Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rally at Gamble House Today: Green Acres Foundation ARE YOU LISTENING?

There will be a rally today 5-6:30 at the Gamble House 2918 Werk Road. The Media will be there. GREEN ACRES FOUNDATION? ARE YOU LISTENING?

The arrogance of non profits: A true story

Many years ago I was on the board of new neighborhood group in another city. We were just starting in our efforts to bring back our neighborhood. We were a small group but a determined one and we had some assets (great architecture) but many obstacles. No money, our neighborhood was filled with Section 8 rentals, slums rentals and high crime. (sound familiar). Everyone thought badly about our area and many suggested the whole neighborhood should just be bulldozed.

One of the most "highly regarded charities in our city was in our neighborhood. They had some good programs too, but they were also a major source of the problem. They didn't maintain their rental properties.which were crime ridden. They didn't take care of the yards. many of the Old Victorian Houses had been carved up into multi families by them. Too many people in too little space. "But Hey they were a non profit they could do no wrong". They had also demoed a lot of property in our neighborhood. Their president was from one of the "old money" families in the city and the non profit had millions of dollars.

One day they came up with another "grand idea" they were going to take a empty local school and co-locate with our city government a welfare office with a drug rehab programs and a thrift store. The media was all over it "what a great idea, lets help this poor neighborhood, this non profit is doing great things"

We didn't see it that way. You see they would tear down several old Victorian houses nearby (for parking) there still wouldn't be enough. The old school would have been heavily modified. Our neighborhood would have constant traffic , hundreds of cars daily on narrow already crowded streets where children played and this development would have been near a school. IT WAS A BAD LOCATION AND A BAD IDEA!

So our little neighborhood organization raised concerns. We were labeled as a bunch of "crazy preservationists". BUT we knew we were right. We were told "The city supports this, this is one of the most highly regarded non profits in the state, you can not win!' We were not getting a lot of coverage from the media either This was the early 1990's not a lot of internet and certainly no blogs like this one. The board of the non profit was rich and powerful and could care less about what we wanted for our neighborhood. We decided we had to do something.

We did, one day at 4 in the afternoon we got a dozen of us together. People who were restoring and living in the neighborhood, moms with baby carriages, elderly people who had stood by the neighborhood for years and we pulled up in front of their offices and brought out picket signs. Just a dozen people. The staff of the non profit was sitting in their lobby laughing at us......Until the TV trucks pulled up, then the blinds were closed. People honked their horns in support in less than 30 minutes it was not just a dozen people it was 3 dozen. It was on the evening news, "Neighbors fight Non profit, to save their History", our message , our voice, was heard.

The non profit still figured they had a shoe in. The City fully supported this, but things began to unravel. People started writing letter about that old school, people wrote letters about the houses that they wanted to tear down and how historic they were. The newspapers came out and interviewed the 80 year old lady who lived across from that school who had memories of going there and how nice the neighborhood used to be.

We made yard signs to go in our front yards with the name of the non profit and a simple statement "ARE YOU LISTENING"? The day of the zoning hearing came. We showed up, not with a handful of "crazy preservationists' but with hundreds of people from the neighborhood. We carpooled people there. We brought our signs , our petitions. We were organized.

The attorneys for the non profit, quickly asked for a continuance. We said fine, we would be back at the next hearing with twice as many people!

Over the next two weeks. Articles were written. Some Board members of the non profit quietly resigned after media started knocking on the doors of their mansions. Investigations by the local media were launched too. A lot of money was being wasted and properties were not being maintained.

In the end the non profit withdrew their plans but the writing was on the wall. People stopped donating, the city started asking questions, more investigations. A few years later the non profit filed for bankruptcy.

Today that neighborhood is restored. The old multi families the non-profit owned are now single family. The house they wanted to tear down are still standing, restored and beautiful. The neighborhood has gone from one of the most impoverished crime ridden neighborhoods in that city to one of its finest.

The non profit? They were history. They were destroyed by their own arrogance, their belief that "they knew what was best for OUR neighborhood". They made a fatal mistake, of NOT LISTENING to the neighborhood, to what WE wanted!

The GREEN ACRES FOUNDATION is on a path to do the same thing. They should not let the arrogance of Carter Randolph destroy the good work they do. I urge the volunteers that put in long hours with Green Acres Foundation with thier arts and nature programs, to go to the board members, let them know that destroying the Gamble house, a piece of Cincinnati history could very well destroy the Green Acres Foundations reputation and the good work they do. Arrogance had brought the demise of non profits before. History can repeat itself!


No comments: