After an extensive search, an old store was purchased in south east Atlanta, in an area teeming with children. The Stewart Goodwill Center opened the doors of its new blue building in the summer of 1950. This neighborhood, which would later become known as “Reynoldstown,” was a white, working class neighborhood just like Bellwood.
The Center found a new community where they were needed; hundreds of children came through their doors each week for before and after school care, bible study, arts and crafts, and more. The Goodwill Center seemed to have escaped the racial turmoil of Atlanta’s west side. However, great changes were brewing in Atlanta. In a few short years, construction of I-20 would begin less than half a mile from the Center, drastically changing the landscape of the area. The Civil Rights movement would begin to impact Atlanta through desegregation of schools and public accommodations.
In the 1960’s, African American families began purchasing houses near the Goodwill Center. Just as occurred in English Avenue a decade before, white families began leaving for the suburbs. However, this time the Goodwill Center would not follow suit. Rather than leaving the neighborhood, the leadership of the Goodwill Center made the decision to stay, and to welcome all of the neighborhood children to their programs.
In the following decades, many of Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods entered a period of decline, including Reynoldstown. Particularly between the 1970’s and 1990’s, crime was rampant. As children walked to the Center, they passed by drug houses and prostitutes, and the sound of gunshots were a regular occurrence. The Stewart Baptist Center (as it was called during this time) served as a safe haven and gathering place for neighborhood children. Despite the challenges of the neighborhood, the Center continued to meet the needs of children.
In 1995, after almost 80 years of ownership and operation by Atlanta Baptist women, the Stewart Baptist Center became a non-profit organization, and was re-named the Andrew P. Stewart Center. As a result of its nonprofit incorporation, the Stewart Center began partnerships with many new organizations and faith groups, expanding its base of friends and supporters.
In the early 2000’s, Reynoldstown began to see change once again. While most neighbors lived in low-income households, middle class families began moving into the neighborhood in search of shorter work commutes and in-town living. Over the course of the next decade, gentrification continued in Reynoldstown, causing a dramatic increase in property values. Many low-income families left the neighborhood as rental properties were sold or made unaffordable. As many children moved away with their families (and very few moved in), the Center’s leadership began to question how much longer its services would be needed in Reynoldstown.
In the early 2000’s the Stewart Center began researching the services offered to children in a neighborhood called Pittsburgh, located in southwest Atlanta. No action was taken until 2011 when the Center was invited to serve Gideons Elementary School (located in Pittsburgh) with its after school program. That fall, the Center began transporting students from Gideons to the Center’s facilities in Reynoldstown. Seeing a need for quality, affordable after school care and summer camp for children, the Stewart Center hosted a pilot summer camp in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2012. In the following summers, the camp grew exponentially. An after school program, operated out of Stewart Avenue Methodist Church, was begun in the fall of 2014.
As the waiting lists for Stewart Center programming grew longer in Pittsburgh, families continued to move further and further away from the Stewart Center in Reynoldstown. In the summer of 2015, after 65 years of service in Reynoldstown, it was decided to focus the Stewart Center’s resources on programming in Pittsburgh, and cease operations in Reynoldstown. The conclusion of Reynoldstown summer camp 2015 signaled the end of a long, beautiful chapter of the Stewart Center’s history.
Over the past 100 + years, the Andrew P. Stewart Center has adapting to the physical, social, and economic conditions impacting Atlanta children and families. Since the move to Pittsburgh, the Center has launched an affordable housing initiative, greatly expanded its wellness programing, and become the onsite after school provider for Gideons Elementary School. Regardless of what the future may hold, the Stewart Center is committed to seeing our neighbors living purposeful lives in pursuit of their full potential.