Community Center Comeback
Whiten also initiated an active program in grant writing, which is beginning to reap dividends in new program development. With funding from the United States Office of Women's Health Services, the center now sponsors weekly discussions for local women about managing chronic illnesses prevalent in minority communities, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and stress. Working with Bethel AME Church, Whiten is spearheading a program aimed at curbing domestic violence, making the Ann Arbor Community Center one of three national sites participating in the federally funded Women of Faith and Intimate Partner Violence initiative.
To generate additional revenue, Whiten also rents out the community center's meeting space to groups ranging from the Lucille Porter Community Leaning Post to the Ann Arbor Democratic Party. She was thrilled recently when a Hindu family held a soul-releasing ceremony there for a deceased family member. "I'm really pushing diversity," she says. "The center was always very diverse--it was the Dow and Towsley families that built this building--but somewhere that got lost."
"The days of serving just African Americans are over," agrees current board chair Marvin Perry, an Ann Arbor native and U-M MBA. "Our outreach programs have to reach everybody, regardless of race." Both Perry and Whiten say the center's focus now is on the economic needs of families of all backgrounds. "We deal with the working poor," says Whiten. The agency helped about 1,200 families last year with everything from distributing food and clothing to legal aid to notices of eviction.