How the Kroc Center Chicago Is Enriching Jessica’s Whole Family

Oct 26, 2021

Jessica is in the taxi-service season of parenting – when it feels like she’s always taking one of her four children to a dance class, soccer practice, or violin lesson. Thankfully for Jessica, all of those activities, as well as her own, now take place in the same building – The Salvation Army Kroc Center Chicago.

Located in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood, Kroc Center Chicago is the largest community center in Illinois. It’s one of 26 Kroc Centers The Salvation Army has built in the U.S. thanks to a donation by Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Her vision of creating a safe place where children and families could explore their artistic, athletic, and social potential is playing out in this typically under-resourced community – and in Jessica’s bustling family.

Whole and Healthy

It would be easier to list the things Jessica’s family isn’t involved in at Kroc Center Chicago than the things they are. Her 14-year-old daughter, Oyenike, is taking piano lessons. Her 13-year-old daughter, Oluwatosin, used to be in boxing, but now takes an anime class and violin lessons. Her 12-year-old daughter, Oluwakemi, is in dance and violin. Their 8-year-old brother, Ifedayo, is involved in soccer, piano, and boxing. Jessica herself takes a trampoline class, does boxing, and attends an aqua fit class.

“We are getting our money’s worth,” she joked about their membership.

The single mom appreciates that she’s no longer waking up at 4:30 a.m. to fit in some gym time. Now when she goes to work out, she has at least one of her kids in tow, heading to their own class or practice. “I appreciate their offerings for the whole family,” she said.

Jessica also appreciates that their Kroc activities address their physical and emotional needs, especially after the past couple years. Like many families, remote working/learning, shut-downs, and everything else related to the pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health. A couple of her kids are battling anxiety and depression. “It’s allowed them to learn discipline and also given them a space to deal with everything,” Jessica said of their Kroc Center activities.

“As a mom, it’s important to me for my kids to be whole and healthy,” she said, not surprising for a professor of psychology and sociology whose 70-year-old father walks seven miles a day. In fact, Jessica’s parents were the ones who first introduced her family to the Kroc Center.  

Exploring New Interests

Jessica has seen a difference in her family since they joined Kroc Center Chicago. Not only is she working off the few COVID pounds she put on, but she’s also seen her kids grow thanks to opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They’d had trouble finding a piano instructor for her oldest daughter and a soccer league for her son (a sport important to this Nigerian American family), both of which they’ve found at Kroc. And she likes that her two middle daughters receive one-on-one music instruction, not just the large orchestra available to them at their school.

“My oldest, it’s allowed her to especially grow in her music performance,” Jessica said. She says the boxing class is building her son’s confidence and strength. And her “super artsy” 12-year-old is really excited about the anime class she just started, and has a new goal in life: to be a dancer. “I saw her dance and was so impressed,” Jessica said. “I didn’t know.”

Now whenever a new program guide arrives at their home, they’re at Kroc the next day to sign up for classes. “I love that we’re able to take advantage of the programs and explore new interests,” Jessica said. “The number of offerings is great. And it’s such a blessing being able to have a place where all of us participate. I don’t think we would have had these experiences collectively otherwise. Our whole family has benefitted.”

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