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Photo Credit: Tatiana Wheeler













On Saturday, April 9, NSO will host its 60th Anniversary Gala & Fundraiser at the Motor City Casino Hotel and Sound Board 

For 60 years, Detroit-based Neighborhood Service Organization (NS0) has been a beacon of hope and salvation for men, women, youth and entire families in need throughout metropolitan Detroit. Operating under the banner and motto of, “Always Within Reach,” the non-profit organization has provided life-altering and supportive programs to positively impact the community’s most vulnerable individuals.

Diverse and innovative programs and services offered by NSO, include mental health advocacy, addiction treatment, crisis intervention/suicide prevention, homelessness advocacy services, early childhood education, youth leadership, workforce development, violence prevention, supportive housing development and more.

While NSO has been extremely impactful in delivering comprehensive services, perhaps one of its most shining accomplishments was the 2013 transformation of the old Michigan Bell Building and Western Electric Warehouse, located at 882 Oakman Blvd. on Detroit’s west side, near Highland Park.

Now called the NSO Bell Building, the renovated edifice, which carried a revitalization price tag of $52 million, opened on Oct. 23, 2013. The facility has 155 one-bedroom apartments for 155 individuals who were once homeless. The NSO Bell Building is the largest permanent supportive housing unit of its kind for homeless adults in the state. The organization also maintains its corporate headquarters at the NSO Bell Building.

“To have people who were homeless, now living in this building was a major accomplishment,” said Sheilah P. Clay, NSO’s president and CEO.  “This building sat empty for 10 years before it was renovated. So I get great joy when I see people move in who 24 hours earlier were homeless. I get a greater joy when they move out. They don’t have to move out, because this is permanent housing and they can stay here for the rest of their lives. But when they move out, it means they’ve gone back to school, gotten jobs, and can now make it on their own. To see this growth and development of people who were once homeless is very special.”


Photo Credit: Tatiana Wheeler

Clay added that when homeless people move into the apartments, it’s crucial that NSO offers certain amenities that give individuals a sense of a new community.

“When you move someone off the streets, you still have to recognize that they have to build a new sense of community inside the building, which is much different from the communities that they had on the streets,” Clay pointed out.  “So we have a fitness center, computer lab, library, an art workshop, a chapel, and more, all of which are for learning, socialization and health purposes.”

Clay said that NSO is proud of its 60-year history of serving the community’s most vulnerable populations. Thus, the organization is presenting a special event to celebrate its past, as well as raise needed funds to help pay for current and future services. Therefore, on Saturday, April 9, NSO will host its 60th Anniversary Gala & Fundraisers at the MotorCity Casino Hotel and Sound Board, 2901 Grand River Ave. in Detroit. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and will include dinner, live music, a cash bar, silent auction and an awards presentation. Individual tickets are $100 and must be purchased in advance at www.nso-mi.org.

According to Clay, NSO will honor numerous individuals and organizations at the gala/fundraiser that have supported NSO’s mission. Organizations to be honored are inclusive of the City of Detroit, The Kresge Foundation, Southwest Solutions, and Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.

Individuals who will be saluted are Vickie Thomas (WWJ Newsradio city beat reporter), Ray C. Johnson (NSO Board Chair), and Dr. Kathiravelu Thabolingam (NSO Psychiatrist and former medical director). A special tribute will be paid to former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who Clay said was instrumental in the NSO Bell Building coming to fruition.

Vickie Thomas on being honored.

“First and foremost, I absolutely love NSO and the work that it does; so to be selected to receive the organization’s Impact Award is a tremendous honor,” said Thomas, a 25-year news veteran, who also serves as president of the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. “DCNABJ actually raised money to help furnish one of the apartments at the new NSO Bell Building. It’s something that we were really passionate about doing.”

For Clay, rendering top leadership to NSO has been a labor of love for almost 20 years. Clay’s professional experience began in mental health for a local African American psychiatrist who operated several area clinics. Clay had already earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and secondary education from Spelman College, and ultimately, a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Wayne State University.

Clay would go on to work 12 years as a therapist and hold several directorship positions at Kirwood Mental Health Center, followed by a five-year stint as an administrator for the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. About 20 years ago, a director at DWMHA was hired to take a high-level administrative position at NSO and asked Clay to join her. Clay agreed and served as NSO’s deputy director for program administration, before being elevated to director. And as the old saying goes…the rest is history.

While NSO prepares to celebrate its past six decades, Clay has eyes on the future.

“As we look forward to our next 60 years, we want to greatly expand what we are doing in terms of services, and we want to do more in real estate development,” she said. “We have a whole world in front of us.   We can’t rest, because there are still major needs out there that people have. So we will celebrate our past on April 9, but are excited about our future.”

For more information on NSO programs and services, or to purchase tickets for the organization’s 60th anniversary gala and fundraiser, call 313.961.4890, or log on to www.nso-mi.org.


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