The stories on this page are part of a series we’re rolling out this fall to raise awareness for the different ways we create positive change in Covington. If you like what you read, please consider supporting this important work, either by making a donation, volunteering your time, or sharing with others.

Creating Community through Food and Culture

Baked Kibbeh from a Syrian Refugee, Paella cooked over fire by a Venezuelan chef, and Applestack Cake from local baker known for her Appalachian Heritage desserts.

These are just a few of the dishes brought to Covington over the past two years through our FreshLo Chef Fellowship program.   The FreshLo Chef Fellowship grew out of the local community’s desire for access to affordable, healthy, culturally-diverse food options. This program creates opportunities for those with barriers to starting a food business and gives them access to their dream through education, connections, and support. The program is unique in the region, providing a hand up and a push forward for those struggling to take the first step towards turning their idea into an actual, sustainable food business.

In addition to their delicious food, each of our chef fellows has a unique story to share.

Ibtisam Masto, a refugee from Syria, had know-how and passion but was held back due to language and a lack of connections and knowledge of how to navigate a new system of regulations and business. The Fellowship gave her an understanding of the local food system, introduced her to mentors and opportunities, assisted her in gaining employment in a supportive food business environment, and gave her direct support to start her own company, Olive Tree Catering. The program gave her the guidance and knowledge to achieve her dream of providing for her family while becoming a thriving member of her new community.

Shannon Glover is a single mom working to grow a better life for her and her family. With some culinary education behind her, and experience in a family food business, she entered the program with the goal to gain momentum, knowledge, and connections. The program allowed her to upgrade her professional knowledge, connect with mentors and job opportunities, and to actually start a food business. She has now gained a foothold towards financial stability for her family through her lifelong dream of being a chef and food business owner.

“FreshLo has been an incredible resource for us. It gave us the tools, the network, and the support to continue our work in the entrepreneurial world with confidence. We feel we gained a family that is always there for us.” Anne-Marie Herrera/Firelab/2018 Graduate

The need for this program has been demonstrated by the exponential increase in applicants, the enthusiasm and support from the existing food industry, and the uniqueness of the program in the region. Help The Center continue the Chef Fellowship and expand its role in meeting the goals of the community by donating today.

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$1.3 million Returned to Covington Families

In Covington, where 25% of the population lives below the poverty line, it is very common for our friends and neighbors to see just one unanticipated expense snowball into falling behind on rent, or a utility being turned off, or having to seek help through a high interest loan. As an organization, we firmly believe that financial stability for Covington residents is essential to personal wellbeing and the broader wellbeing of our community.  We designed our financial wellbeing programs to help individuals and families overcome their unique financial barriers. 

At The Center we offer three distinct financial programs:

Our Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic focuses on resolving tax issues to provide our clients with a fresh start.  Over the past year, we have worked with over 90 low-income families  to overcome unique challenges like  an  elderly woman who’s deceased spouse gambled away their savings and left her unknowingly with substantial tax debt, a disabled gentleman who lost his job and struggles to pay off debt, and the grandparent who cares for her grandchildren and, despite having legal custody,  does not receive the same tax benefits that help other low income families with children.

Our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program helps to return millions in tax refunds to stabilize our local low- and moderate-income families as well as stimulate our local economy. Our 30+ VITA volunteers dedicate over 4,000 hours annually in training and tax preparation services for people who need assistance to file their federal and state taxes.  Last year, our volunteers completed and filed over 1,000 returns for free, saving residents over $200,000 in tax preparation fees and obtaining over $1.3 million in tax refunds. 

In addition to our two tax assistance programs, we prepare the community for financial success through individual and group coaching.  Our staff holds workshops on budgeting, debt management, credit recovery, and a variety of other financial topics.   Each of these programs is free and open to the community.

This combination of services allows us to tackle financial or tax issues with a unique set of tools. We are the only organization in the region with both a LITC and VITA program, as well as financial education workshops for our clients.  Meaning, someone can walk in looking for assistance with this year’s tax return and in addition to filing for 2018, receive help on a previous year’s unresolved issue plus personalized coaching to avoid future hiccups.  As a supporter of this work, you’re insuring that Covington residents make the most of their financial resources, furthering their individual success and the broader success of the community. Consider donating here or contact us to volunteer or learn more about these programs. 

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A Place to Turn Ideas into Reality

The Hellmann Creative Center is a community hub where neighbors, family, and children can connect to improve their lives and community. Hand in hand with residents, we designed the building to be used in many ways: host a community event and rent one of our public meeting spaces, expand your creative business by leasing one of our 8 studios, or just stop by and take in the amazing architecture of this 150-year-old lumber mill. Our goal is to make this building a welcoming place for ALL.

Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen this dream bear fruit as Hellmann has become a second home to many in the community.  We have groups that meet here most weeks: Tai Chi, the Covington Writers Group, Music Together for parents and toddlers, a Pre-K Readiness Group, and Blacks In Technology.  Hellmann is also home to the NKY Refugee Ministries, Community and Restorative Justice, and numerous neighborhood groups such as the Covington Street Hockey League, the Linden Grove Cemetery Board of Overseers, etc.    On an annual basis, Hellmann hosts indoor and outdoor community-wide events, including the Kentucky State High School Art Show, the Westside Spring Celebration and a Global Holiday Market. 

In addition to these recurring events and meetings, we often see Hellmann morph into unexpected one-time uses such as: a wood shop for high school students, a space for a non-traditional prom night, a staging ground for neighborhood cleanup supplies, or somewhere to celebrate life events like bridal and, baby showers, and rehearsal dinners.  Most recently, a beloved community member passed away. His wife desired to hold a memorial service in the community where he lived so that his neighbors could all attend, which is why she chose Hellmann stating that it “was a beautiful and accessible place to celebrate his life and contributions to the neighborhood.”

Thankfully, Hellmann was available to accommodate the memorial service. In fact, this is exactly why the building is here: to be a resource to the community and all its life events. We strive to keep the cost affordable to residents in the community so that all incomes are able to use the building for baby showers, family parties, art shows, etc. In order to do this, we need to raise additional dollars each year to cover our cleaning and maintenance costs for the community rooms. Your gift will help us keep these rooms affordable and open to ALL in the community.

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Cultivating Tomorrow’s Leaders

This spring, 11-year-old Lily Jones woke up on a Saturday morning in Latonia, gathered her family, and set out to make a difference.  The family took on a beautification project together to spruce up a Latonia gateway sign, tearing out overgrown weeds, touching up the sign’s paint, and adding new surrounding plants for the annual Great American Clean Up.  What inspired Lily and her family to volunteer that day? In major part, it was her participation in BLOCK (Born Leaders of Covington, Kentucky), where Lily got her start in community service.

BLOCK is a 12-week after school program for 4th and 5th grade students provided by The Center for Great Neighborhoods for over 15 years.  BLOCK students spend their afternoon with The Center’s staff learning about their community, gaining valuable leadership skills and developing their social and emotional capacity. The result? Inspired youth like Lily with a new sense of civic responsibility and the experience of crafting and completing a service-learning project that benefits the broader community.

When Lily participated in BLOCK at Glenn O Swing Elementary from 2016 to 2018, she and her classmates dreamed up and executed projects like adding colorful plantings to the landscaping beds in front of their school to make the school feel more welcoming for students and families, and a project to demonstrate appreciation for cafeteria and janitorial workers to recognize the contribution these key staff make to the quality of life for students at the school.  Each service-learning project implemented by BLOCK students impacts the community by providing residents with new information, persuading community members to be involved, or creating a positive change in their neighborhood.

Like many of our BLOCK graduates, Lily plans to stay involved in her school and community beyond her time in the program: “I have been in BLOCK program for 3 years and I learned a lot.  Now that I am in middle school, I want to come back as a volunteer to help others learn the importance of helping your community.”  And, we look forward to continuing to create opportunities for Lily to do just that!

We believe our youth have so much to add to Covington’s story and it’s important to us to create a culture of civic-minded youth, who value volunteerism and work together to make Covington a great place to be for all ages.  As a community, we can unite to create a culture of civic-minded youth, who value volunteerism and work together to create a positive impact in their community.  If you agree, please consider supporting programs like BLOCK by supporting The Center.

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Want to get involved in other ways?  Our students are eager to learn about their community and learn from their neighbors. Volunteers are needed to help lead neighborhood tours throughout the city, guide students with their service-learning projects, and offer skills, connections, and ideas for their project implementation. Contact us today to learn about how to get involved in this and other youth programs!

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