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.

Inclusive, Sustainable Development for All

This is a two-part story. If you have already read part 1, scroll down the page to continue to part 2.

Part 1:

As we wrap up our 62nd property development, we’re looking back at our real estate work over the years through the eyes of our neighbor Faye, who has lived most of her life in Covington’s Westside neighborhood.  Faye is a leader, a beloved neighbor, an avid gardener, an artist, a storyteller, a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.  She’s lived on her current street, West Robbins, for over 36 years. She’s gardened at Riddle Yates, our community garden, for each of those years – taking her son down to the garden in his infant seat, and then her grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren.  Faye worked for The Center for many years, we’ve learned a lot from her and continue to benefit from her valuable insight. 

In Faye’s opinion, her street’s fate took a turn when The Center purchased 308 West Robbins in early 1990s: “when I first moved to Robbins, there had been a lot of home owners moved or passed away and so many of these houses were chopped up and made into apartments by various landlords.  They were not taken care of for about 10 years and then stood vacant for many years.” 

There were several reasons for the long-term vacancy: crime in the neighborhood had peaked, prostitution, drugs, and violence were commonplace. While many structures throughout the community are lovingly restored by committed homeowners and business owners, some are in such bad condition that no one wants to touch them…. except us. Through our vast historic rehab experience, we’ve witnessed the transformational impact that revitalizing the worst buildings can have on communities, so we work with residents on ways to address these properties.

Our real estate process is commonly referred to as a slow growth approach.  It’s key to our mission to honor Faye and other long-term residents with inclusive and sustainable development of housing for all income levels. Each of our redevelopments build on the best parts of the neighborhood while addressing the most pressing challenges: improving safety, stabilizing the housing market, and instilling a sense of optimism for the community at large. 

Faye’s story illustrates how deep many of our residents’ ties are in this community.  We celebrate this history and the stories of our long-term residents are woven into everything we do. Faye believes the creativity of the community is the common thread that ties old to new, past to present: “there have always been so many creative people in this neighborhood.  In the beginning, people who lived in this neighborhood – they were hat makers, cigar rollers, and this and that. Today, there are 6 artists just on my street.  The urban farm, the chickens, and all of the creative energy has just brought the Westside to life.”   

In part two of this story, learn more about how the neighborhood’s rich history is integrated into our everyday work and has guided our real estate strategy throughout the years. 


Part 2:

Faye’s story from Part 1 illustrates how deep many of our residents’ ties are to this community and while we celebrate this history, we also want to make room for fresh stories to emerge. To do this, we focus our development efforts both on helping longtime residents stay in their houses and gain equity while also providing opportunities for new people to move in and make this place their home. 

The integration of our homebuyers into the fabric of the community is key to our housing development. To date, The Center has completed over 60 projects (mostly formerly vacant historic homes in the Westside), and we are proud to have a continued relationship with the majority of our buyers long after they’ve moved in.  Because it’s important to us that each buyer understand The Center’s work, we take time to get to know the buyers’ stories and then try to connect them to the larger community based on their interests and talents.

Stephanie and Chase are recent arrivals to the neighborhood and provide a great example of integrating into this place as newcomers. In 2018, they bought one of The Center’s newly rehabbed homes on Robbins Street after living in other parts of the Cincinnati region. Their reasons for choosing the Westside? The mix of residents, the energy, the community events, the neighborliness, and the walkability with a 5-minute walk to Mainstrasse and a 10-minute walk to downtown Covington. Chase is also a visual artist and appreciated the focus that The Center was putting on the arts, including the development of artist studios at the Hellmann Creative Center and our Shotgun Row development (live/work homes for artists).

The Center has generally taken the worst homes on the block, ones that no one else would touch, turning them into assets. Stephanie and Chase’s home is no exception. Located on the corner of Robbins and Holman and directly across from John G. Elementary School, the building sat vacant for decades, acting as a home for both squatters and drug dealers over the years.

Stephanie says that since moving to Robbins St., she has “felt welcomed by the neighbors with many of them stopping by our home and thanking us for being here. We’ve also had police and fire tell us they appreciate the way the house looks and that they remember when the house was a drug haven with multiple calls to the police every weekend. Now, it’s an asset to the block and not a blight.”

Chase says he appreciates the history of the home before it became vacant and loves to tell the story of meeting relatives of the people who once lived in the house decades ago: “They gave us a photo of their Christmas tree in what’s now our kitchen.” 

Beyond loving the house, Chase and Stephanie are also getting involved in the broader community, i.e., attending neighborhood events like the Westside Spring Celebration, BLINK Party at the Bus Stop, etc. Most tangibly, one of Chase’s sculptures sits prominently at the intersection near his house. The Center was able to commission “The Lunchbox” sculpture as part of our FreshLo program, which explores the ways that arts, culture and food interrelate in a community. The brightly-colored piece has become an icon in the community with people often saying “we are near the corner where the rainbow box sits.”

As Stephanie and Chase continue putting down roots, they mention the excitement around new restaurants and businesses opening and how they make a point of patronizing them when possible. The Center believes that new businesses should be accessible to everyone in the community and that food establishments in particular build a cohesiveness to community life, acting as gathering spaces for all walks of life. To that end, The Center has begun purchasing and developing buildings along MLK Blvd. for affordable, healthy food businesses that will benefit both old and new residents. Stay tuned as we continue this development journey, making the Westside a place for all the Fayes, Stephanies, and Chases to live, work, and eat!

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Providing Opportunities to Lead

Take a moment to picture your neighborhood. Picture the people in it who you would say make it a better place to live. Do you have a neighbor who throws an annual holiday block party? Someone who keeps an eye out for other neighbors? A community member who knocks on doors to hand out event flyers or neighborhood improvement surveys? Picture any one of these neighbors who share their gifts and talents freely to improve your community.

These people are who we are referring to when we say community leaders. We believe that resident leaders are at the core of a thriving community. We also believe that every community member has talents and ideas that will improve their community, they just need the right opportunity to do so. At The Center for Great Neighborhoods, it is our job to help find and create those opportunities.

An Opportunity to Shape a Neighborhood Park: Recently, we partnered with the City to implement a series of creative engagement strategies aimed at reaching people where they are to hear their visions for the future of Barb Cook Park in Latonia. One such strategy was to work closely with the Latonia Terrace residents committee to tap into the opinions and ideas of the residents who live closest to the park, who use it the most often, and whose voices may not typically be represented by more traditional engagement opportunities. Debra, Lestell, and Mary stepped up and became ambassadors for the project. They knocked on neighbors’ doors, visited the park on evenings and weekends during basketball games or play dates, and they helped plan a party in the park, all with the goal of reaching as many neighbors as possible to hear about visions for improving their park. Because of their leadership, we were able to hear from hundreds of additional residents who were not going to respond to an online survey or attend a meeting at City Hall.

An Opportunity to Fulfill a Community Need: In the spring of 2019, Bennett, a lifelong resident of Covington’s Eastside neighborhood came to us with an idea to hold an event focused on art and kids. He applied for our first cohort of Covington Leads: a 13-week program designed to give Covington residents an opportunity to grow leadership skills while creating a project, program, or event that will improve or enhance their neighborhood. In Covington Leads, participants are given a budget of $500 to complete a project. In the first few weeks of the program, participants spend time exploring their neighborhood and interviewing their neighbors to find out what assets exist and what opportunities are needed. In this time, Bennett realized that what many kids in his neighborhood really needed was a financial education – how to budget, write checks, manage money, and even just have a bank account. In the coming weeks, Bennett worked alongside The Center staff to create a one-day event for 10 teens to learn these skills. And at the end of the day, the teens would create a savings account and would be given $25 for their first deposit. Bennett completed the Covington Leads program, proud of his accomplishment, confident in his new skills, and ready to expand his project. Bennett is already planning his next life-skills class for youth with a Nano Grant from The Center.

Everyone who has contributed to a positive community change can tell you, that they did so because someone made a connection for them, provided them with access to a resource, or gave them the opportunity for their opinions to be heard. And for many residents of Covington, that ‘someone’ was The Center for Great Neighborhoods. We are committed to helping residents do everything in their power to make their neighborhood a place in which they can take pride. If you believe in helping to continue to make Covington a place where everyone can contribute, please consider supporting The Center and this work today.

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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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