An ‘early vision:’ Dayton woman rebuilding nation’s first Black YWCA

Honoring Black History

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The former Kuntz Mansion, located on Paul Laurence Dunbar Street in West Dayton, is seeing a new chapter in its story written. 

The mansion was built in 1825. Today it is one of the few buildings left in the city with the same architecture and materials, like limestone. In 2020, the National Park Services awarded $500,000 to protect and restore the building.

The mansion has more history than just its structure. It is also where the Historic Summit Street Young Women’s Christian Association (or Westside Y) was located. This chapter of the YWCA has the significance of being the first African-American YWCA in the country. 

Chartered in 1889, the YWCA offered a place for the city’s African-American women to gather for education, camaraderie and work for the community. 

In 2020, Early Visions, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, acquired the National Park Service grant to revitalize the historic mansion. President and CEO of Early Visions, Elizabeth Early-Gainous, intends to turn it into the Early Visions Purpose Center. 

“This has been my life journey. It’s just a blessing when God gives you an assignment and you’re able to see it… here is my assignment,” Early-Gainous said while pointing to the building currently under construction. 

Early-Gainous once attended the YWCA in the 1960s. She said she learned to read, write, sew, sing, and also how to make an impact. Now, she is working to recreate that with the Early Visions Purpose Center. When it opens in the summer of 2023, it will become a community center for all. They will offer tutoring, creative writing classes, an audio and video recording studio and a women’s history museum. 

Early-Gainous has assembled a board of directors to help strategize and plan for the future of the Purpose Center. Since the summer of 2020, they have focused on cleaning efforts around the mansion grounds. Since the winter, restoration efforts have slowed. The goal is to complete the project and reopen in 2023, so Early Visions is asking for volunteers. 

“This is a collaborative effort so everyone has to roll up their sleeves and make sure they get involved because at the end of the day we want to make sure that we have something to look back on that we brought to fruition. [A building] that was supposed to be torn down. Now that we are going to preserve it, lets make sure that its available for future generations to come,” said Carlos Buford, a cousin of Early-Gainous who is leading the volunteer and restoration efforts. 

They also say they are in need of donations of artifacts from those who once attended the YWCA. They will be creating a museum of women’s history in the halls of the mansion and would like to fill it with authentic pieces. 

Early Visions is also in need of members. A person purchasing a membership to their organization will help financially support their mission and progress. Details and information on membership will be released on February 1 in honor of Black History Month.

For more information on Early Visions, the Early Visions Purpose Center, and how you can support, click here

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