In the Oklahoman:
It’s been called the granddaddy of Oklahoma City nonprofits.
And even though Neighborhood Services Organization is not quite the oldest local charity, it quietly has provided aid to overlooked and impoverished populations for almost 100 years.
It also has served as an incubator for numerous other nonprofits that trace their roots back to NSO including the Regional Food Bank, Latino Community Development Center, the Detox Center, Mobile Meals and Positive Tomorrows school for homeless children, said Stacey Ninness, NSO’s president and CEO.
“We’ve always served people where services haven’t been provided. Our mission has always been in serving the most critical needs here in Oklahoma City, and always wanting to serve the most vulnerable populations,” she said.
Besides a brand-new, low-cost dental clinic located in NSO headquarters at 431 SW 11, the nonprofit operates the state’s largest independent Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, clinic serving 54,000 in 2017.
NSO also offers transitional housing for up to two years for homeless pregnant women, homeless families with multiple children and young men who are 18 to 23 years of age through its Martha’s House, Gatewood and Carolyn Williams Center housing units.
“We are always full,” Ninness said. “We turn away about 300 moms per year.”
And through its Palo Duro program, NSO provides 36 apartments for homeless, single adults with a mental illness. The housing is permanent, and many residents have lived there for more than a decade.
“This is my home,” said “Miss Mickey,” a longtime resident at Palo Duro. “This is my family. We watch TV together. People like to come to my apartment for coffee in the morning. It’s just wonderful.”
Serving the most vulnerable
NSO was founded in 1920 by a handful of Methodist women who were concerned about impoverished, often immigrant families living in the Riverside neighborhood south of downtown.
Initially, it was called the Wesley Community House, and it “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,” according to the NSO website.
In 1946, the group founded a second location in northeast Oklahoma City called the Bethlehem Center, which served the primarily African-American neighborhoods with similar programs for children, families and the elderly.
For the next two decades, Wesley Community House and Bethlehem Center thrived. However, in 1969, the two facilities merged with Neighborhood Centers, a nonprofit with several locations, and the organization became Neighborhood Services Organization.
As for the next 100 years, Ninness said she sees all of the NSO programs expanding.
“We’ve been here 100 years, but we’re just scratching the surface as we plan for the future,” Ninness said. “We try to serve where no else is serving. We’re collaborative, we’re innovative. I can only imagine when the next century will bring for NSO.”