Mary Wilson was a teacher and a mother, raising her child in the same Ironwood neighborhood of Toledo where she had spent her entire life. She had many happy memories of the men and women who had kept the area clean and safe and vital for so many years. But one day, she had to face the fact that her community had changed, and not for the better.
“I had a daughter, my sister had a son, and we had nowhere to take them to play. That’s when we had to stop and look around and realize that our neighborhood wasn’t our neighborhood anymore,” Wilson said. “We were single, working moms, and we weren’t paying attention to how our neighborhood had declined.”
They began working with the Ironwood Co-Op Community Awareness Organization, trying to have an impact on a new generation of families through neighborhood beautification efforts and various programs. Wilson and her sister became advocates for positive change over the years, establishing Edgar Holmes Park and JD Carter Community Garden. In 2015, the organization changed its focus and its name to Project ER.
“ER stands for embracing and restoring family. We saw that was where the need was the most. We were raised to respect family, love the family, and be a positive and constructive family, which is what is lacking right now,” Wilson said. “The goal is to carry on the family legacy.”
The community garden came about when a local church approached Toledo GROWs with the idea of sharing their lot as a way to give back to the community. Wilson saw this as the perfect opportunity to bring local families together.
“We’re teaching them a skill, something they can use to feed their families healthier food, to watch things grow and to be a part of that process. It’s been a win-win all the way around. It’s been gratifying to see the growth that’s being made by these parents and children.”
Wilson, a former Toledo Head Start teacher for eighteen years, still has a heart for children. She often speaks at schools and organizations about bullying prevention and intervention, a message that is important to her after her own 12 year old niece died of suicide. Through summer camps and workshops, such as Project H.O.R.S.E., the team of volunteers are able to educate and empower the children who attend.
“The equestrian program was brought about in order to give our children an outlet. That’s one of our biggest goals is providing them an outlet and a platform for their voices to be heard. Also, to teach them the power of their words and the things that make bullying dangerous.”
Project ER has also partnered with Toledo School for the Arts to offer musical theater workshops, and children have had the opportunity to perform for the families.
Recently, a building was donated to the project, with the idea to use the space for year-round programming. Located just behind the park and near the community garden, the Family Cultural Performing Arts Center is a work in progress. The hope is to use this facility for a dance studio, recording studio, community theater space, and family wellness center.
On February 23, from 5-8pm, the Tolhouse Social Club will be hosting a fundraiser, with the hope of bringing in corporate sponsors and donors who will help with the building’s rehabilitation.
“We’re trying to get 75 individuals from the business world to come out and see what we have, what we are doing, and get a better understanding of what Project ER is all about.”
For more information on Project ER, visit projecterinc.org.