Ruth Ellis Center ‘growing by leaps and bounds’

By |2008-04-04T09:00:00-04:00April 4th, 2008|Uncategorized|

DETROIT – The road has been rocky, but she appears to be steering the Ruth Ellis Center with a sure and steady hand. Six months after a staff walkout forced her to temporarily close the agency’s drop-in center, Grace McClelland speaks about the center’s future with a calm assurance and a contagious optimism.
“We’re in this huge growth period,” she said, speaking from REC’s administrative offices near the Masonic Temple in downtown Detroit. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds. The projects we have ahead of us for the next two years are huge.”
McClelland even talks positively about the October walkout and how it eventually helped the center.
“For me, every crisis creates an opportunity,” McClelland said. “So when we shut down the program we rewrote it. We wanted to make sure that the kids walked away with something, some hard skills.”
Now the drop-in center, located on Woodward Avenue at the Highland Park – Palmer Park borderline, offers frequent discussion groups and workshops on anger management, problem solving and respect issues. The center has also been remodeled and outfitted with new furnishings. The youth appear to like the change and have returned to the center.
“During the period Oct. 1 – March 31, the street outreach component served 2,854 kids and gave out 4,883 safe-sex kits,” said McClelland. “Those numbers are almost triple from the prior six months. The growth is amazing and that number is proof.”
But the drop-in center’s not the only success story McClelland has to brag about these days. On Feb. 8, REC opened its newest space, the one some might call its crown jewel. Ruth’s House, a transitional living facility for LGBTs between the ages of 16-21, is nestled between the New Center area and Boston-Edison historic district, midway between REC’s administrative offices and its drop-in center. The duplex, which REC completely restored and renovated before opening, features beautiful modern furnishings and comfortably sleeps nine youths.
Yet even that’s not all REC has to be excited about. The latest buzz is about McClelland’s newest hire: fundraising powerhouse Beth Bashert, who after consulting for the agency for the past two months was just last week brought on as director of development and public relations.
“I look at what’s going on and I want to grab my seat belt,” Bashert said of all the action going on with the center.
Most exciting to her, she said, is how her new position at REC brings together her strongest skill sets.
“I have done extensive fund development and public relations in homeless issues and LGBT issues and I love how the Ruth Ellis Center brings together my experience and my passion for both those issues,” Bashert said. “I love building things from the ground up and I have that opportunity, as far as their fund development and their PR goes.”
McClelland said Bashert’s hiring was a logical next step for the agency.
“We realized that we needed to develop organizational capacity so we could fulfill the vision of the board,” she said. “We’ve done really well with government grants but you need a whole lot more than that to grow your organization.”
Bashert’s biggest task will be to diversify REC’s funding stream to allow the agency to tackle additional programs such as a planned temporary shelter, for which governmental funding is harder to come by.
In the meantime, there’s no shortage of activity going on with the agency. In addition to Ruth’s House, the center just completed the purchase of the house next to it, which they plan to renovate and open as a transitional living center for younger teens.
“That building is beginning to undergo renovation,” said Bashert. “We hope to have it open in the fall. But meanwhile, we’re outgrowing the drop-in center, we’re outgrowing our administrative offices, so what we’re investigating is acquiring larger facilities near the house to include everything.”
So don’t be surprised if your phone rings one day and its Bashert on the other end. She won’t hesitate to ask you to put your money where her heart is and help these kids.
When Bashert hangs up the phone, “I think, ‘that the money is going to help feed those kids,'” she said. “We’re saving lives. There’s no two ways about it. How many kids are we saving from getting HIV every month?”
That’s not all REC is saving them from. The drop-in center is now attracting kids from as far away as Toledo who come to find a safe space, a place where they can feel free to be themselves.
“When you hear these kids say, ‘I have nowhere else to go but Ruth Ellis Center,’ – whether they’re talking about the house or the drop-in center – I hear that every day. And if we weren’t there they’d be out in the street. We need to give them what they need and that’s what the whole issue is about.”
And that’s what Bashert hopes to help with.
“I’d like to see the Ruth Ellis Center have a strong base of support in the community,” she said, listing her goals for the agency. “I’d like to be able to go out there in the future and know who our volunteers are, know who our donors are, know who can help us with questions, community issues and all those tendrils that make an organization strong and ensure its longevity. That’s what I want to bring to the organization, that’s what I want to see happen.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.