Ben Hill Community Center in north Tulsa getting fresh start

TULSA, Okla. — A north Tulsa community center is getting a fresh start after almost being abandoned and torn down by the City of Tulsa.

The Reed Foundation is taking over the Ben Hill Community Center on MLK Boulevard and East Latimer Place, and it recently received its largest capital commitment for the project yet with Tulsa-based energy company Williams donating one hundred thousand dollars annually to the center for the next five years totaling half of a million dollars.

The City of Tulsa agreed to take on a landlord-like role with The Reed Foundation when it comes to ownership of the community center, but aside from owning the building in the legal documents, the foundation is going to be able to rent the building out for free for years to come.

The center officially closed its doors around 12 years ago, and since then, has sat abandoned at risk of being torn down. However many people who either grew up in the area or live next to the center today have been hoping for a change in fortunes.

That change came when Coach Keith Reed who does major community outreach efforts in north Tulsa to give kids and teens positive after-school alternatives envisioned a revival of the building. The city agreed to fix up neighboring Ben Hill Park if Reed and his foundation would take over and re-purpose the community center.

As word got out about the center’s revival, some employees at Williams who grew up in the area asked their employer to lend a helping hand to the revival, and the company not only agreed to send out a donation, employees said the company decided to donate far beyond what they asked.

Employee Erma Matthews was one of those who proposed the company step up and help the center and told FOX23, “we wanted to do something for the one-hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, but we also wanted to do something that is forward-looking and will continue to do good long after the remembrance events are over. This was a great way to do that.”

Matthews went on to say, “when they agreed to it, I was excited, but then they said they were going to go in on the project for far more than we proposed, and we were just overwhelmed and so proud.”

Williams half of a million-dollar gift spread out over the next five years will go towards something the center never had in its original operations, a STEM lab where students will learn about science and technology and 21st-century jobs they can have right in Tulsa.

In honor of the gift, the lab will be known as The Williams Stem Lab at the Ben Hill Community Center.

Because this is an on-going capital campaign, The Reed Community Foundation is still fundraising for repairs, renovations, and long-term operating expenses for the rest of the building, but they hope to open their doors to their first programs in May.

Reed said his foundation will continue to use its original location on Lewis for some programs for younger children, and then as they grow up, they will transition over to the Ben Hill Community Center.