The Tolson Community Center has served south-central Elkhart almost continuously for the last 30 years. This weekend, Tolson officials and alums are gathering to celebrate the community center’s past and offer an update on its future.
“We want to honor the diversity of our community,” Cyneatha Millsaps, chair of the center’s governing board, said. “We want to make it a welcoming place for everyone who comes in, and we also want it to be a place for us to learn from one another and about one another.”
After the Elkhart City Council voted to close the Tolson Center in 2018, a public-private partnership formed to take it over. The council approved a plan to expand and rebuild the center in March 2020, and a 15-member board was appointed last August to oversee the new Tolson Center for Community Excellence.
Through a combination of private donations, a $5-million contribution from the city and a $2-million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Millsaps said the organization will be ready to break ground on the $11-million project by the end of this year.
She said they hope to immediately offer programming to everyone “ages six all the way up through seniors.”
“The new structure is designed for us to work with community partners, to where we don’t ourselves have to run all of the programming,” Millsaps said. “Our hope of it all is that the day we get the keys to actually walk into our new building, that they will be walking into programming that is already ready to go.”
Millsaps said building those partnerships will be the board’s goal for the next year and a half –– she expects construction on the new building to finish in early 2023.
In the meantime, the city’s parks department is responsible for programming at the center. Earlier this week, the parks board transferred the building’s real estate interest to the board of works, clearing the way for the new Tolson board to take ownership.
“This was a key step towards getting the new and improved Tolson Center for Community Excellence under construction,” Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson said in a release. “We continue to be impressed with the commitment to Tolson shown by every entity involved in this process.”
But before the expansion starts, some alumni wanted to say goodbye –– Millsaps said a group of young people who grew up going to the Tolson Center approached the board about having a reunion at the old building.
“When Tolson was up and running when they were young, it was really this learning space, this space of safety, and these young people are now thriving in their own right,” she said. “They just wanted an opportunity to come together at the building and say, ‘This was important to us.’”
That reunion will take place Saturday, July 24, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Tolson Center (1320 Benham Ave.) Board members will be on site to answer questions about the center’s new administration, its fundraising efforts and how community members can get involved.
“They will be there to say how important and what kind of impact Tolson had on their lives,” Millsaps said. “And we will be there to say that we carry that… and will work really hard to make sure Tolson provides the next generation that same foundation.”
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