CENTENNIAL YEAR REFLECTIONS: 1923-2023
Beyond its black lacquered doors, just past its crystal chandeliers and down its century old corridors lies a charity, an age-old non-profit organization gifted to the community by those who had been entrusted with much, and by which much was expected.
These selfless visionaries rose up and marshaled their time, talent and treasure to address the cultural weaknesses and societal challenges of the day; socially, culturally, educationally and philanthropically.
History tells us that The Community House was conceived in the transition period between a world war and the start of Birmingham’s surge in population. Programs and services were created with a keen awareness and a certain sensitivity to the social trends, challenges, and attitudes of the day.
By 1923, men, women and children were spending less time at home than ever before. Based upon the social changes of the day, the founders believed that the establishment of a “Community House” could become a home away from home for the changing community - children and adults “gathering, meeting others; to dance, laugh, to sing and to hear someone discuss things that interest and educate.” The founders believed that “people were not made to live alone…the nature of man demands social intercourse.”
Space would also be provided for private parties and for other civic and community-based activities. And by unanimous vote, the founders deemed the new Community House to be the official center in the region for charitable endeavors.
A century later, The Community House carries on that same mission, vision, and tradition of its founding leaders.
Center of Charitable Endeavors
Today, in addition to The Community House itself, eight other non-profit and supported groups (and growing) also call The Community House “home.” The Junior League of Birmingham, FAR Therapeutic Arts & Recreation, Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber, Optimist Club, Birmingham Shopping District, DOJO, Project 2, Communicare Michigan – noble organizations – all with their own individual charitable or nonprofit business missions - that are generously subsidized by The Community House.
In 2017, The Community House provided critical support to these and/or “other” non-profit or supported groups - at a direct or lost opportunity cost - approaching $1 million dollars. Funds that The Community House covered via its revenue generating opportunities and supplemented by generous donors via our annual fundraising initiatives.
Many of these organizations utilized free space, mostly free or discounted food or services. Extraordinary organizations raising awareness and bringing much needed support, visibility, and funding - time, talent and treasure to scores of worthwhile causes while operating within our community, our region, across the state, and around the world.
While delivering high quality classes, enrichment, arts, culture, programs, space to gather, milestone events, education, and charity – is what we do – it is not who we are.
Who we are – is a non-profit, charitable organization, gifted to the community by others, uniquely positioned and qualified to identify, recognize, and react to the challenges facing ordinary people living throughout extraordinary times. We are filling the gaps and the voids in community that profoundly test, challenge and impact society, community, families, children and adults, generation after generation.
Many of gaps and voids we filled in 1923, we continue to fill today (what we do) by providing programs and services to those simply seeking knowledge, or more importantly, to those longing to connect or needing help navigating through today’s social changes and challenges including loneliness, disconnect, loss of togetherness, health & wellness, cultural disparity, youth engagement (to name a few) - filling critical gaps and voids in the community and connecting and celebrating others in a safe, non-threatening and creative environment (who we are) – for the betterment of others.
Our founders called us to a higher standard, a higher calling. We rise to that call every day. It truly does take a village. We believe that The Community House is at the center of that village – metaphorically and literally.
Every day, we assess and evaluate the programs and services we provide – striving for excellence, but always challenging ourselves and gaging whether we are staying relevant to our mission and staying good and faithful stewards to those we serve. Doing more with less.
We have proven that we are investible, that we can stand the test of time, that we are good stewards, that we can maximize our assets and value to others while truly making a difference. But try as we might, we have yet to achieve true self-sustainability and lasting adaptability. Without sustained funding, without tax dollars, without regular support – we must and continue to rely on our own revenue generation and the kindness of others.
The “gap” between what we can offer and provide to others, and what we can manage financially is widening. The community’s demand for our services has exceeded our ability to meet the community’s needs – financially and physically.
To reach 100 years in existence, The Community House has mastered resilience. It has overcome a World War, the Great Depression, 9/11 and more. The Community House has seen times of boom and bust, sometimes as part of the greater economy and sometimes specific to its own market. It has witnessed new competitors entering the scene and older competitors seeking an edge. In the last year, it has survived a global pandemic and navigated through historic economic challenges. However, throughout it all, The Community House has remained resilient. We continue to serve, we remain optimistic, full of hope, and look to an even brighter, more impactful future. We owe that to our founders; we owe that to you.
On January 1st 2023, The Community House “officially” turned the page on its first century of service and has now begun an exciting new chapter. Befitting of the “grande dame” of Birmingham, The Community House will play host to a variety of celebrations and functions to recognize its humble beginnings, commemorate this once in a lifetime milestone and look forward towards a new and exciting future. Blessed are we, blessed are you – fortunate enough to witness the turning of a page on one century, and the opening of the page on our second century. Happy anniversary historic Community House. And many, many thanks and undying gratitude to our founders from so many years ago: St. James Church, Cranbrook House and the St. James Women’s Guild under the visionary direction of Mrs. Ruth Shain! It took a village then, and it still does today.
For reservations, sponsorships or more information about booking gathering and meeting space for Winter 2022 and beyond - please go to www.communityhouse.org or call 248.644.5832.
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.