When St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church closed in 2008, the Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, Thomas Breidenthal, made a commitment to continue to have a ministry presence in the Avondale community. In order for that presence to meet the needs of the community, he connected with several community organizations and listened. By early 2009 the topics that emerged included job training and development, youth offenders, the need for entrepreneurial training and the absence of fresh food alternatives and nutrition education. The Bishop’s notes ended with this, “There is a consensus that this entire project should involve a broad ecumenical, interfaith and civic base.”
In 2008, the diocese granted use of a portion of the grounds to the Avondale Community Council for the Do Right!® Teen Garden lead by The Center for Closing the Health Gap, funded by Place Matters. The garden provided fresh vegetables, along with nutrition and healthy eating training to the teens in the summer from 2008-2010. The garden also resulted in the establishment of a Farmers Market stand managed by the Avondale Youth Council.
Meanwhile, Calvary Episcopal Church in Clifton provided oversight to the property on Reading Road, and continued to give support to former St. Michael and All Angels parishioner Audrey Scott, whose feeding and clothing ministry (Mom’s Meals) continued beyond the last worship service. And in 2009, Calvary Church enlisted the work of the Easter Seals Youth Build program to begin some much need maintenance and renovation work on the property.
By the middle of 2009 the number of civic partners was substantial, and each organization was beginning to see possibilities and benefits for a center in the former church. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Hamilton County Community Action Agency, the Avondale Community Council, Place Matters, LISC and others were committing time, energy, ideas and resources to the conversation. The partners continued in conversation, and by early 2010, physical plans for the renovation of the former church parish hall were being discussed.
In June 2010, the Bishop’s Advisory Board was created and shortly thereafter the name Gabriel’s Place was chosen. The mission statement, “to provide a safe, beautiful, and spiritually nourishing place for the Avondale Community to gather in mutual respect to learn, interact, and go out in peace,” became the banner under which future programming opportunities would be defined. Spring 2011 brought the implementation of the envisioned ‘hoop house’ and the hiring of Troy Frasier, with the generosity of LISC’s AmeriCorps program, to begin to develop and build an aquaponic system in the hoop house. Avondale Youth Council began to revision the garden, and Leslie Stevenson, another Americorps VISTA staff member, came on board in July. Fall 2010 arrived with several partners providing financial resources for the continuation of the program: The Diocese of Southern Ohio Trustees provided up to $400,000; Hamilton County Community Action Agency committed funding for kitchen equipment through ARRA*; Chase Bank provided $90,000; Children’s Hospital, LISC and other partners gave both dollars directly and by funding staff positions. In October 2010 Carla Butler was hired as the Program Manager, and by November construction began.
Gabriel’s Place would not be here without the generosity of many individuals and partners who have contributed in small ways to make the larger vision come to fruition. Gabriel’s Place was dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 30, 2011. A proclamation from Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed September 30, 2011 as Gabriel’s Place Day in Cincinnati.