Bright and colorful, a welcoming space for children and adults, Reeb Avenue Center is enriching the neighborhood, lifting it up, bringing hope to the South Side of Columbus. Housed in the century-old, red brick, former Reeb Elementary School, the 14 nonprofit tenants have been serving the community since fall 2015.
South Side residents were asked: What is it you need to get out of poverty? What is that pathway? Two major categories rose to the surface: workforce development and education. The nonprofit tenants of Reeb Avenue Center share services and collaborate, meeting these needs.
During summer months, neighborhood children need a safe place to go, a learning environment to thrive in, and nourishing food to eat. Programs at this community center prepare families for a healthy, productive start to the next school year.
Neighborhood residents move easily around the building, finding a variety of services. Organizations like South Side Boys & Girls Club, Godman Guild, Amethyst, and Community Development for All People share resources, and get creative in how they support families.
At the info desk, a steady stream of visitors is directed to the services they need most. To create a “one stop shop,” the nonprofit tenants needed to co-locate, housed under one roof, in a location accessible to the residents they serve. This is important in a community with transportation challenges, educational deficits and high rates of food insecurity.
Through collaboration between private, public and government agencies, South Side residents have access to education (including earning a GED), career counseling, health services, drug rehab and other guidance, at little or no cost. The city traded 10 acres near the airport in exchange for the building, which receives state and city funding.
The overarching goal is to increase community involvement, providing opportunities for networking with neighbors, and building connections that last generations. The neighborhood was lacking a sense of place. South Side residents needed a way to feel at home, in a place they want to remain and give back to, lowering the rate of mobility out of the area.
Reeb Avenue Center Board Chair Tanny Crane (The Crane Group) and Board Secretary Jane Grote Abell (Donatos Pizza) were among the founders of the center. They rallied the private sector to invest in the rehabilitation of the old school. They brought private business partners down to see the building, allowing them to see the vision of the community that was developing.
On the Garden Level of Reeb Avenue Center, a warm welcome is offered, at South Side Roots Café, Market, & Kitchen; named by local residents. There is a steady stream of activity during the lunch rush, as plates of Falafel Burgers and Peanut Noodle Bowls with Chicken are carried from the kitchen to the café, with smiles all around.
The development of the café grew out of a need to create something different, a new concept that would not only bring food to area residents, but take a step in the direction of ending poverty altogether. Created by Mid-Ohio Food Bank’s holistic approach, South Side Roots goes beyond free food distribution.
The café is a connector to the rest of the building, bringing people into a space where they can find programs to pull them out of poverty, in a setting that might otherwise be intimidating.
“This is our first experience doing direct client service, serving meals outside of the food bank,” said Amy Schiebel, Program Director with Mid-Ohio Food Bank. “Our CEO had a vision to mix income levels in a space where everyone can dine together. This is a hybrid program, to meet the mission and goals of the food bank.”
Culturally, we all celebrate around food! The café creates an environment on the South Side of Columbus where people are brought together, across demographic lines, strengthening community connections along the way.
The café and market work on a “pay what you can” model. Prices are listed, and if visitors are able to pay full price, then they are asked to do so.
There is an opportunity to “pay it forward,” by prepaying for a meal.
Residents who suffer food insecurity, unsure where they will find their next meal, can take advantage of the prepaid meal. Through the Volunteer-for-a-Meal program, residents learn skills, take pride in their work, and are able to learn about the services offered at the center.
“Volunteer-for-a-Meal is where we see life changes,” Schiebel explained. “We’ve seen people come back, after receiving a free meal, able to pay, saying ‘I have a job now!’ We set them up for success.”
South Side Roots makes a real difference by bringing jobs to the area. Local resident Cheryl Hesley, who has benefited from a variety of programs and services at the center, was informed that there was a job opening at the café.
Hesley, who has worked at the center for about one and a half months said: “I was hired on to do dishes, but I get to learn from being around the other workers. I’ve never cared much for doing the dishes at home, but I love my job, and the people I get to work with are the best part of the job.”
What is the outcome? Co-creating a sustainable community where everyone thrives, a neighborhood where residents remain to raise their children, who will grow into contributing community members.
Every Tuesday night the café serves a free dinner, open to all, as another way to bring people together. Schiebel explained that this is a way for families who have been working all day to come together, not worrying about cooking a meal, or making poor food choices elsewhere. Everything is fresh, healthy food, made from scratch.
The kitchen provides lunch and snacks for the Boys & Girls Club, and students at the South Side Learning & Development Center. Twice a month, just outside the café, free blood pressure and glucose testing are offered, providing valuable health information, along with guidance on how to eat healthfully.
Former Columbus mayor Mike Coleman was involved with the creation of the Reeb center from its conception. As the center was opening its doors in 2015, Crane told Columbus Metropolitan Club “I always hear the mayor saying that he wants a city where people can live, work and raise a family, and we want that for the South Side. We want people to stay in the South Side.”
Reeb Avenue Center
280 Reeb Ave.