Dowagiac woman works to care for her community

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

DOWAGIAC — Sitting inside of the Dowagiac District Library last week, Dowagiac’s Selina Ivens was buzzing with excitement.

A dedicated community servant, a smile was never far from Iven’s face as she discussed her latest project, which she believes will help many in the community.

“It’s going to be a good thing for so many people,” she said. “Of course, I’m excited. It is exciting. I’m excited because I know that it is needed here.”

Ivens, 53, was born and raised in Dowagiac. Over the years, she has been involved in many projects from providing meals to area seniors to helping to send local children to summer camps. Now, she is onto her next project, which will serve both area women and young adults released from the foster care system.

After three years of work, Ivens is starting to see an end in sight for the Grace Center and Sarah’s House, both of which will be located on Front Street in Dowagiac.

Sarah’s House will be a housing program for young adults recently released from foster care. Ivens said Sarah’s House would teach young adults that have aged out of the foster care system life skills that will help them be productive community members.

“It is mainly to help them come into the community with some adult skills,” she said. “We want to let them know that we have a college here, trade schools in the area, good factories and other jobs here. We want to teach them the benefits of sticking to a job.”

Ivens hopes to open Sarah’s House by September.

The other part of the project will be the Grace Center, which Ivens said she hopes to open by spring 2020. The Grace Center will be a women’s daycare similar to St. Margaret’s House in South Bend.

“During the day, women will be able to come here and receive breakfast and lunch, and there will be workshops,” Ivens said of her plans for the center. “It will be all about empowering the women in Cass County to be of value. It’s not about being successful. It will be about being of value to yourself and our county.”

By opening the Grace Center and Sarah’s House, Ivens said she hopes to do what she has always done, which is give back to the community and provide a safe space to get help to those who need it.

“I never thought that it would become all this. It just started out as helping in the community,” she said. “I’ve needed help along the way, so I’m just giving that help back.”

Ivens said she is continuously inspired to give back to Dowagiac because of the community members — such as Robert Davidson Mary Ann Sheperd, Corrina Ottinger, Tracy Lofton and Janet Abiney — that always give back and help her complete her various projects. She said she is also inspired by the long history her family has in the area, as her ancestors came to Cass County as freedom-seeking slaves.

As she goes forward in her life, Ivens said she plans to continue on her mission to care for Dowagiac and the people who live there, something she hopes Sarah’s House and the Grace Center will help accomplish.

“I have always felt the need to give back [to Dowagiac],” she said. “We are very blessed to live here. I know people who have worked very hard just to get to a place like Dowagiac, and we were born here. It’s an honor to be able to help with the community.”

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, Leader Publications will be recognizing African American individuals who are making an impact in the communities of Cassopolis, Buchanan, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Niles. Next up is Dowagiac’s Selina Ivens.