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Making a New Heyday for the Near East Side

Hannah Herner Hannah Herner Making a New Heyday for the Near East SidePhoto via the Columbus Metropolitan Club.
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Forty-six million Americans live in poverty. That’s one in ten people. More than half of them, around 12.4 million, live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

Carol Naughton, a founding staff member of Purpose Built Communities, spoke at the Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon on Wednesday about the effects on the people living in these neighborhoods and how to create change.

“Trapped in a vicious cycle of poor schools, substandard housing and employment, families in these neighborhoods don’t have a clear path to the American dream,” she said.

In her opening statement, Naughton noted that children are especially affected, with six out of seven kids who live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty not able to read at grade level by third grade.

She added that while it may seem overwhelming to try and help all of these communities, she estimates there are 825 neighborhoods of concentrated poverty across the country. An estimated 25 of them are located in Ohio.

“That’s doable,” she said.

One of these areas in Columbus is the Near East Side.

Naughton and the Atlanta-based organization Purpose Built Communities partner with a local “community quarterback” to create change in these areas. For Columbus, the quarterback is Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT), a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 that is focused on making the Near East Side community a destination of choice.

Trudy Bartley, executive director of PACT, Elizabeth Seely, executive director of University Hospital East and Tei Street, Education Director for PACT joined Naughten on a panel to discuss changes and goals for the neighborhood. Jerry Revish, news anchor for 10TV, moderated the discussion.

The PACT area of the Near East Side covers 800 acres with boundaries of route 670 to the north, Broad Street to the south Route 71 to the west and Alum Creek to the east.

Bartley, who was raised in the neighborhood, reflected on how the community used to be, a strong community that offered cultural activities, grocery stores, theaters and more.

“It was the African American mecca for Columbus Ohio,” she said.

Bartley said that the freeway coming in and cutting off the community from downtown coupled with fair housing laws giving people the opportunity to move out took the area’s population from around 50,000 in the 1940s and 50s down to around 7,700 people living there today.

The goal is not necessarily to bring the Near East Side back to what it was 60 years ago, but to take a holistic approach to improve the area.

From discussing with area residents, PACT came up with five areas of focus to improve the Near East Side: education, housing, health and wellness, safety and workforce development.

“It’s great to go slow to move fast. Don’t try to do everything at one time, be planful and purposeful, because you’re affecting people’s lives,” Bartley said. “It’s not about you, its about how do you transform a neighborhood that at one time was on top of its heyday and help them with resources, partnerships and investments to create a new heyday for the families and the residents that reside there.”

On a different scale, Seely and the Wexner Medical Center look to take a holistic approach by helping people lead healthier lives rather than just treating illnesses. The Wexner Medical Center has recently introduced an urban residency training track to teach forthcoming doctors how to work in a more urban setting. She added that the Wexner Medical Center recently bought an outpatient facility at the corner of Taylor and Leonard Ave. in the Near East side, which also provides assistance for those in need of chronic treatment for conditions like diabetes. Beyond that, she said the hospital simply provides the physical space for people to meet, often hosting wellness classes.

In partnership with the Wexner Medical Center and Columbus City Schools, PACT has made the seven schools in the Near East Side area the Health Sciences Academies. Street said this involves not only learning about heath in science class, but across all subjects.

Street also emphasized the importance of slowly integrating new curriculum, with the organization having done extensive data collecting from area residents before launching in August of 2015.

One of the initiatives has been to look outside of the classroom to get students to do hands-on work in partnership with COSI and looking for non-academic barriers to learning, Street said. Columbus City Schools hosts “Family University” to help families and children be prepared for success at school.

As Bartley said, “The most effective way to keep people in the community and bring people to the community is education,” be it teaching the children, families, or community members in and outside of the Near East Side how they can help.

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