Alice Poindexter spent 30 years living abroad only to return to the South Linden home where she had spent so much of her childhood.
In the 1950s, the modest two-story home near the corner of Hamilton and 14th avenues came to encapsulate her youth, and Poindexter was pleased to see little of its charm had faded or been replaced with renovations when she bought it in 2001. Poindexter is one of nine siblings and her eldest sister had lived in the house for years, but was preparing to move into a new build in Canal Winchester.
“It brought back so many memories,” said Poindexter, 75.
Still, as Poindexter and her husband, Knud Manniche — a man she met and married while living in Denmark’s capital of Copenhagen — settled in over the years, she noticed the aging home was in need of some repairs. But after retiring from a career in child care, she didn’t have the funds to pay for any home improvements herself.
Then earlier this year, she received a flyer in the mail for a program offering free home repairs to Linden residents who qualified. She didn’t think she’d be eligible, but a day later she figured she had nothing to lose to at least apply.
To her delight, she was approved.
In late spring, a team spent a few days replacing her home’s beige siding with vibrant burgundy siding she thinks is reminiscent of an iconic red barn. Workers also replaced outdoor light fixtures and added window and door trimming.
“Each time I looked at the house I said I wished I could get it done,” Poindexter said. “I was so happy when I was accepted — it gave my house a whole new look.”
Poindexter’s home received the makeover courtesy of the Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families (HNHF), a Nationwide Children’s Hospital program that is invested in improving housing and quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. Launched in 2008 on the South Side, the program expanded in 2019 to the Linden area as an extension of that neighborhood’s One Linden plan.
The hospital’s program is a collaboration of sorts with the help from faith-based groups, community development and workforce organizations, youth-serving nonprofits and local public schools.
Often, a person’s ZIP code of residence dictates their overall health and life expectancy, which depends on the health care available, income levels, transportation, housing, crime and more.
Whether someone has adequate plumbing or a refrigerator that works, also has an outsized impact on what their health may be said Dr. Mysheika Roberts. That’s why, Roberts said, it’s important for hospitals like Nationwide Children’s to invest in preventative measures such as Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families instead of simply treating patients as issues arise.
Over time, HNHF will help to erode the ZIP code-health correlation and things to watch are school attendance. There are also already some signs that health issues, such as asthma, is starting to decline among children on the South Side, Roberts said.
“Health is more than health care. It’s really about the environment you live in. … I’d love for more money to come to public health but, I know we can’t do it alone,” Roberts said. “That’s why Nationwide Children’s is trying to do some public health work and I love it.”
Starting on the South Side to reduce dangerous conditions inside homes
Hospital leaders decided to launch the program as they began to see more children with preventable health issues seeking treatment at Nationwide Children’s.
One day a kid might show up in the emergency room with led poisoning after chewing on a windowsill that contained the material, said Patty McClimon, chief strategy officer. Another day, she said it might have been a child who fell of a porch or another adolescent who got caught up in gang violence.
The rise in those types of incidents, McClimon said, made officials realize the hospital and its offerings weren’t integrated well enough into their own community.
“We realized that, here we are a world-class health care provider and kids in our own backyard have avoidable health concerns,” McClimon said.
Since its inception 13 years ago, the program has built or improved more than 400 properties in communities around the hospital, according to Nationwide Children’s. Now, Nationwide Children’s is bringing the program to Linden, where it aims to tailor its approach to helping families in that specific neighborhood of Columbus.
The program will remain a focus for the hospital and was included as a key point in Nationwide Children’s updated strategic plan this week, which calls for $3.3 billion in investments into programs, research and new buildings through 2026. The hospital recently announced that $2 million of a $10-million donation from the Nationwide Foundation will go toward its Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Families initiative as it continues to expand efforts in the Linden neighborhood.
When Nationwide Children’s first kicked off its healthy neighborhoods push, it looked to its immediate surroundings on the South Side.
For help, the hospital turned to the Community Development for All People, a nonprofit group operated by the United Methodist Church on Parsons Avenue that has long focused much of its efforts on renovating, fixing and building housing on the South Side.
In 2019, Mike Premo was photographing a new building on the South Side to advertise on the social media channels for Community Development for All People. He didn’t know it at the time, but Premo was in fact photographing the home he would soon purchase himself.
Premo, 50, the director of engagement for the nonprofit organization, had been renting a duplex in Hungarian Village on Columbus’ South Side as home ownership eluded him.
Constructed on a vacant lot, the Deshler Avenue home was the first house sold as a component of the Central Ohio Community Land Trust, Premo said, which ensures the home will be permanently affordable to income-eligible buyers.
There’s no doubt to Premo that the affordable housing option was for him the difference between being a homeowner and a renter.
“Were it not for this program, I don’t know that I would have been able to afford buying a house,” said Premo, who shares custody of a 10-year-old daughter. “This probably made the difference and it’s been a great source of joy for me to be able to live in this house.”
Home improvement a ‘long-term play’ for children’s health
McClimon and her colleagues know they may not see the benefits of the Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families push for years, but that’s OK.
She sees the program as a “long-term play” with an end-goal of improving the health of kids who would eventually grow into adults.
It’s one thing, McClimon said, to be able to treat adults who are suffering from preventable conditions. But it’s more helpful if programs like Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families can prevent them in the first place, McClimon said.
It may take decades for that progress to show up, but it means children might not suffer the same health difficulties for which their parents once struggled. Preventative health care also benefits Nationwide Children’s as healthy patients cost the hospital less over time, McClimon said.
Often, Nationwide Children’s has found that people want to continue living in their homes. They just can’t afford a $15,000 roof or siding replacement, said Patrice Allen Brady, a project manager for the healthy homes initiative who is working to expand the project in Linden.
“They’re really grateful,” Allen Brady said. “I meet a lot of people who are long-term residents who love the community and want to stay there.”
Poindexter is among the residents who is grateful for their outreach.
When she returned to her childhood home 20 years ago, the house may have been the same, but she said the surrounding neighborhood had changed — and not for the better.
Gone were the days, she said, when everyone seemed to know their neighbors by name. Children no longer play under the street lights, she said, fearful as they are of the danger that may lurk nearby.
But she feels hopeful that the Healthy Neighborhood Healthy Family project will help to transform the neighborhood’s homes, and with it — the neighborhood’s culture.
“We have a lot of empty homes that are boarded up, and most of the homes are renters now,” Poindexter said. “With this program, if they continue to fix these homes up, I think we’ll have a whole new neighborhood in a matter years.”