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Push bears fruit for Kroc Center in Uphams Corner

Hopes for a planned Salvation Army project to build a $115 million, 6.5-acre community center on Dudley Street in Uphams Corner seemed to brighten this week with the news that a new funding opportunity has emerged to help finance the project.

Two years ago, a foundation founded by McDonald's founders, the late Ray and Joan Kroc, pledged $85 million to establish the Kroc Community Center here, with the proviso that the local community raise an additional $30 million. A fundraising committee was formed, headed by the estimable board chairman of Sovereign Bank's New England division, John Hamill.

In the current economic downturn, Hamill's efforts appeared to stall - until now. Last Thursday, he reached out to Boston's philanthropic community with what he termed the "breaking news" that the campaign might have been returned to a fast track.

"We have a funding opportunity that will allow us to begin construction this June," Hamill said in material sent out to prospective donors. If the center can raise $4 million in the next six weeks, he said, the campaign "is now poised to receive $13 million in private funding through the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program." Similar tax credits enabled the construction of the nearby Project Hope building on Dudley Street and the Greater Boston Food Bank project off Southampton Street.

"Combine the $13 million from NMTC with the $10 million already raised, the funding gap for us to begin construction has been narrowed to $4 million," Hamill wrote.

Hamill has been championing the project for more than two years. Last June, in an op/ed piece in the Boston Business Journal, he wrote: "The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Uphams-Dudley will be the only such facility in New England. The mission: to develop the mind, body and soul of neighborhood residents at virtually every stage of their life. Some 58,000 people &endash; 19,000 of them children &endash; live within a one-mile radius of the planned site, which is on Dudley Street between Burgess and Clifton.

"Through a combination of trained Salvation Army staff and volunteers, along with community partners, the Kroc Corps Community Center will offer more than 100 programs for everyone from toddlers to seniors: aquatics; fitness and recreation; health education and counseling; performing and visual arts; literacy and tutoring; Bible study; workforce development; meals; social service assistance and a variety of other programs and services.

"It will be the kind of gathering place that helps residents of Uphams-Dudley do what they have been doing for the past 15 years: building a better, more stable neighborhood. And it will enhance the great work that is already being done by community service organizations, churches, and other neighborhood partners.

"More than just a gym or a playground; more than a teen drop-in program; more than a senior center or a health center or a resource for recent immigrants finding their way - the Kroc Corps Community Center will be a new center of gravity for Uphams-Dudley. It will be the common ground where different generations and cultures learn from each other. It will be a new source of strength, in an ever-strengthening community."

Today, Hamill says, the campaign is just that $4 million away from the goal to allow a groundbreaking, and he has begun asking some 200 friends and companies to donate the money. If the goal is reached by the end-of-March deadline, he predicts the center will have a grand opening in just 24 months from now.

Those wishing to contribute are asked to contact Jack Peters, Kroc Center campaign director, at 617-542-5420, Ext 180.