Jess Lettlaw


Chatter, laughter, and camaraderie. Elders sharing stories and teaching youth, youth dreamweaving and inspiring elders. Artists and activists, environmentalists and entrepreneurs, grassroots organizers and government officials.  The robust  aroma of freshly-brewed, fair-trade coffee. The vibrant colors of native wildflowers and wetland plants.

A building is more than its brick and mortar, its square footage and occupancy count. It’s a place to find shelter and sanctuary in times when we feel alone and overwhelmed. It’s a place to find other people with similar experiences or interests, and build community. And it’s the memories made, collective growth, friendships forged, and potential that’s uncovered within its walls.

As we transform the future, we’re transforming our physical space to embody our mission, vision and values. The new NEW Center will inspire our community, and bring us together to realize the just and thriving society we all want to live in.


As you approach the space you hear the sounds of chatter, laughter, connection and camaraderie at the tables lining the river side of the property. The smell of fresh coffee is wafting in the air. The tiny cart where you buy your cup is owned by an Ethiopian brewer who you remember seeing at the farmer’s market in Ypsi a while back. You take your hot cup and a bagel, with locally sourced cream cheese on it, to a table in the open air lobby.

As you wait, you overhear a group of organizers planning a get out the vote campaign for later in the week. Across the lobby is a group of young folks preparing for a river cleanup project. You notice a piece of art on the wall that captivates you. The artist card reveals its creator is a formerly incarcerated person – part of a series from a healing circle for those who were inside.

While you wait for your client to join you, you notice a photo of the junkyard that once operated here before the space was converted to an arts incubator in the early 90’s. Next to that are images of  faces and homes from the nearby historically Black neighborhood that thrived for decades before it was gentrified and renamed. From across the room you faintly hear the recording of the 3 Fires Confederacy’s legacy of stewardship of the Huron River and lands the building sits upon.

The lobby screen shows that later in the day there’ll be a meetup of funders, venture capitalists and the Coalition on Reimagining Our Safety; a fiscally sponsored group who have successfully implemented an unarmed response program in Washtenaw County. Just then, your guest arrives and you make your way to a private meeting space to continue discussing housing as a human right, not a privilege.

Why NOW and why HERE?

At NEW, we believe that mission-driven people and teams must collaborate to realize our vision. So for three (3) decades, we’ve been working with visionaries and doers at the NEW Center. Yet, despite our progress, we haven’t activated the collective power within – and beyond – our walls.

The pandemic and economic crisis reminded us that transformation is both necessary and inevitable. Currently, Washtenaw County is the eighth-most economically segregated metro area in the U.S. We must prioritize creating intentional connections to bring diverse people and organizations together for collaboration. To do this, the community needs space and programming that help them directly address inequities. The new NEW Center will welcome and deepen connections between mission-driven people.

“I’ve rented for 10 years – a shared suite. I love being able to access 24/7. Conference rooms have been very helpful to do focused work with partners.

NEW Center Tenant 


Click through the photos below to look back on the NEW Center’s history.


Click through these photos for a quick look at our design plans for the NEW Center’s future.

You can also download a full presentation from our architects and design team, which includes more information on the project.


Like everything else that we do, the NEW team has moved through this process while centering our values and practicing the principles of equity, inclusion and justice. Here’s a quick overview of that process.

PHASE 1: Dreaming

This project began when COVID shut the NEW Center down in early 2020. In the midst of all the turmoil, our team began to ask what else could be possible. How could our building become more and embody our values of inclusion and collaboration?

PHASE 2: Discovery

Once we had a dream, we began to explore the possibility. So we shared our dream with our long-time partners at the Ralph C Wilson Jr Foundation. They understood our vision and offered support for the design process.

PHASE 3: Design

With some funding, we hired the folks at Designing Justice + Designing Spaces & PROXY, Inc. to lead us through a community-centric* design process. That process yielded a design scheme that will bring more light and life to The NEW Center.

*Thank you to every member of this community who showed up in a focus group or conversation about this project. We’re humbled by and grateful for your support and trust in our vision for the future.

PHASE 4: Design 2.0

Since then, we’ve been working with the folks at PROXY, Inc., INTOTO studio, and InSite Design to take that scheme from concept to reality.

PHASE 5: Pre-Development

Next, we’ll be raising funds for construction and landscaping. The total project goal is fifteen million dollars ($15M). Our plan is to raise this money in ways that are aligned with our overall values- and community-centric approach to fundraising.

We Share Power When Sharing Wealth

We Do Not Segment Our Organizational Ecosystem

We Are Transparent

We Are Compassionate and Direct

We Will Be Learning and Changing as we Go

We Are Unapologetic/Exceptional In Our Pursuit of a More Just & Thriving Society

PHASE 6: Development

With funding secured, we’ll begin renovating The NEW Center. More than 85% of our consultants and contractors are women, LGBTQIA+ and/or Black-led enterprises. With your help, we’ll break ground in summer 2024.

PHASE 7: Dance!

When the project is complete, we’ll invite you all back to NEW’s new home for a community celebration. After that, we’ll rest and restore our energy. And then, we’ll get back to work transforming the future, together.



These intimate dinners are a chance to connect more deeply with folks who are interested in moving and sharing wealth. Specifically, they’re a way NEW’s ambassadors and friends can help us cultivate major gifts ($100,000+). Named after abolitionist and civil rights leader, Fredrick Douglass, they embody our justice-oriented and community-centric approach to fundraising. Douglass Dinners allow us to share our vision, find resonance through conversation, and follow-up with those who want to support our expanding work. While we aren’t asking for contributions at the dinner, we’re transparent in our eventual goal.

Interested in hosting a Douglass Dinner? Contact Will Jones – to discuss this opportunity more!


No building bears their names. No boardroom displays their portraits. No foundation sustains their legacy. And yet, the philanthropists we know best are the ones in our families, places of worship and our workplaces. They’re the same people who make our meals, heal us when we’re sick, and teach lifelong learners. They’re the same people we hope this building can serve, inspire and equip.  

Our Community Giving Campaign honors the legacy of collective giving and mutual aid that undergirds this project. As we pursue our total fundraising goal for this transformation project is fifteen million dollars ($15M), we invite gifts of whatever size you’re able.


Feel inspired by our vision for the NEW Center? Help spread the word about the project! This is a big undertaking, and making it real is going to be a community effort. No contribution is too big or small. Share this page with others and connect us with visionary changemakers in our community and elsewhere.

Yodit Mesfin Johnson

Yodit Mesfin Johnson
President & CEO, NEW



The construction costs for the renovation are projected to be ten million dollars ($10M). We are working with local architects, financial advisors and general contractors throughout. More than 85% of our consultants and contractors are women, LGBTQIA+ and/or Black-led enterprises. We are not only building an incredible hub of transformation, we are also making a local economic impact for historically underrepresented entrepreneurs and workers in southeast Michigan.

Beyond construction costs, we are raising an additional five million dollars ($5M). These funds will support our programs, operations and reserves. Here, we’ll ensure that the people and the space are well funded for the foreseeable future. We will not create a community space without the ability to steward it. We will not replicate past patterns of scarcity.

What does your vision mean to this campaign?

NEW is realizing our vision by changing what it means to do work for the social good. For us, that means continuing to open our doors to mission-driven leaders, organizations, and communities. We need organizers alongside institutions. We need philanthropy connecting with program volunteers. There are lessons to learn across sectors, and the melding of our practices can look like radical social justice.

Ann Arbor and the world have changed over the past 30 years, let alone since 2020. There is more stratification of class and race. COVID has changed the way we work forever. No more butts in seats! People want to gather for work with a purpose and they want to do so safely. Minimally, this means fewer private offices and more open spaces. Optimally, it means that NEW will welcome the entire ecosystem into our space, not just those who’ve had the work of progress saddled on their shoulders. We’re calling in EVERY single person and organization – many hands – to be the change we need now.

As a team, our priorities have shifted, learning and leaning more deeply into racial equity, justice and deep transformation. We want to showcase this identity in both how we approach our work and where we gather. We will bring an ecosystem of changemakers to this new space with intention. This includes nonprofit leaders, artists, activists, private sector leaders, philanthropy and government leaders together to take a holistic approach to change. We will be explicit about how our work and physical space are interconnected with the legacies of the land stewarded by Indigenous and Black communities. We will honor the histories of our elders and inspire the dreams of future generations.

This will also be a fundraising campaign that embodies our values.

We are rebuffing the power dynamics and toxic culture of fundraising. Our campaign is as much about our process of asking for funding as it is about securing resources. It might feel different from what you have experienced. This is because we are continuing to grow into an inclusive and innovative space for mission-driven people. We cannot achieve this without sharing wealth in value-driven and justice-oriented ways. Our hope is that you will join us in this vision by contributing to this expansion of our work and gathering space.

Why does this campaign feel different from others I’ve given to?

Because NEW is about the work, as well as the outcome, we are questioning the existing state of philanthropy. In doing so, we’ve found typical practices are deeply rooted in systems of supremacy. Thus, we’re creating an approach that allows us to live our values:

  • We Share Power When Sharing Wealth: We prioritize community-centric approaches to power sharing in fundraising.  Everyone in this ecosystem is empowered to say “no” to strings-attached exchanges of wealth. This includes: donors, volunteers, staff, board members, recipients and the organization.
  • We Do Not Segment Our Organizational Ecosystem:We fundraise for general funding only, which minimizes power imbalances between donor and organization.  Funding one part of a nonprofit while starving another does not create the flourishing organizations we envision.  General funding allows us to respond quickly and efficiently to areas that need support and growth.
  • We Are Transparent: We speak clearly to our entire ecosystem about the why, how, and results of our fundraising efforts
  • We Are Compassionate and Direct: Before entering a conversation about sharing wealth, we are clear in our intentions, ask permission, and then move forward.  A donor will never be “surprised” by a request for money.  Occasionally, this will be a hard conversation.
  • We Will Be Learning and Changing as we Go: philanthropy as it is currently practiced is broken.  Part of our journey in fundraising is to raise the practice while we are raising money.
  • We Are Unapologetic/Exceptional In Our Pursuit of a More Just & Thriving Society: Our vision of a just & thriving society is uncompromising. To get there, our process is an embodiment of practices of justice and inclusion. If our values don’t align, we won’t be in partnership.

Why am I the right donor for NEW?

You’re ready for something new, looking for a powerful way to share your wealth and privilege. One gift has ripples that are far bigger than the sum of its parts. You’re a radical philanthropist.  If you feel frustrated with exclusive and oppressive ways things are done, there is room for you and your values here.