At the climax of the civil rights movement across America blacks were embracing new freedoms and new threats. The wheels of justice were grinding but very slowly. Many became restless and chose to fight rather than to wait. Rioting broke out in West Dayton and chaos ensued. After days of rioting, the community was left in shambles both physically and spiritually. Hope seemed lost then there was a spark from the smoldering flames of violence. This spark was the Wesley Community Center.
Wesley Center was birthed in response to the civil rights and civil unrest that was occurring to address the needs of the West Side community in the spirit of Christian Faith. Wesley Community Center, Inc. was established in 1966 as a mission unit of what was formerly known as the Miami Valley United Methodist Mission Society of Dayton and Districts, now known as the Miami Valley District of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. At a time when racial tension was high, Wesley became a haven for families in crisis seeking stability, hope and a fresh start.
For over 50 years, the Center continued to grow and thrive. Even as a fire devastated its first site, the Wesley Center continued to be a place for families in need in its new home at 3730 Delphos Avenue right next to the IAMS Dog Food Company.
Robert A. Walker was appointed as Wesley’s new director in 1973 and remained until his retirement 2011. During his tenure, Wesley Center continued to create and implement solutions for the issues surrounding the economic, social, and political situations which contributed to the violent actions of Dayton’s West Side. Programs were created to deal with race relations, to bridge the generation gap, address the dropout rate, find solutions for family disorganization, and search for unity. For the next 30 years the center provided programs for all ages.
Dr. Walker was succeeded by Harris Tay, who at the age of 26 was Wesley’s youngest director. In 2014, Mr. Tay accepted the position of new Director of Diversity Initiatives with the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. Yvette Kelly-Fields was appointed as Wesley’s new Executive Director. Yvette realized how important Wesley was to the community and that the center is viewed as a beacon of hope for a community in transition.
Following Yvette Kelly Fields, the organization and its Board of Directors took an opportunity to reset the organization through a Strategic Journey. Wesley Community Center consulted with the Collaboratory and brought in Mayor Rhine Mclin as an Interim Executive Director. In January 2020, Wesley Community Center hired Shawn E. Kerley as its new Executive Director. Mr. Kerley has implemented a vision based on the strategic journey. Mr. Kerley has worked closely with the Board of Directors to move from Wesley Community Center to Wesley Dayton. Wesley Dayton will now become a total holistic Comprehensive Community Development Organization. Wesley Dayton will now become a Catalyst, Convener and Connector for West Dayton. Wesley will also become the “Hub” of Action, Impact and Change for Montgomery County. Utilizing the “Community Based Asset Model”, Wesley Dayton will identify, tap into and hone the skills, talents and assets of community residents.