Ask Joan Nelson what her greatest achievement is in the development of the Allen Neighborhood Center and the pronoun “I” won’t appear in her answer.
Nelson, who is stepping down as director of the center after 22 years, spreads the credit among those involved in founding and maintaining the neighborhood’s programs — the farmers market, Hunter Park GardenHouse, the Food Hub/Veggie Box program, the incubator kitchen and more.
The center was born as part of the Eastside Healthy Communities Summit, a health initiative with Sparrow Health System.
“The eastside summit morphed into Allen Neighborhood Center in 2000 when Bruce Bragg, then the head of the Ingham County Health Department, secured funding to support a brick-and-mortar operation for us,” Nelson said.
The other three founders — community activists Rick Kibbey, Ruth Leyrer and Diane Harte — asked Nelson to be director.
Nelson explained challenges facing eastside families include 25% are at or below the federal poverty line and 80% live under the median income of Michigan residents.
“Older housing stock, much of it in the rental market and not well-maintained; food insecurity; lack of health coverage; and poverty all compelled creation of a nonprofit that could link eastside residents with resources and help build capacity to ameliorate these conditions,” Nelson said.
After 22 years at the helm of what has become a teeming center of neighborhood activity, what’s Nelson’s next step in life?
“After I leave here in August, I’m going to chill for a couple of months before deciding what is next,” she said. “I will undoubtedly work, perhaps in similar ways or not. I am relishing the opportunity to reflect on new possibilities. I am always available to support ANC in any way folks there think would be helpful.”