The Oberlin Community Center, located on Main Street next door to the Mandarin Restaurant, will soon have to find a new building to house its operations.
The current building's owner, the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization (OHIO), is planning to tear down the building, which houses two social assistance agencies. The agencies have been asked to vacate by next winter.
OHIO is tearing down the building because it no longer meets state safety codes. Marianne Cochrane, president of OHIO, said that the building will be torn down because it would cost more than the structure is worth to make it comply with state codes. Cochrane said she has no absolute figures on how much such an overhaul would cost.
Cochrane said it has not been decided what will be done with the space.
The Community Center provides clerical-type work-study jobs to 10 Oberlin students. The students are paid through the on-campus Learning and Assistance Center. A total of 30 to 40 Oberlin students also participate in the Center's math tutorial program for fifth graders.
The Center also provides low-income citizens with emergency relief such as food, medical equipment and vouchers for clothing and housing. In addition it houses a local food bank and participates in the Meals-on-Wheels program. Once a month, the Center delivers food to 250 needy families in Oberlin and Lorain County.
Besides the Center office, the building houses the Oberlin Seniors Center, the Interagency Council, which coordinates local agencies and the Fava arts organization.
FAVA has found a new location, but the Center, Seniors Center and Interagency Council have not.
Community Center Executive Director Ann Fuller said the agencies' programs must go on. She said that "the most disenfranchised segment of the population" depend on the Center's services.
The agencies were told April 5 that they would have to move. Fuller said OHIO does not want the agencies to stay in the building throughout next winter because the roof is deteriorating.
Fuller said the Center must relocate to a space large enough to accommodate the two full-time staff members and the 10 Oberlin student employees. She also said any new location must be centrally located so Oberlin students can continue to work for the Center. The Center is highly dependent on student employees, Fuller said.
Fuller said the three agencies are scrambling to find alternative locations. She said they won't find them quickly, and that at present there are not many relocation opportunities.
OHIO and the city are helping the agencies look for a new space. "We are very concerned," Cochrane said. "Everybody feels very badly." She also said anybody who can provide any information about a possible new location should let OHIO or the Community Center know.
Fuller said that one possible location is the former school board building on Pleasant Street.
Sophomore Erin Kirkpatrick, who tutors and works in the Center office, said she has learned about the issues low-income people face through her work at the Community Center. She said she has "learned things people don't expect when they're going to a great utopian college."
Junior Erin Pfeiffer, another student employee at the Center, said her job has taught her much about the town. She said there is ordinarily not much contact between students and town residents.
Kirkpatrick said she and other tutors help the fifth graders learn math concepts that their teachers do not have time to focus on in-depth.
During the summer the Center also prepares local under-privileged high school students to pass the Ohio Ninth Grade Proficiency Test.
OHIO member Mary Anne Cunningham said OHIO sponsors educational programming about the history of the city of Oberlin and civic improvement. OHIO's mission statement is: "OHIO's mission is to preserve, record and interpret to the public the rich multifaceted heritage of the Oberlin community and to nurture community pride, identity, and cohesiveness, through creative public programming."
Fuller said there was a time when the Community Center was an important part of OHIO's mission, but that it isn't anymore.
Members of the Oberlin Community can help the Center by voicing their support for the Center's services to the city government, Fuller said. She said the community must demonstrate its concern so that "the powerless don't have everything taken away."
Fuller said low-income citizens face "challenges from everywhere," including cuts in federal aid programs. She said, "The people who use these services don't often speak up. The whole country is moving to pull out services for low-income people."
The Center's services are funded by grants from organizations such as United Way and Americorps, as well as from donations from smaller groups and individuals.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 21; April 19, 1996
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