Some might call Ruth Anne Wolfe a pioneer.
At the very least, she’s responsible for spearheading some of the biggest developments in Pleasant Ridge, including the 10-year-old Pleasant Ridge Montessori school (PRM) and, her most recent venture, Community Happens Here.
“I think we are doing a really great job of truly integrating the community [at PRM] but when those kids leave there, they re-divide along economic lines,” she says. “Our whole society is completely divided along economics.”
Her solution is to create a space that is “completely and intentionally” open to people of all backgrounds and income levels, and she was lucky enough to find a building at 6238 Montgomery Road, which is situated in an area of heavy foot traffic, across from the Pleasant Ridge branch of the library and just north of the business district.
Wolfe’s vision is beyond your average community center: Ultimately, she views the space as an experimental model for different ways of being with each other and different ways of paying to make it sustainable.
“We build community through conversation and entrepreneurship,” she says. “It’s a space where conversation can happen and where entrepreneurship can be ignited.”
And it will be designed for all ages, both as a place for kids to hang out that doesn’t involve spending money — like shopping or meeting at restaurants or coffee houses — a coworking spot, and an entrepreneurial incubator. Her concepts are brilliant in their simplicity, like the idea that there could be 100 ways to pay for your coffee.
You could play music, pick up trash, TerraCylce, or create artwork, Wolfe explains.
Felting at the Pleasant Ridge "Second Sunday" concert on Mother's Day.
“If you have worth by what you can do and be, that opens up a whole other path that’s not charity and it’s not the market economy,” she says.
Our worth in America, she continues, is so tied to materialism and money, but often the most valuable things people bring to the table are skills and talents.
Along these same lines, she has a plan for a coworking space that operates on a sliding scale, with a commitment to support nonprofits and community members. For $100, you can use the space for 40 hours a month, $250 buys you full time, and $350 sponsors you and someone else full time.
She also hopes to help budding entrepreneurs through what she calls a one-dollar startup, which is an adult version of the coffee cup curriculum she created at PRM to teach students about running a business.
“I think that there’s lots of help out there for a person who’s at the $3,000 or $300,000 level,” she says, “but lots and lots of people need to learn what it means to take $1 and make it $2.”
She piloted the program before the building had heat, and they ended up talking to local restaurant and business owners about their startup process. “It’s kind of a click-bait name,” she says, “but I believe in it. At Scrap It Up, if you took $.50, you could take it and make something out of it [and sell it.] I hope to use that curriculum and that process to talk to people about creating economic prosperity for themselves.”
To do this, she connects with and meets people from around the city through “Radical Sidewalk Hospitality,” where she sets up shop — coffee and community — literally on the sidewalk, and people can meet up for free drinks and conversation.
“The new world-class meeting facility,” she says, “is the sidewalk.”
Most of Community Happens Here’s programming will hopefully begin in fall of 2019 after Wolfe receives the building permit and fixes up the inside. For now, Radical Sidewalk Hospitality (#SidewalkLife) will take place every Tuesday in June and July from 10 a.m. to noon. Second Sundays, an afternoon of live music, crafts, and activities, will happen through September. All events are at 6238 Montgomery Road in Pleasant Ridge (unless otherwise noted). Events are free but donations are appreciated.