiritual Life Manager Jennifer Hill. The beautiful harmony of joyful barking and laughter seemed to agree.
When the winter winds blew in, the Omaha Kroc Center busied itself with warming the hands and hearts of the local community by hosting Winterfest, a free community event complete with popcorn, prizes, exercise demonstrations, indoor snowball fights and a super-hero training center. Winterfest also brought the “one word” experience, where participants, led by trained ministry volunteers, chose one word to help guide them through 2019 with God’s loving path in mind.
Spring bloomed with the baffling dichotomy of weariness and new possibilities. While terrifying floodwaters ravaged the Midwest, the Kroc Center officers and staff refused to leave the side of their neighbors. As April and Easter approached, A/Captain John Gantner wondered how to be “the hands and feet of Christ” to a community which had lost so much. Operation Easter Basket was born.
“We identified the need in our community for children who would not have any Easter baskets on Easter Sunday,” he said. “We realized that this was a small gesture that means the world to many.” The Omaha Kroc Center assembled and distributed 1,000 Easter baskets to the children in Omaha and brought happiness to many families.
July brought Summerfest, a fun-filled day in the sun with food, entertainment, games, rides, demonstrations and other activities that engaged individuals and families. Partnering with the Omaha Police Department South Precinct’s SAFE (Safety, Awareness, Fitness and Education) program, the Kroc Center became the hub for fun, fellowship and education for its community.
When early Christians talked about love it translated to living as a family, a mutually supportive community, and being the “hands and feet of Jesus.” It’s still true, and the Omaha Kroc Center strives to live it out all year long.