Ellen Moss Williams was first hired at the Godman Guild in 1994, the same year the nonprofit association moved into its current home on East Sixth Avenue in Weinland Park – a neighborhood crumbling at its core. Housing conditions were deteriorating; homelessness was on the rise; and the notorious Short North Posse held sway. Once, a member of the Guild’s adult education program was cradling her child only to have the infant killed during a drive-by shooting.
Over the ensuing two decades, however, the community has slowly begun to right itself.
“There are people who live in this neighborhood, who’ve lived here for years, most of their lives, and they just kinda held onto hope, and I have seen the situation with housing totally turn around, a complete 180,” said Williams, now Godman’s CEO. “There’s a momentum that’s happening here that people are just catching onto it and saying, ‘Yes, we can do this.’”
The Guild traces its roots to 1898 as a settlement house in the immigrant neighborhood of Flytown, near modern Harrison West. It served as a place for new Americans to learn English and cooking, play sports, and find employment, and it also established the city’s first supervised playgrounds. Over the course of more than a century, Godman continued to serve Columbus in the near north side, and eventually across the county. In the wake of welfare reform in 1995, the organization refocused on the two critical tasks it carries out today – education and workforce development. “We do what we do best,” said Linda Silva, the chief development officer.
What they do best – education, training, and community support – is apparent all around the building. A group sits in a classroom for an introductory GED session; down the hall, a colorful nursery provides the childcare services that allow many people to pursue adult education. As Silva shows off the building, the head of the KEYS Summer Youth Works program stalks the corridor talking on a cell phone. Edward Brown is an NFL sports agent for most of the year, but he spends his summers coordinating employment and job placement for 14-24 year olds.
Outside, about a dozen high school students clean up and do light landscaping. “Most of them don’t have a clue what it means to be able to get a job and keep a job,” Williams said. “Our summer youth employment program is one of the key places where we can help some young people learn.” Many youth also attend Godman Guild’s Camp Mary Orton near Worthington, where they participate in the Summer Youth Empowerment Program that teaches “soft skills,” like teambuilding, social development, and how to utilize constructive criticism.
Godman provides education across the spectrum, extending daily learning via the afterschool program A.C.E.S., collaborating with teachers on shared curriculum, and continuing instruction into the summer months, plus the life skills and training that help adults along the continuum to self-sufficiency. Together with community partners like the Columbus Foundation and Wagenbrenner Development, the Guild has started to turn the tide in the area, and Williams envisions a “sisterhood of neighborhoods” between Weinland, Franklinton, the Near East Side, and the South Side to leverage combined capabilities.
“I think it really is about connecting people to the opportunities that there are, and then equipping them to take advantage of them,” she said. “Everybody wants really the same thing: To live a life with as few problems as possible, and then when you do have problems, having the resources to overcome them. Everybody wants that.”