Tolson Center ribbon cutting

Tolson Center in Elkhart first READI project open to community

The Tolson Center in Elkhart is the first READI 1.0 project in the South Bend-Elkhart region that is complete and open for members. It serves the Benham West neighborhood with community programming and recreational services.

The Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative provided $2.6 million in funding for the $16 million project. It is one of 17 quality of place projects in the region included in READI 1.0. A second round of funding is underway as part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2023 Next Level Agenda.

“Being a recipient for the first round of READI 1.0 made a huge difference for us; it was the final push we needed to complete our building,” said Breanna Allen, executive director of the Tolson Center for Community Excellence, in a press release. “The vision for the Tolson Center is to be a place where people feel welcomed, supported, inspired and uplifted, and do so through equity and opportunity. The future is bright for Tolson, and we are well on our way.”

The center, formerly known as the Booker T. Washington Center, was founded in the 1920s to welcome African Americans moving to Elkhart. In the 1990s, it was renamed after Ruth and Herbert Tolson, two longtime employees. The loss of funding caused the center to close in 2018.

But the center was not forgotten. In 2020, citizens formed a nonprofit hoping to rebuild the center.

“The loss of the Tolson Center was painful for the community,” said Bethany Hartley, president and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Breanna Allen, alongside community leaders and the Tolson team, undertook the massive effort by building a strong community partnership to revitalize the neighborhood. It’s exciting to see this beautiful building bringing people together.”

Work on the new facility began in May of 2022. The dream was realized in late 2023 with a building that doubles the original space at almost 30,000 square feet. It includes two gymnasiums. Programming, which includes, academics, health and wellness, performing arts, recreation, social services and visual arts, is free for members.  

Caption: The reimagined Tolson Center in Elkhart opened late last year. (Provided by Tolson Center)


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