St. Stephen’s Community House CEO Marilyn Mehaffie has many goals for the agency’s future, but they could all be summed up by one basic objective: putting herself out of a job.
“I would love to make ourselves obsolete,” Mehaffie says. “Or maybe we stay, and evolve, and become a different St. Stephen’s than we are today. … We’ve been here in Linden since 1965; we’ve been around since 1919. We want to be here as long as the community needs us, so as the community evolves and transitions, St. Stephen’s should follow.”
Mehaffie has seen some of that evolution firsthand. She joined St. Stephen’s as a group worker in 1988, rising through the ranks to become CEO in 2017. That experience “has really given me a good base of information to take this agency forward, and it’s also given me the knowledge of the neighborhood and how we fit in,” she says.
In the short term, the agency aims to focus on increasing community engagement, both among its members and with the agency itself, Mehaffie says. But that collaboration should extend further, to include partnerships between St. Stephen’s and other organizations. “We want to continue to be a catalyst for change in the community, but we know we can’t do it ourselves,” Mehaffie explains. “We want to be a partner. There are some things that other people do very well that we don’t do. So let’s collaborate with those people!”
Michael Kelley, chair of the St. Stephen’s board, notes that Mehaffie’s commitment to a collaborative culture is admirable—and somewhat rare.
“I think she is selfless in that respect; that for her, the biggest priority is the mission of St. Stephen’s,” he says.
Kelley’s involvement with the agency runs in the family. The six-year board member and first-year chair points to his father’s and grandfather’s board memberships as giving him a long memory of the agency’s services.
“St. Stephen’s has been very effective at focusing on the families and trying to strengthen the family unit,” he says. He points to the Family to Family initiative and the OhioHealth Food and Nutrition Center as two key safety-net programs that serve the agency’s mission of strengthening families and empowering the community. Because Linden is so large and among Columbus’ most impoverished neighborhoods, he explains, it can be difficult to move the needle on the community’s biggest problems.
Both Kelley and Mehaffie note, however, that despite Linden’s struggle—or perhaps because of it—community pride and dedication to improvement are high.
“I think the people in Linden are very interested in seeing their neighborhood improve, and they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and be part of the solution,” Kelley says. Empowering them to do so, by strengthening families, is what St. Stephen’s is all about, Mehaffie adds.
“I think the idea of being an organization that is at the community level, that is grassroots and is focused on listening to and truly understanding the needs of the residents, is an important aspect of our tradition,” says Kelley. “I think we need to hold onto that going forward in the next 100 years.”
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Originally published in St. Stephen’s Community House: A Century of Service by Gatehouse Media, LLC. Written by Emma Frankart Henterly. Original Title: The Future of Families. Used with permission.