The Neighborhood offers assistance for those in need
ASHLAND - Walking off Carter Avenue in downtown Ashland and into The Neighborhood is like stepping into a new city.
Founded by the nonprofit Neighbors Helping Neighbors in the early 2000s, The Neighborhood provides a safe, secure, clean and convenient facility for those in need of assistance, housing five agencies under one roof.
By 11 a.m. it’s bustling. Men and women carry boxes and flats of food into River Cities Harvest, a rescued food bank. A line begins to form outside Ashland Community Kitchen as inside volunteers prep for lunch. Clients head in and out of CAReS, or Community Assistance & Referral Service. Others check their mailbox. Some are just in from the cold.
Set up like a miniature city with storefronts inside the former Johnson Dairy building at 2516 Carter Ave., Todd Young, operations director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, said he doesn’t know of anything like The Neighborhood in the country and it’s Ashland’s best kept secret.
“We aren’t doing anything that’s never been done, but we are just making it better,” Young said.
Welcome to The Neighborhood
The experience of a new client to The Neighborhood starts at CAReS, the central intake for the facility. There, clients get a Neighborhood card and are put on charity tracker.
“What used to happen is, you would run around to all of these agencies and you would fill out all this paperwork,” Young said.
For a lot of the population they serve, this means telling the same, possibly traumatizing story, over and over. So people don’t do it, thus not getting the help they need and are entitled to.
“Now it’s all centrally located,” he said. “You go into the privacy of an office. If you are a woman, you talk to a woman. You do that once, now you’ve got your card. If I send you on a (Housing and Urban Development) Shelter of Hope, they see your card, pull you up on the computer and it’s done.”
CAReS also does housing referrals, and you can get an ID or your birth certificate. And thanks to the city of Ashland granting CAReS $50,000 in its budget, it can provide utility assistance.
“Every time the utilities are turned off in a house for more than two weeks, our city is mandated to condemn the house, and it costs our city $350 to that every time they do it,” Young said. “So, with the data we keep, we gave out $55,000 in utility assistance last year. We went to the city with the data saying, ‘We saved you $100,000 because you didn’t have to go and condemn this house, will you give us money back?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ Our city works really good with us.”
From CAReS, the closest storefront is the Ashland Community Kitchen. The kitchen provides breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday. Young said community churches provide meals on Saturday and Sunday, so no one in Ashland should ever go hungry.
The kitchen will serve 70,000 plus meals again this year, Young said.
The food is provided through River Cities Harvest, which gets donated food from Walmart, Kroger, Facing Hunger Foodbank, hospitals and even Little Caesar’s Pizza. Donated items include a lot of fresh produce and meats that the stores can no longer sell.
The Neighborhood also paid to install a six-acre garden at the Boyd County Detention Center, which provides River Cities Harvest with homegrown vegetables and fruits.
The food in the kitchen is prepared by staff, the majority of which were clients of the agencies. The food is served 75 percent of the time by community volunteers, like Marathon Oil or church groups.
The kitchen along with the food bank is some of the best examples of The Neighborhood’s mission betterment and development.
“You can come here and be better for it, and you have to have that first to move to development,” Young said. “Everyone that I have working in here has come through an agency. So I have drug court, battered women’s home, community service. I just hired some of my clients when we got the grant, so the ones that were volunteering for me are now full-time workers.”
Across the hall from the kitchen is The Dressing Room, a clothing closet that serves about 100 families a week. Once a week, families are permitted to come and get what they need from The Dressing Room, which offers everything from shirts and jeans to jackets and underwear. Families can take as much as they need, with the only thing being restricted are less donated items like underwear and socks.
“It’s not an education problem. It’s not that they don’t know how to do laundry,” Young said. “It’s an economic problem. You got $10 left at the end of week. You going to go do laundry at the laundromat or feed your kids?”
In the spring, The Dressing Room will turn into a prom dress shop, complete with everything a girl or guy would need for that special day.
Next to The Dressing Room is Clean Start, ran by Presbyterian Ministries. Here, clients can take a shower, get toiletries and cleaning products, and even get their hair cut by a licensed beautician. Mail boxes are also housed here, allowing homeless clients to apply for jobs with an address.
In the afternoons, The Drop opens. Staffed by peer specialists, The Drop is a safe place for young adults ages 16 to 25. The peer specialists help them set goals and accomplish them, while also just providing friendship and fun.
On Fridays, The Neighborhood offers a syringe exchange, collecting 30,000 dirty needles in the first 10 months. Also in those 10 months, 14 people entered treatment. They will begin to test for HIV and Hepatitis C soon.
Young said starting the program probably lead to them taking a hit in the donation department, but it is a necessary service.
“This isn’t the catch-all, but it’s just a piece of the puzzle in getting a handle on this as far as the drug, I say pandemic,” he said.
knows your name’
The key to the success of all the agencies, from the syringe exchange to The Dressing Room, is the human relationships everyone who walks through those doors build with each other.
As Young walks through the building, he greets everyone by name and genuinely asks them about their lives. A couple clients have even moved into his house for periods of time.
And that’s true for all the staff, many of whom have once been clients.
“Our population, addicts and those with mental disabilities, are about 50 percent of what we see,” Young said. “Eighty percent of our clients have at least one working member of their family. So, it’s not the stereotype everyone wants to think to make themselves feel better about it.”
The Neighborhood is continuing to grow and evolve. Young has received a grant to start a transportation station, which will teach clients how to build a bike. The sweat equity put in is the cost of the bike.
“Put someone on a bike, and they can get employment,” Young said.
A bank is donating new computers to allow the Neighborhood Cards to become a barcode system.
In fact, the entire operation runs off of donations. No one in the building pays rent, either.
The Neighborhood’s yearly fundraiser, the Wine and Bourbon Ball, is set for Saturday, Dec. 31, at the Bellefonte Pavilion. Tickets can be purchased online at www.theneighborhood-ashland.org. Monetary donations can also be made there.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.