Allen Neighborhood Center Serves the People of Lansing

By Jane Whitttington on March 22nd, 2017 / Comments

In 1999, the Allen Neighborhood Center came into existence as a tool for community development specifically serving the neighborhood surrounding it. As it has grown and evolved, it has become all that and more. Its many programs, activities and services help the community in ways that continue to make the area vital and thriving. Based on its history, it is more than likely that even more programs will develop as the Center moves into its eighteenth year.

Joan Nelson, Director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, says, “Our organization focuses on the East side of Lansing. For the first ten years, we were intensely place-based. This quadrant of the city encompasses some 8,500 households, with a wide range of income diversity. It is a lively and richly diverse neighborhood. Demographically, we are about 18 percent African-American, twelve percent Hispanic, 60 percent white and four and a half percent multi-racial. About 25 percent of our population are at or below the poverty level. One is ten households is headed by someone who was not born in the United States; our written materials here are in seven different languages. This is one of the prime resettlement areas in the region.”

She continues, “The local Catholic Diocese has been supporting refugee resettlement for over 40 years, and we have seen that population grow until Lansing is second only to Detroit in the number of immigrants coming to our city. Our Center is part of the Ingham Refugee Consortium, a group of 20 organizations that work with refugees.”

The number of programs, events, services, outreach efforts, and opportunities for engagement is impressive. Whatever anyone in the community needs seems to be available at this bustling venue on East Kalamazoo Street in Lansing.

Programs include:

  • Housing assistance in terms of mortgage assistance, first-time home ownership, realtors and home repair resources and services;
  • Health coverage with information and enrollment assistance for Medicaid, the Ingham Health Plan, and the Affordable Care Act and help to find physicians;
  • Allen Farmers Market, a year-round market connecting local farmers with Lansing residents;
  • Hunter Park GardenPlace, an urban farm and garden center and educational facility;
  • BreadBasket Food Pantry, providing free food to Eastside residents;
  • Youth programs such as the Take Root Garden Club and Youth Corps programs for young people interested in health, nutrition and urban gardening;
  • Food subscription programs to provide healthy, local produce, eggs, bread, meat, coffee, pastries, and cheese;
  • Senior Discovery Group, which offers weekly coffee, conversation, and guest speakers;
  • Facility rental;
  • The Exchange, which links local farmers to buyers such as schools, grocers, restaurants, buying clubs, and hospitals,
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares during the summer;
  • Many classes, events and guest speakers.

Nelson says, “We do all this with six full-time employees, three AmeriCorps members and 12 or so interns. In addition, we have over 400 volunteers. We couldn’t do all the work we do without our volunteers.”

A non-profit, Allen Neighborhood Center relies on grant monies, public monies, and donations.

For farmers and food growers, classes offered include Who Licenses Your Food Business, Developing a Farm Safety Plan, Finances and Accounting for Food Businesses, and others.

Of particular interest to entrepreneurs are the kitchen incubator and the kitchen accelerator. The kitchen incubator, a fully-stocked and licensed professional kitchen is available for food professionals who are working to establish their businesses. A fee-for-use space, it is a low-cost option for entrepreneurs. Often, these small business owners will sell their products at the weekly, well-attended farmers market in the large space just outside the kitchen where the market is held. The accelerator kitchen is for those whose businesses are farther along but who still need space for production. The next step after the kitchen accelerator is going solo—continuing to develop businesses after a foundation at the Center. For all these individuals, there are business development workshops.

For more information on the Allen Neighborhood Center, visit their website at

Jane Whittington



About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.