WHERE WE STARTED. WHERE ARE WE GOING?
History and Background
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. The Community House.
These selfless visionaries rose up 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 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 milestone gatherings 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.
Almost 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, scores of other nonprofit and supported groups also call The Community House “home.” Noble organizations – all with their own individual charitable or community-based missions – that are still generously subsidized by The Community House.
By 2018, The Community House provided critical support to 14 “other” nonprofit or supported groups at a direct or lost opportunity cost to The Community House – approaching $1 million dollars. Funds that The Community House covered at the expense of its own mission, via its own revenue generating efforts and supplemented by generous donors via our own annual fundraising initiatives.
All these organizations utilized free space, most 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. Devastated by COVID and now battling the economy, supply chain issues, labor shortages, rising fuel costs and inflation, The Community House and its leadership found that it could no longer support other legitimate non-profits, under old paradigms, at the expense of The Community House. To keep our own doors open, we had to focus our attention and energies on our own families, children and adults, in the community, on our 100-year-old mission, maintaining our century old building, and on our survival. Thanks to our Foundation and to hundreds of generous donors, family foundations and corporate sponsors, our journey back has been slow but steady. The needs of the community still exceed our resources – and post-COVID – continue to grow day by day.
While delivering high quality classes, enrichment, arts, culture, programs, space to gather, compassion, 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 fillings the gaps and the voids in community that profoundly test, challenge and impact society, community, families, children and adults, generation after generation.
Our Founders called us to a higher standard, a higher calling. 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.
Every day, we assess and evaluate the programs and services we provide – striving for excellence, but always challenging ourselves and gauging whether we are staying relevant to our mission and staying good and faithful stewards, meeting the needs of those that we faithfully serve – while 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.
The “gap” between what we can offer and provide to others, and what we can manage financially is widening. COVID, supply chain issues, lack of staff and inflation only compound the situation. The community’s demand for our services have exceeded our ability to meet the community’s needs – financially and programmatically.
If we are to remain a beacon in an ever-changing world, our vision must be clear – we must reach a place where The Community House is not forced to make tough choices on essential community programming and services – educationally and socially - based solely upon our ability to charge others. It is not in our DNA to turn others away based upon their ability to pay or based solely upon the profitability of the program or service.vToo often, it is those that need us most, that can afford our services least. It is vital that we grow our scholarship fund and operating endowment so that no one is ever again turned away because of their ability to pay.
Rising from COVID and now battling the economy, we have taken the time to reflect on where our limited nonprofit resources should be reallocated to make the biggest impact on community today and tomorrow. Consistent with our nearly century old nonprofit, charitable mission – we have determined health and wellness, social connectedness, arts and culture, exercise and movement, and healthy eating and food preparation, for children and adults – must now take center stage. Society demands it.
In response, The Community House Association established The Community House Foundation. Its primary purpose is to raise awareness and to secure philanthropic funds to support The Community House, its quality programs and services. Since its founding, the Foundation has been focused on the revitalization of the Community House’s planned giving program. Legacy and planned giving has been identified as an area essential to The Community House’s long-term financial health. We are a rare community gem. Birmingham Bloomfield is fortunate to have a Community House in its midst. There are only 38 in the country modeled like us; only two in Michigan – The Community House Birmingham and The War Memorial Grosse Pointe.
As we prepare to turn the page on our first century of service in 2023, we are seeking legacy and estate gifts to accelerate and give critical momentum and credibility to The Community House, our future space and facility needs, its important work and mission – commensurate to The Community House’s laser-focused efforts to reach self-reliance and sustainability via its philanthropic efforts, stewardship, program capacity and ongoing fiscal excellence. We are independent, we receive no tax dollars, no steady support – we rely solely on our own efforts and the kindness of others – like you – to survive and grow. The War Memorial Grosse Pointe just received a $20 million family gift, unrestricted. Fingers crossed The Community House Birmingham will be fortunate and worthy as well.
For more information about The Community House Foundation or its Legacy and Planned Giving opportunities, please contact Christopher Smude, Vice President, The Community House Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248.644.5832.
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.