The East Wayne Street Center was established in 1965 to help address and meet the needs of the central city neighborhood, one of the most neglected areas of Fort Wayne.
During 1963 the members of the Crescent Avenue Evangelical United Brethren Church of Fort Wayne, led by their senior pastor, Hunter Colpitts, and associate pastor, Elbert Tingley, began discussion of how they could take the initiative in non-church problems that faced the community. Toward the end of the summer of 1964, when the old, original building of the Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church came on the market, the Crescent Avenue congregation began to explore ways that they might use this facility. The old Turner Chapel Church was located at 801 East Wayne Street in the northern section of the East Central Neighborhood, and the Crescent Avenue Church was located about 8 blocks north across the St. Mary’s River. Prior to taking any action, extensive talks were held with the pastor o f Turner Chapel, with the officers of the East Central Civic Association, the principal of Harmar Elementary School and many other interested people in the community. In all cases the project was greeted with enthusiasm. In 1965 the facility was purchased and named the East Wayne Street Center (EWSC). It is important to note that the founders spelled out specifically that the center was to be non-sectarian, non-ecclesiastical, non-racial and non-cultural. It was to be religious only in the most basic sense of having concern to help individuals develop a healthy respect of themselves. Moreover, it was to be governed not by a board of directors, but by a council made of area citizens, members of the church, and other interested people. Irene Howe was the first executive director of the center.
Starting in 1965 and continuing on to the present day, the East Wayne Street Center has provided services for the East Central Neighborhood and for much of the city. The initial program to be implemented was a Head Start facility. This was the first Head Start in Fort Wayne and one of the first in Indiana. Its founding director was Margaret Earl. In 1980 this Head Start operation became the first in Indiana to receive accreditation from the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, and at the end of the twentieth century, it remained the only Head Start program in Fort Wayne to have this status. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Ed Elkins, its executive director from 1979 until 1997, the center added a clothing bank, a food bank, the Community Home Repair Program, and a GED preparation course called Project Solve. The center undertook a $1.3 million expansion and renovation project in the mid-1980s to upgrade its teaching capabilities and its administrative offices and to double the size of its Head Start operation. The capital project to achieve these improvements was led by Pastor Mel Phillips.
An outgrowth of the EWSC operations was the not-for-profit East Central Housing Corporation (ECHC), formed in 1997 “for charitable and educational purposes, to promote and foster low- and moderate-income housing and economic development in the East Central area of the City of Fort Wayne. The board of directors included a diverse mix of residents and business leaders who were interested in supporting housing and business improvements in the neighborhood. Over the next five years, working with the Fort Wayne Neighborhood Housing Project and with John Lehner, its executive director, the ECHC built eighteen new houses in the neighborhood. This effort was a catalyst for a broad upgrading and restoration of housing stock in the area that continues today. However, in September 2002, the ECHC was disbanded after losing the support of the East Central Neighborhood Association, and after contentious discussions between the ECHC, the neighborhood association, and the city over redevelopment plans.
At the end of the twentieth century the East Wayne Street Center continued to be a very positive force in the community and to serve as a gathering place and a focal point for providing service to lower income citizens of Fort Wayne. Under the leadership of its current executive director, Joe Jordan, programming continues to expand, and the number of families and individuals served continues to grow. The creation of this social service agency in the mid-1960s is an example o f the black and white communities coming together to work on common problems. In the 1960s, the East Wayne Street Center opened as a social agency for the poor, and among its proponents were Ian Rolland, an executive of the Lincoln National Life, and his wife Mimi.