Charity Spotlight: Allen Neighborhood Center

Strengthening Lansing's Eastside through accessible food, health, and housing programs.

Allen Neighborhood Center is rejuvenating Lansing’s Eastside by identifying pain points within the community and introducing programs to address their needs. By directly involving residents, the center helps build a strong, united, and sustainable neighborhood.

In this charity spotlight, I spoke with the Director of Allen Neighborhood Center, Joan Nelson.

Origin Story

Allen Neighborhood Center was established in 1999. By the end of the year, they had space and the meager funds needed to roll out programs for the surrounding community. This was an important year for the center, but its roots go back even further.

In 1996, the Sparrow Health System wanted to bolster the neighborhood surrounding them. The desire was to boost the surrounding community by improving the overall health and quality of life of people close by. A summit was held, a plan was made, and more than 500 people volunteered!

Sparrow hired Joan to pioneer the plan. A community policing trial was started and neighbor-friendly access to health and housing information was provided. Meanwhile, summits were held in surrounding communities, support continued to grow, and legislation was introduced to encourage collaboration across public services.

After three years of great results, Allen Neighborhood Center was ready for its debut.


Allen Neighborhood Center has a huge suite of programs that improve the well-being of Lansing’s Eastside. Many of the programs are also available to the public at large and not just local residents.

Allen Market Place offers a number of food-related services including a year-round farmers market, a food business incubator, rental space, classes and workshops, locally-grown veggie boxes, and an online food market.

The center also runs the Hunter Park GardenHouse, an educational project that offers gardening workshops, at-home gardening assistance, plant starters, an edible park, and youth programs. Multi-season CSAs (community supported agriculture) can also be purchased or acquired with volunteer work.

Some of the center’s health programs include a market walk, a Breast Health Club, access to health care coverage, and scheduling assistance for doctor appointments. Their housing assistance programs give residents access to emergency shelters, local electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Counseling and information about foreclosure prevention, flood preparedness, home restoration, and more is also available.

A complete list of Allen Neighborhood Center’s programs is available on their website.

For Nonprofits

While growing Allen Neighborhood Center, Joan refined a cycle for introducing programs in a timely manner and goes as follows. First, work with your stakeholders to form a plan that addresses their needs. Then, gather funds and implement that plan. Repeat this process frequently to keep your stakeholders engaged and let your organization adjust to their recent concerns.

Big Wins

In 2004, the center was able to associate food insecurity with a lack of transportation amongst many of the residents. The Allen Farmers Market was created to provide access to healthy foods within walking distance of the neighborhood.

The following year, they became the first nonprofit market to accept food stamps. Allen Neighborhood Center has many examples of quickly identifying community needs and introducing programs to address them.

According to Joan, successfully growing and sustaining a wide variety of programs in this way is one of the center’s greatest accomplishments.


The center has shown that they can sustain their current programs, but Joan would like to see these programs strengthened. At a broad level, this includes growing leadership, acquiring new technology and hardware to aid with operations, and improving volunteer recruitment.

Individual programs have opportunities to offer more to the community as well. For example, accessibility of the market could be improved by introducing satellite locations throughout the neighborhood.

For Volunteers and Donors

Whether you choose to donate your time or your money to a charity, think of your donation as an investment. The help you provide will be amplified by the number of lives you touch and the energy you invest will come back to you.

Get Involved

If you want to learn more about Allen Neighborhood Center, you can reach them by clicking one of the buttons below.

Photographs courtesy of the Allen Neighborhood Center.