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Catching Up With Baker Ripley & NCI

» Chron: How to build strong neighborhoods (Editorial)

It's almost a shame this was written as an editorial rather than from a news perspective.

The nonprofit was reinvigorated in the 1980s, when Houston's economic bust coincided with a wave of new immigrants. By 2005, NCI had so nourished the East Side that neighbors from the troubled Gulfton area asked the nonprofit to found something similar there.

That's when the "magic," as NCI staffers call it, began. Led by Blanchard, NCI coaxed a coalition of every possible type of stakeholder - Republican, Democrat, public, private, business, activist, and community member - to help fund the new center.

NCI also commenced an interview tour, asking residents to state their own goals and their neighborhood's strengths.

In 2010, Baker Ripley Center, a $20 million "village" of service centers, finally opened in one of the poorest, most gang-ridden, least educated communities in the city.

In keeping with the survey, the complex offers only what neighbors want most: afterschool care, tax help, education in finance and citizenship application. It also has a school and a credit union.

And in the two years since Baker Ripley opened, the neighborhood has embraced it. No one has ever broken into its buildings. More than 25,000 people have passed through the doors; 2,700 have become long-term members, continuing to use Baker Ripley's programs - and often volunteering.

I'm pretty sure I'll end up getting roped into volunteering at some point in the foreseeable future. To date, I've been a total slacker, only serving witness to the great work and social gathering place created at the Baker Ripley Center. It's in my own neighborhood, too. So I'm not even going to offer a defense of myself. For now, it's good to see them getting the recognition they deserve. Also good to see others taking notes from Angela Blanchard. I don't doubt there's a lot to learn.

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