Franklinton is changing. You can’t stand on Town Street east of 315 and throw a rock without hitting a microbrewery, art gallery, or a food truck. However, there is a side of Franklinton, west of 315, that many people don’t see. No hip, new eateries grace the corners. Instead, poverty and crime run rampant and children go to bed hungry—all against the backdrop of rising rents that are driving multigenerational families out of their homes. This is where the Gladden Community House, a resource center that has been serving Franklinton since Teddy Roosevelt was president, steps in and makes a difference.
The Gladden Community House was opened in 1905 by Dr. Washington Gladden, and has been a steadfast and consistent resource hub for the residents of Franklinton ever since. During the Great Depression, GCH was a district office for New Deal Programs and during World War II, GCH offered day care for children of battlefield soldiers and factory mothers.
In the years since, GCH has become a beacon of light that has been serving central Ohio’s oldest community with pride.
A preschool program takes care of 60 children between the ages of 3 and 5, and a food pantry serves over 1,000 families each month. Afterschool programs provide meals, snacks and educational services. GCH also offers a senior outreach program and a team sports program that provides structure and purpose to 500 youths that help to meet the needs of both young and old.
“We are doing our best to serve and revitalize the community as opposed to gentrifying the community,” explained Joy Chivers, the CEO of Gladden House. “We use our programs as well as trying to work with area landlords to help prevent homelessness. Preventing homelessness is our number one priority.”
“We are doing our best to serve and revitalize the community as opposed to gentrifying the community,”
And that seems to be the rub—revitalization, the rebuilding of a community, as opposed to gentrification, a type of development in which property values become inflated through investing in low-cost properties. In fact, rents on the Columbus’s west side were stable for many years, but have increased as much as 50% in the past five years. The wages that people in West Franklinton— and all around the country—typically earn haven’t come close to keeping up with that rate, so long term residents have no other alternative than to leave the community that they have known their whole lives.
Kevin Ballard, GCH Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, says, “Our families are deeply rooted here. They have lived and worked in this community for generations. We want to help keep them here and as the neighborhood changes, help them find employment opportunities.”
As West Franklinton struggles to keep long-term families together, the neighborhood struggles with the same issues that other urban Appalachian communities struggle with: opioid addiction, crime, prostitution, and gun violence.
These factors make the GCH After School Program more important than ever. According to Lori Barton, who teaches at Avondale Elementary (the elementary school directly across the street from GCH) during the day and tutors at GCH in the evening, “Gladden is a place for students to go after school, get a hot meal and help with homework as well as much needed one-on-one attention from positive adult role models who care deeply about them.”
For many students across the city, positive adult role models are the norm, but for the students at GCH, positive role models can be the exception to the rule. Joseph Belmonte, who owns and operates his own home improvement and remodeling business and who also moonlights as a local celebrity auctioneer, grew up in Franklinton and was often at, as he affectionately and colloquially calls it, “Gladdens.”
Belmonte reports, “Growing up, I would go to Gladdens to play basketball and baseball and during the summer took advantage of the boxed lunch program. For myself and my family Gladdens was a way to keep up with community issues and to get to know your neighbors. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Gladdens.”
So, what can you do to help GCH keep representing and serving Franklinton? For starters, according to Chivers, you can donate your “time, talents, or treasures.” GCH is always looking for volunteers to help with serving food and cleaning up after meals. Funds are needed to purchase materials for tutoring and sports programs. Your experience not only has a positive impact on the Franklinton community, but
gets you “out of your bubble” as well. And who couldn’t use that once in a while?
“Come here to meet the people and see more than just the bad parts. We have a great community and great people,” said Chivers.
To donate your time, talents, or treasure, visit gladdenhouse.org.
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