News: Small Agency Addresses Large Need

Unity House connects with kids in Over-the-Rhine

 
Matt Borgerding


Unity House hopes new volunteers will enable them to reach more kids.



While Saturday shoppers at Findlay Market are taking the time to shop for the area's freshest produce, Tresha Gregory of Unity House World Peace Center is two blocks away, educating the minds of Over-the-Rhine youth. In conjunction with Mt. Ida Children Seniors In-Need, Gregory conducted one of Unity House's monthly Victory Over Violence programs at Findlay Park.

Some might be skeptical about a small non-profit's ability to induce change, but waves of kids were crowding the tables where trained educators gave lessons on how to prevent and escape physical and emotional violence.

"We're happy to be here to provide this, but we're also realistic," Gregory says. "We want to make a change, and we know we're not going to touch everyone. Even if we only help one child, we've done our job."

Cynthia Diane Hill, Unity House's contributions coordinator, understood the poignancy of this particular site. It was a little over a year ago that her niece, Teresa Renee Hill, was killed by a stray bullet in the park. As a self-proclaimed "O-T-R survivor," Diane Hill knows all too well the importance of the Victory Over Violence message.

"This is a place where kids need this program the most," Gregory says.

Last year the neighborhood had the highest rate of homicide, rape and aggravated assault in the city and continues to top those same categories. As if to drive home the point, during the program, police officers swarmed the park over a disturbance. Watching the scene unfold nearby, unflinching children saw a scene all too familiar.

Gregory is optimistic even as the neighborhood's problems play out just 100 yards away. When she sees families repeatedly show up at Unity House's functions, she sees its mission of building families and communities.

"We're actually doing something besides feeding them and giving them toys, and it's just fine how many times the kids participate, because it's going to sink in," she says.

A founding board member of Unity House, Gregory has become its workhorse. She has seen Lavender Santa, one of the agency's first programs, grow from a 25 children and a handful of families to 500 children, providing not only toys, but also clothing and food baskets.

But with another of the founding board members, Dianna Brewer, relocating out-of-state and a decline in volunteers, Unity House has had to put a number of programs, such as Youth Leadership Training (YLT), after school enrichment projects and a summer reading program on hold until volunteer numbers increase.

"It's sad to see things go by the wayside because we don't have enough hands," Gregory says. "It's been more than a year since we did YLT, and even today I received a phone call from a kid asking about the program. They're desperate; they want to be involved."

Unity House got its start over six years ago when Brewer started a "conscientious diner club," Women Over 30, to get together and discuss the shortcomings and mood of the city. It was at those dinners that Brewer, Gregory, and the late Julia Wetterer decided to make a difference.

"We wanted to do basic social service work and do it right, to give from the heart comfortably without preaching or making people feel bad in the process," Brewer says by telephone from her new home in New York.

Brewer is still helping support Unity House, working as a liaison for sponsors and affiliated organizations until someone else steps up to the task. She plans to return in early August to help train University of Cincinnati volunteers who will work on the agency's Bread Ministry.



For more information on Unity House, visit www.unityhousewpc.com.

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