Elkhart’s Tolson Center is the South Bend – Elkhart Region’s First Completed READI Project

Tolson Opening

ELKHART, Ind. (February 29, 2024) – The Tolson Center for Community Excellence in Elkhart is the first of 17 capital projects receiving READI 1.0 funds in the South Bend – Elkhart region to complete construction and open for business. Located in the Benham West neighborhood, the Tolson Center represents a rebirth for a longstanding community resource.

“Being a recipient for the first round of READI 1.0 made a huge difference for us, it was the final push we needed to complete our building,” said Breanna Allen, Executive Director of the Tolson Center for Community Excellence. “The vision for the Tolson Center is to be a place where people feel welcomed, supported, inspired, and uplifted and do so through equity and opportunity. The future is bright for Tolson, and we are well on our way.”

The $16 million project received $2.6 million in READI 1.0 funds. Located in a federally recognized Qualified Census Tract, the Tolson Center is the first step in revitalizing the entire community by offering inclusive and equitable programs, building a sense of belonging for community, and highlighting the rich assets that exist in the neighborhood. The new building doubles  the square footage of the space to almost 30,000 square feet, features two gyms and provides an inclusive space for learning and recreation.

The South Bend – Elkhart region was the recipient of $50 million in Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative – or READI – 1.0 funds in 2021. In 2022, the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) awarded $40 million in to 17 of Quality of Place projects and $6.4 million in funding to 11 programs, resulting in an estimated $448 million in additional private and public investment. Gov. Eric Holcomb included the additional $500 million in READI 2.0 funds as part of his 2023 Next Level Agenda. It was approved by the Indiana General Assembly during the 2023 legislative session, and the RDA recently submitted its application. Regional allotments will be announced in April.

The community center was founded in the 1920s to serve the African American community newly arriving in Elkhart. Previously known as the Booker T. Washington Center, the center was renamed in the 1990s after Ruth and Herbert Tolson, two long-standing employees. The center closed in 2018, after losing funding.

The community rallied around the Tolson Center, and in 2020, it became a non-profit organization with the hope of rebuilding a center for the Benham West neighborhood. The new facility broke ground in May of 2022, opening in late 2023.

Today, the center offers programs ranging from the visual and performing arts, academics, health and wellness, recreation and social services for children, teenagers, adults, and seniors. There is no charge to become a member.

“The loss of the Tolson Center was painful for the community,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Breanna Allen, alongside community leaders and the Tolson team, undertook the massive effort by building a strong community partnership to revitalize the neighborhood. It’s exciting to see this beautiful building bringing people together.”

For more information on the Tolson Center for Community Excellence, visit www.tolson.org.

To see a video about the Tolson Center and READI, click here.


About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: educating a world-class workforce, recruiting and retaining great talent, attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing industries, promoting inclusion and sparking opportunities for minorities and helping entrepreneurs thrive. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit SouthBendElkhart.org.

About the Tolson Center for Community Excellence
The Tolson Center for Community Excellence builds off the foundation established by Herbert and Ruth Tolson and carried forward by the City of Elkhart for decades. A true community partnership—built on the feedback from residents—is creating a revitalized Tolson Center rooted in the Benham West Neighborhood, reaching across generations and cultures to serve all of the Elkhart community and beyond. This new chapter for Tolson is built on the core values of Growth, Accessibility, Stewardship, Integrity, Leadership and Legacy. Come visit us, become a member for free, sign up for free programs for all ages, or get involved! Learn more at www.tolson.org.

About the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA)
Formed in 2015, the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA) represents the three Indiana counties of Elkhart, Marshall, and St. Joseph. The RDA is overseen by a five-member board, each appointed by the mayors and commissioners of member counties and municipalities. The RDA is committed to the continued improvement of the South Bend – Elkhart region and receives staffing support from the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, the lead regional economic development organization for the region. For more information about RDA, click here.