In October of 2010, Pat Imms, 55, feared for her life.
She weighed nearly 400 pounds and was having trouble breathing. She knew she needed to make a lifestyle change and sporadic dieting wouldn’t cut it.
Imms began a dietary program and began searching for a convenient place to swim before work.
“I was at the corner of Hunting Park and looked up thinking ‘what am I going to do’ when I saw the biggest billboard I ever saw of the prettiest pool I ever saw,” Imms said. “I made a U-turn and signed up that day.”
That billboard showcased the swimming pool for the soon-to-be-opened Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, located at 4200 Wissahickon Ave., near East Falls.
Imms was one of the first members to show up at 5 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2010 – opening day at the Kroc Center. She has since lost 130 pounds, swims a mile a day and is training to compete in two triathlons this summer.
10,000 members and regional appeal
Imms, an East Oak Lane resident, says the impact of the Kroc – which recently reached a 10,000 member milestone – has been “unbelievable.”
“This place is beautiful, respectful and maintained,” she said. “There’s a warmth about the place that’s so inviting.”
“We get a lot of people who come in and say, ‘I was raised here [in North Philadelphia] and there was nothing like this when I was little,'” said Ayanna Lott, member services manager of the Kroc. “‘Now I’m a lawyer or a doctor and I want to see what this is about.’
“People are excited about what this center is offering – hope,” Lott adds.
The Kroc is nestled in an industrial section of Northwest Philadelphia. Standing in the midst of older, dilapidated buildings at the congested Wissahickon South exit off of Route 1, is the modern 130,000 square foot building on 12 acres of land. It boasts two swimming pools, a football field, track, gymnasium, bi-level health club with 60 cardio machines and free weights, and a café.
Lott stated that the center has members who travel from as far as Cherry Hill, NJ, as well as Northeast Philadelphia and Plymouth Meeting.
“They come from everywhere because we are centrally located and they like the center, like the environment,” she said.
A feeling of community and commitment
“One of things that is truly impressive is the staff,” Imms said, stating that you get the feeling of being “taken care of” and it starts “at the front door and keeps going.”
“People buy into not just what we have, but how they feel when they walk through the door,” Lott said.
The Kroc also houses a Worship and Performing Arts Center, a computer lab and will offer music lessons beginning this spring.
“It takes care of so many aspects of your existence,” Imms said.
The members are diverse in age, race and body type, but they all share one thing: a desire to stay healthy.
“It’s a non-intimidating atmosphere,” Lott said.
“It’s not just beautiful bodies everywhere,” Imms adds.
Al Gillyard, 39, travels with his brother and their children to the Kroc from Northeast Philadelphia.
“It has everything under one roof: a restaurant, basketball court, swimming pool, hot tub, day care for the kids, onsite parking and I can go out back and run on the track,” he said. “It’s a no brainer.”
But Imms says it’s more than that. It’s about feeling like you’re part of a community.
“There’s an attachment that makes people feel like they belong here,” Imms said, adding that staff and other members always inquire if someone skips a day at the center.
“But there’s something lovely about it,” she continued. “You hear it all the time. There’s a sense of someone caring if you don’t show up.”