Meet Stella, the woman in a dress this week! Stella spends her days in the urban Appalachian community of Lower Price Hill in Cincinnati, Ohio. She works for an organization called Education Matters, which serves provides adult education classes such as English for Speakers of Other Languages, GED and college readiness programs. Her time is split: she works with the college bridge program and she is the event coordinator for the Sanctuary, their event space.
I met Stella through AmeriCorps as some of my fellow members are working with her organization. She herself started working at Education Matters as and AmeriCorps member almost three years ago. When we were initially looking for an event space for The Little Black Dress Party, I reached out to Stella. The Sanctuary is a beautiful space and just what we were looking for. It’s so exciting to be able to partner together and support two really great nonprofits: Education Matters and their sister organization Community Matters.
Last week, I met with Stella in the Sanctuary for a little photo shoot and Q&A. Since she made this all possible, I figured why not feature her on the blog? She wore her favorite little black dress and we took photos in all the wonderful spaces the Sanctuary has. It was an old Catholic church formerly named St. Michael the Archangel. Think stained glass windows, a balcony and the like.
It all started in 1807 when William Price settled in the Mill Creek area. He established a brick yard and a sawing mill. Settlers started moving in and he called his town Prospect. By the turn of the century, it had about 10,000 people living in it. St. Michael’s was founded in 1847. A school was also built. The church was a functioning church all the way into the 1990’s. It’s the second oldest standing Catholic church building in Cincinnati. The building sat vacant for about 10 years before Stella and her co-workers gave it a makeover. It now functions as an event space.
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Occupation: Event Coordinator for the Sanctuary and College Bridge Program at Education Matters
How did Education Matters and Community Matters initially get started?
In the 1980’s, Oyler Elementary down here in the neighborhood had the highest dropout rate in the city. Lower Price Hill is historically urban appalachian. The kids once they reached eighth grade, there wasn’t a high school down here. They had to travel up to Western Hills High School a couple of miles away to continue high school. What happened was kids didn’t want to leave the neighborhood, they didn’t feel comfortable. So they would just drop out and go on about life. So they started an after school program out of the basement of the church first in homes and eventually in the basement of the church to tutor kids, mentor kids and make sure they’re staying in school.
So that happened for like 15-20 years until Oyler became a k-12. So kids were staying in high school, so the needs transitioned from kids education to adult education. So that’s when the GED program started. We had previously had classes for non-native English speakers. It went away for some time and now it’s back. We also have a college program that helps people gain access to college and be successful in college. On top of all these programs, we have other services like a thrift store, a food pantry, etc. So all these services in one hub. It was the focal point of the neighborhood. It was previously called Lower Price Hill Community School and then two years ago we split into being two non-profits: Education Matters and Community Matters.
You started here as an AmeriCorps member and served for two years, right?
Yeah I started here as an Notre Dame Mission Volunteer AmeriCorps member with the college bridge program 2013-2014. I did that for two years. As an AmeriCorps member, you just kind of like go all in. There’s really no way of saying “I did my job. It’s over and I’m going home.” There’s always extra to do, and that’s how I really got involved and got to know people in the community and our staff. I really grew to love this place and started helping out with more than just my job. I’d help with volunteer days, coordinating different people, helping with tours … there’s never just your job in a non-profit. So they wanted to keep me and didn’t know how. They had created this additional event coordinator job for me. I wanted to stay but there was no full-time position available for me. So they created this position to keep me. I would do college bridge part-time and event coordinating part-time.
Did you work with events at all prior to working here?
Not really. I knew I was always very organized and detail-focused, but I never saw myself in a position like this. When they pitched it to me, I was like “that’s perfect!” I love working with people and I love looking at something as a whole and then each piece as well. How to make an event happen and how to make it the best ever.
So what do you see as the future of the Sanctuary as an event space?
So I love thinking about the future of the space because it’s so open. It could meet so many different needs and wants for people. Definitely a wedding space. We want to meet that niche of people that want a beautiful space to get married in but don’t want to break the bank for their wedding. They don’t want to spend $10,000 to get married just because that’s what everyone else does. What’s beautiful is that they are supporting two great non-profits by having their wedding in this space.
We also really want to foster arts in the community. So bringing arts to the people. We partnered with CCM students and our Education Matters students to create a play that they performed to the neighborhood. So any kids of arts whether that be the Bend in the River fest where we bring in local bands to jam out and enjoy some beer, or with Muse Cincinnati Women’s choir who rents space from us. They use our space for practice and have at least one concert a year in the space for the community. Arts is so important for the community. We don’t want to just meet people’s basic needs and think that they’re okay. We want to provide them things that they want and help them lead a holistic life.
What initially drew you to Education Matters and AmeriCorps?
My aunt is a resource coordinator at Oyler. So she talked about how much she loved working in Lower Price Hill. It was tough but she wouldn’t trade it for anything. So hearing her talk about Lower Price Hill for years. Then when I was ready to graduate from college and thought of AmeriCorps. I was on Idealist.org one night at 3 a.m. and this Lower Price Hill one comes up. I’m like “hm, I never thought about helping people with college. I mean I went to college and I survived. I guess I could apply!” It’s been great ever since!
How would you describe Lower Price Hill to someone who didn’t have any experience with it?
(Laughs) I would describe Lower Price Hill as a very tight-knit community. It’s roots are in urban Appalachia. You have these physical barriers that made it feel like home and made it feel like a holler. You have the hill on one side, the river on the other side and the train tracks on the other side. It felt like a holler to some people and that’s where a lot of Appalachians settled over the years. It’s very tight-knit. A lot of people are related and their families grew up together. They’re good people that I think often get a bad rap. A lot of people think Lower Price Hill is dangerous and not a good place to be. I think they have it wrong. A few people in the neighborhood paint a picture for the rest of the neighborhood that isn’t accurate. There’s good people, kind people, funny people and people doing good things. I feel safe walking around Lower Price Hill. People say hi.
And for my classic question I ask all women I feature, what does being a woman mean to you?
When I always think of being a woman, feminism comes to mind. I’m a very stubborn and strong-willed woman. I will never let anyone tell me I can’t do something because I’m a woman. I always prove them wrong, whether I’m in a dress or not, that I’m just as capable as anyone else is. I like to make a point to point out that that is not true and you can’t talk to me or any other woman like that. Being a strong woman sets people back a little, but I will always be like that.
We work with a lot of college students who are single mothers. I really try to instill in them that they can do anything they set their mind to. Sometimes I have that special connection with a student who is a woman because I’m also a woman.
The shoot and the dress
Then we went outside to look at the chickens. They have actual chickens on site!
Thank you Stella for sharing your passions with us! I’m super excited to work together on the 26th!
Also Cincinnatians, have you RSVP’d yet? This event is NOT to be missed! Details here.
Today I’m linking up with:
Birth of a Fashion Blogger, Sincerely Jenna Marie, More Pieces of Me, Fizz and Frosting, Still Being Molly, Beauty by Miss L, Michelle’s Paige, Not Dressed as Lamb, Mahogany Closet and Not Dead Yet Style
Jersey Girl Texan Heart, Shopping My Closet, Pumps and Pushups, The Pleated Poppy, Sydney Fashion Hunter, The Mummy Chronicles, Cappuccino and Fashion, Posh Classy Mom, The Red Closet Diary and Twenties Girl Style