The Tolson Center for Community Excellence empowers lives through inclusive learning, recreation, and cultural exchange, opening doors to bright futures.
The Tolson Center for Community Excellence will be a centerpiece for an enlivened South Central Elkhart, a premier destination for neighbors near and far, and a pathway to equity and opportunity for all.
The Tolson Center for Community Excellence grew out of the Booker T. Washington Center, a community center run by Herbert and Ruth Tolson, located in the former Benham West “village” as many residents called it from 1929-1950. It consistently served the African American community newly arriving in Elkhart. At that time, most of Elkhart was racially segregated through official and unofficial means, including discriminatory lending and housing practices. Under the premise of “urban renewal”, the city demolished the area, destroying the community center, homes, businesses and other community staples, and dispersing the residents. In the early 1990s residents living around the Tolson Center revamped an old car wash and made it into a place for their kids to have recreational, educational, and life formation experiences. Despite the area being socially destabilized and economically distressed, Benham West and its residents abound with innovation, creativity, and community dedication.
In 2020, Tolson was named a new independent 501 (c )3 as Tolson Center for Community Excellence which is becoming known in the community. As a new entity, we’re poised to recreate that positive experience for the next generations of youth, and expand programming to serve a wide range of ages.
Colored Community Center founded by Women's Christian Temperance Union, was located in the 800 block of South Sixth Street in Benham West
The name was changed to Booker T. Washington Settlement House in recognition of the acclaimed black academic, author, and political leader. Later the location was moved to the 1300 block of Sixth Street and had another name change to Booker T. Washington Community Center.
The Center was moved again to 409 St. Joseph St.
Ruth and Herbert Tolson became employees of Booker T. Washington Community Center, with Herbert as the Executive Director and Ruth as the Program Coordinator.
Ruth and Herbert Resigned from Booker T. Washington Community Center.
Tolson Community and Youth Center opened: A new community center came back into the neighborhood at 1320 Benham Ave. bestowed in memory of the service and dedication given to the neighborhood by Ruth and Herbert Tolson.
Tolson became an independent nonprofit organization with 501 (c) 3 status, establishing a self-governing board of directors and a strong governance structure, and renaming itself the Tolson Center for Community Excellence.
Transfer of ownership from the City of Elkhart to Tolson and a groundbreaking ceremony was held to signify a new beginning of a reimagined community center to be a place of equity and opportunity for all.
A new 30,000sq ft. facility will be/is built to serve the Elkhart Community at large.