Founded in 1920 by Methodist women, who named their new venture Wesley Community House, the organization’s original focus was on one specific neighborhood in south Oklahoma City. The founders sought to make a positive difference in the lives of impoverished, post-WWI families in the Riverside neighborhood, where many immigrant families lived at the time.
Wesley Community House had its own 1,400-volume public library, a music department for 25 children, choirs, Blue Bird and Camp Fire clubs for girls, a mothers club, literacy and citizenship classes and numerous activities for children and youth that kept them safe. Staff members made on average 2,500 contacts monthly with residents in the neighborhood. It was a thriving human services enterprise that made a profound and positive difference in the lives of thousands of Oklahoma City residents.
As the organization grew, so did its vision and its determination that the time was right to help other neighborhoods in Oklahoma City.
In 1946, it helped found Bethlehem Center in the northeast part of the city, home to Oklahoma City’s predominantly African-American population. Bethlehem Center’s programs were similar to those at Wesley Community House and they, too, helped transform the lives of children, families and the elderly for many years.
The two settlement houses were thriving, and much of their success was attributable to their holistic approach to helping residents. They represented safe and caring gathering spots, where human needs were met on many different levels.
They sought to bring people together and at the same time, meet the specific needs of individual households to foster family unity and stability.
A NEW ERA
In 1969, Wesley Community House and Bethlehem Center joined with Neighborhood Centers, Inc. a not-for-profit organization with multiple locations in the metro area. After the merger, they became one entity: Neighborhood Services Organization, referred to today simply as NSO.
The new organization now had a much larger community to serve and two critically important revenue streams for accomplishing its work: the United Methodist Church and several of its divisions, and United Appeal, which is today called the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
As the organization has grown over the decades, it has been creative in the way it approaches the challenges faced by low-income Oklahoma City residents, always willing to change as society’s needs evolved. Several programs it started and nurtured have been spun off as separate and highly successful nonprofits. They include: the Detox Center, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Mobile Meals and Positive Tomorrows.
NSO remains true to its rich heritage as a faith-based organization; however, it is non-sectarian and does not discriminate against anyone seeking services.