Neighborhood House

  Eras

  1916 - 1929early Neighborhood House

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  1929 - 19491946 Neighborhood House dance

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  1949 - 1966Madison Neighborhood Centers

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  1966 - 19901990 band

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  1991 - 2015Dan Foley

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      2016 - ?Neighborhood House

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Neighborhood House: 2016 - ?

The Global Neighborhood

Neighborhood House word cloud
Neighborhood House on a Sunny Day

The tradition of Neighborhood House being an open space for groups of all different kinds to meet continues on today. Even a small sample of these groups shows the range of people that come together at Neighborhood House: Muslim Women’s Support Group, United Nigerians of Madison, Caribbean Americans of Madison, Ghana Association, Live Springs Church, Oak Apple Morris Dance, Liberian Group, Bolivian Dance, Japanese Drum Group, African Association of Madison, MMSD Native American Group, Madison Judo, Latin and Hip Hop Dance. More important than the physical space that these groups share is that they all call Neighborhood House home.

This international focus is what makes Neighborhood House unique.  For Godwin Amegashie, The chair of the African Association, "The fact that [Neighborhood House] has been open to the international community in Madison has been the most refreshing thing about it. Almost every international organization I am aware of has been meeting here or started meeting here.... The concept of this Neighborhood House which has an international appeal and has a very dedicated support network of people who, even though they do not live in the neighborhood...there is a mental connection to this place and that's absolutely unique.... " For Amegashie, Neighborhood House is also the place where the university-based international citizens and community-based international citizens can both feel comfortable. 

This "larger than a neighborhood" aura surrounding Neighborhood House today allows us to reflect on the idea of "neighborhood" for a moment. The value of a neighborhood is in its ability to build face to face relationships and create a kind of semi-self-sufficient community.  It's weakness can be in its insularity and discomfort with diversity. 

Neighborhood House tries to bridge the local and the global, and has stretched beyond its immediate neighborhood to accomplish that. Mark Wagler, a Greenbush scholar, notes that "Neighborhood House has continued to find people who need services" even after its local neighborhood was taken away by urban renewal.  For Jonathan Gramling, the Neighborhood House accountant for a number of years,  "Its spirit of diversity, of providing services to a lot of immigrants into Madison, who lived in the Greenbush area...still continues to today. So you have the African Association, the Nigerian Association, It's still fulfilling its function.... It's still providing service to this really diverse conglomeration of people. So you have this continuity for 100 years and I've also liked it because it's almost reflected the struggle of poor immigrant people that Neighborhood House has always kind of had to fight to survive, that often times its service area hasn't been as geographic, that a lot of people who use it come from outside of the immediate neighbohood, ... It's almost like a community-wide, a city-wide neighborhood center."

Another way to understand the importance of Neighborhood House across the city is, interestingly enough, through the newspaper obituary column.  Beginning in the post-WWII period, there are only a few years that go by without someone's service as staff or board to Neighborhood House being mentioned in an obituary, as an online search of newspapers across the past 100 years shows.  There is a pride in being associated with Neighborhood House that literally lasts a lifetime.

The Next Generation and All Generations

In addition to being the home to unique cultural, dance, and interest groups, Neighborhood House provides programming for youth coming from the neighborhood and all over the Madison area. Movie and Meal Night is a popular community event, inviting families to enjoy dinner and a kid-friendly movie at the community center. Summer Camp continues to be very popular, providing children from all over Madison an engaging summer experience. From arts and crafts at the community center to playing at Klief Park to a tour of Camp Randall stadium, spending a summer at Neighborhood House can’t be beat!

We visited one of the children's programs as part of this project, and here's what they said about Neighborhood House:

"It's not like regular school with social studies and math, it's fun!"

"I like our mentors [at Neighborhood House]. Afterwards is when we get to play!"

 "I like that our mentors help us do our work and take us to the park"

"We have lots of fun here. I like to play in the gym" ..."Me too" ..."Me three," ..."Me four!"

"We do science club on Wednesday, and I like that"

They drew for us too:

children's drawings

Neighborhood House programs aren't just for kids, as the center offers services for adults and takes the opportunity to give back to the community that it serves. The new computer lab serves people of all ages and offers a space to do homework, work on a resume, or learn new skills. In partnership with local businesses, the center hosts a Holiday Gift Drive, Thanksgiving Food Drive, Winter Wear Drive and a School Supply Drive, collecting donations to help those in need throughout the year. Andy Millman, the new director, is partnering with LOV Dane on programming with people with disabilities, and is also looking to rebuild programming with elders.

Neighborhood House is home to many organizations, events, and programs that use the center to share culture and build community. Richardson Addai Mununkum, president of the Ghana Association, believes strongly in the power of community centers, such as Neighborhood House, to bring individuals together in a very individualistic American society.

Neighborhood House keeps its website updated, showing all the new programs and current things happening in the community. On their website, http://www.neighborhoodhousemadison.org,  they have a brief history about the center, programs, volunteer opportunities, services, ways to support the center, and basic contact information. Neighborhood House also keeps up with social media, having a facebook page, twitter account and yahoo group. 

As part of this project, we asked the people we interviewed to tell us one word that best characterized Neighborhood House for them.  They generated this word cloud:

Neighborhood House word cloud