Beyond its black lacquered doors, just past its crystal chandeliers and down its century old corridors lies a charity, an age-old nonprofit organization gifted to the community by those who had been entrusted with much, and by which much was expected.
These selfless visionaries rose and marshaled their time, talent and treasure to address the cultural weaknesses and societal challenges of the day; socially, civically 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 new social trends, challenges and attitudes of the day.
By 1925, 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 community-based activities. And by unanimous vote, the founders deemed the new Community House to be the “hub” in the region for charitable endeavors. Almost a century later, The Community House carries on that same mission, vision, and tradition of its founding leaders.
While delivering high quality classes, enrichment, arts, culture, programs, space to gather, compassion, education, and charity – it is what we do – it is not who we are.
Who we are – a nonprofit, 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 fillings the gaps and the voids in the community that profoundly test, challenge and impact society, community, families, children and adults, generation after generation.
Many of the 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, tech disconnect, loss of togetherness, 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 calling, a higher standard. We rise to that calling every day. It truly does take a village. We believe that The Community House is at the center of that village – metaphorically and literally.
COVID-19, Delta and Omicron is testing us now. More than eighteen months in – we are fighting the battle of our lives. The fight is not over.
As the historic Community House in Birmingham struggles to secure a “transformational” lifeline or two some have suggested that perhaps the days of a Community House in Birmingham has passed. “It shouldn’t be this hard to raise funds and support” they tell me. Some tell me that the only other Community House in Michigan, The War Memorial (aka Grosse Pointe Community House), part of the Affinity Group of Community Houses (38) across the country, just received an unrestricted gift of $20 million from folks in their community to tend to the operations and care of their historic building and grounds. Another tells me of a recent $1 million gift to the Rochester Community House from the City of Rochester, Michigan. Not a member of the Affinity of Community Houses. To care for operations and members of their community. Some opine “maybe our days are over”. Nonsense. We must resist such thinking.
It is true, as we begin 2022, The Community House in Birmingham is facing the same capital needs/crisis as the War Memorial and dozens of other Community Houses across the nation. Most Community Houses were former mansions, historic properties, important buildings donated to the community decades ago through the generosity of those that had much. Many of these properties are now approaching nine or ten decades old, such as The Community House in Birmingham, and need upgrades, repairs, and renovations according to today’s needs, standards, and the community’s expectations.
After a two-year exhaustive study, commissioned by The Community House in Birmingham to address these capital challenges, outside experts have advised us that TCH needs up to $10 million dollars to accomplish the goals identified above and to establish a modest endowment for long-term building/grounds maintenance and care. I recognize that some of you reading this may be in the position to help transform the Birmingham Community House – just like supporters did for the War Memorial. A single gift. A multi-year pledge. An estate gift. Regardless of size – every gift is needed. With capital continuously draining our operations, delivering our much sought-after programs and services to the community remains in jeopardy. As we near our 100th anniversary in 2023, please help us prepare and stabilize the historic Community House for its next century. Now is the time.
I’m a Birmingham boy. This is my community. This is my Birmingham. Seaholm is my alma matter. And we are the most blessed and kind community I know. Though these numbers and statistics may be daunting, I’m also an eternal optimist. I believe in the unrivaled generosity, the random acts of kindnesses, the notion that “those that have been given much, much is expected.” I believe in Birmingham and Bloomfield, and I certainly believe that the “west siders” are just as noble and as generous as the “east siders.” I happen to think more…
During this period in our world where we find some tearing down our institutions, our strong held beliefs, our treasured history and legacies created generation after generation – let us join together as a community to protect this age-old cherished nonprofit charitable organization, remember those that built it 99 years ago, and those that have been called upon to be its faithful stewards since its inception.
For more information on how you can help, please contact The Community House or The Community House Foundation at 248.644.5832 or via communityhousefoundation.org.
As we enter this new year, my heartfelt wish for all of you is good health, much happiness, and continued blessings. Happy New Year!.
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.