CINCINNATI -- Tommy Rueff relies on grants and donations to keep his nonprofit open to the community, but the recent gift of a kid-friendly extension to the organization’s park was music to his ears.
The Xylophone/Tunnel/Mountain parklet that has occupied a parking space in front of Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe in Covington since May as part of the Curb’d project will have a new public home come spring. The XXL, colorful xylophone with its undulating, rolling roof and kid-sized tunnel has been donated to Happen, a Northside nonprofit that aims to bring families together through art projects and community events.
Rueff said he was thrilled to learn that the massive musical instrument was going to be added to the offerings of Happen, which he created and opened in 1999.
“The xylophone fits right in with the garden. It is a perfect fit,” said Rueff.
The piece was originally designed to have a roof covered in foliage, which it now will have once the surrounding vines and flowers begin to mingle with the structure. The xylophone has been removed from its Sixth Street location but will not be assembled at the Happen park until spring.
The xylophone also mixes well with Happen’s mission and community programs. Happen caters to families by offering an array of free programming in its Hamilton Avenue location. Programs includes a film critics club, ceramics, a teen hall and an entrepreneurial T-shirt design company run by teens. Open sessions and themed events are regularly added to the calendar. Lessons are given by an instructor and Happen characters. Art activities require close work between children and a parent or guardian.
Next door in the Toy Lab, visitors can create a one-of-a-kind toy using upcycled parts from donated, broken toys. The program is one of the only ones that isn’t offered free of charge. Funds from the lab are used to cover the costs of other programs.
The Make It program, Happen’s newest outreach, focuses on bringing the worlds of science, technology, engineering and nature to kids and parents. With science activities and a regularly changing experiment window, the program explores the connection between creativity and science.
“Creativity is not just in art. It’s in math. It’s in science. It’s in figuring out how to get along with your brothers and sisters. It’s a super power,” said Rueff who began his career in advertising. A co-founder of Cincinnati’s Barefoot Advertising, he sold his ownership in 1998 and used the proceeds to found Happen.
“I thought of it as a three-year art project,” Rueff said of his decision to walk away from his growing ad agency and start a nonprofit. “This lets me use my own passions in art to bring families together, to bring communities together.
“Sure, I look back on what I left behind, every day. It’s tough when you’re struggling, but I’m rich in other ways. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. This is where I am, and this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Today Rueff and his volunteers serve thousands of youth and their families from all over the Tri-State, striving to help strengthen families and empower teens.
“Happen has made such an impact on the Northside community. Everywhere I look, I see its impact,” said James Heller-Jackson, communications director of the Northside Community Council. “Tommy has been a tremendous part of the growth of the Northside.”
Heller-Jackson played an instrumental role in getting the xylophone donated to Happen after seeing a post on the SHP Leading Design Facebook page asking if any nonprofits would be interesting in obtaining the art project when it was set to be removed from its Sixth Street location. Heller-Jackson and other members of the council requested the oversized instrument and then set out to determine the best location.
Several locations were considered, but Happen was the perfect fit for the kid-friendly outdoor art piece.
“It fits the mission of Happen. It’s fun and whimsical. It has a really fun kids’ theme. It is absolutely perfect for it,” Heller-Jackson said.
Heller-Jackson was also able to secure the People Powered Cinema parklet for Northside. The piece, which allows riders of stationary bikes to power an outdoor movie, will be moved soon to the beer garden of Urban Artifact.