Monday, May 10, 2004

Making life better

The Peaslee Neighborhood Center has the wonderful dichotomy of any good home. On one hand, it makes life safe and nurturing for you. On the other, it pushes you out into the world.

For the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood that surrounds it, Peaslee is a spot to gather, to create, debate, raise your voice and build a sense of community. The center recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of service to the community, which should have been a time to stop and reflect on the center's meaning. But, in reality, nothing and nobody ever stops at Peaslee.

The center began in 1984, the result of community hope and frustration. When Cincinnati Public Schools announced plans to close Peaslee Elementary School, on East 14th Street, neighbors set about saving the building for use as a neighborhood center. The $240,000 price tag seemed impossible to meet, but residents held bake sales, sold bricks and solicited donations. When they met their goal, not only was a neighborhood center born, but a sense of community empowerment as well.

At heart, Peaslee Neighborhood Center is an incubator. Talents grow here, in art classes for children, practice sessions for the regionally known OTR Steel Drum Band, and a Literacy Through Photography program. Community conscience - and consciousness - form here as community leaders and housing and service groups meet here regularly. And certainly lives are shaped here, both through a 20-year-old after-school homework program and a basement child-care center that supports working parents, some of whom are struggling to leave public assistance.

Jimmy Heath, a noted photographer who teaches classes at the center, says one of Peaslee's most important functions is as a portal into urban life for the outside world. University students, researchers and civic leaders come to hear neighborhood residents speak about daily life in Over-the-Rhine.

Heath calls it a learning center, and for 20 years Cincinnatians have been richer for the lessons that Peaslee has taught.

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