This month has been one of great learning, some sobering moments, and much hopefulness and joy.

I am blessed to learn every day from Central Community House staff about the Settlement House Model so uniquely and naturally embedded in their engagement, a type of cultural competency well beyond all my training and previous nonprofit experience. It is not just a philosophy written into narratives, but empathy that makes us constantly question motives and impact, keeping us vigilant and effective. It makes us step into our clients’ shoes and understand barriers that are not spoken about in terms of resources like housing and jobs, barriers that cannot be “checked off” as part of a needs assessment. It makes us understand barriers that are states of mind impacted by societal norms, stereotypes, misunderstandings, and good intent gone awry. Day in and day out we work to build hope, empower and create future trajectories – as without these critical states of mind, “resources” like workforce development, even housing, and basic needs support become band-aids needing to be reapplied again and again.

One Central leader in particular has embraced this philosophy recently. Gail Stone is the sole Central staff person who runs the Family Advocate Program funded by Franklin County Dept. of Job & Family Services (a collaborative program that includes partnerships with Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center and St. Stephen’s Community House). While her core duties are to support self-sufficiency through employment, she understands that just matching a person with a job and checking off boxes of services provided is not enough. Committed to holistic service provision, Gail came up with a new service concept, and implemented it with our partners – the Women’s Talking Circle. Meeting on Saturdays under the soft glow of candlelight and surrounded by soothing scents, they talk, laugh, cry if needed, and support one another. In this way, Gail’s team has grown to include a strong group of women who “have each other’s back”. The following photo is of one recent gathering where they met to discuss the benefits of strong family values.

This theme reasserted itself in a powerful, outside forum this month, led by a couple of bold, smart women, and a man, who get it – Councilmember Priscilla Tyson, Fran Frazier of Rise Sister Rise, and Dr. Frederic Bertley, CEO of COSI. These three are leading the Columbus Commission on Black Girls. The forum I attended this month focused on a hard topic fraught with angst and some misunderstanding – the state of public education in Columbus, and how we can better support our black girls. While I could go on and on, one point particularly resonated with me. And at the risk of being obvious, it must be underscored and repeated to be combatted.

  • Over the last decades, the way we receive information has been transformed, with our phones and tablets providing images and ideas real-time, all the time, images that guide expectations and behaviors of young black girls in our community.
  • TV has changed, with rich real housewives of some city providing unrealistic expectations and material foci, with black role models including those like Olivia Pope of Scandal – beautiful, powerful, and a mistress and murderer.
  • Champions in our community like Stephanie Patton of Columbus City Prep School for Girls are working to combat these false portrayals, providing real role-models and “safe” adults available to each girl real-time. They address behavioral challenges resulting from trauma with empathy and concrete support. We have much to learn from their model, and I am excited to see how programming might be applied to other organizations and schools.

Some learning brings despair, before recharging and creating a solution-focus. One such engagement this month was The October Stabilizing Families Learning Exchange, with a goal to educate around affordable housing challenges and work toward solutions.

How is the challenge defined?

54,000 households living in poverty in Franklin County now pay more than half of their income for housing. And this does not include those engaged in the growing homeless system.

Making real the challenges discussed at this forum, Columbus City Council and Franklin County Office on Aging hosted two separate forums at Central this month to learn from local seniors. Dominant in the narrative were concerns about rising tax values, a lack of affordable housing options, and fears of displacement.

We have incredible partners like Community Development for All People, Homeport, and Homes on the Hill doing what they can do to chip away at this issue, but chip away is all they can do. There simply are not enough resources currently to support the families we care so much about.

If you care about this issue, you are welcome to join a small committee led by Board members that has been formed to learn more and advocate for increased affordable housing development in the Near East, not only North of Broad, but also South of Broad and Main.

Finally, this month was filled with joy and celebrations. Our afterschool program is fully staffed and in full force. Transit Arts often has often 3-5 activities across the City, at the same time, all in one day. Our building is full of laughter, rooms all booked with senior programs, wellness programs, cooking classes, and tutoring, among so much more. Partners from Rise Sister Rise, PrimaryOne Health, City Council, J. Jireh Development Corp, Community Properties of Ohio, and many others, provide services to our community onsite at Central. And in January we are even piloting free veterinarian services provided by the OSU Veterinarian School and Faithful Forgotten Best Friends at our facility!

And hundreds of folks just joined us for a Trick or Trunk celebration, moved indoors but no less fun.

Check Central’s Facebook page for photos to bring additional smiles to your face.

Until next month, warm regards,

Tammy Forrest

Executive Director

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