Happen Inc. blends art, science, community

Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-19 10:33:52-05

CINCINNATI -- Seventeen-year-old LJ Hogue drove past the brick building on the corner of Hamilton and Chase avenues in Northside several times with his mother before deciding to check out what’s inside.

When they stumbled upon Happen Inc., the young artist found a new outlet for his work, creativity and passion for volunteering.

Happen Inc. is no stranger to Cincinnati—the space has been around and evolving since 1999—and this year the nonprofit is accepting online donations toward operations for the first time.

“I feel like teenagers could get involved, if they really want to feel a connection to the community and make things better, there’s no better place to be,” Hogue said. “There’s a great staff, you meet fantastic people and help kids connect with their family with artwork.”

For the past 3 years Hogue has been a regular at the establishment, taking part in everything from art projects and community gardens to working with preschoolers and local families.

That’s what Tommy Rueff envisioned when he started the organization 17 years ago, because family is his priority.

“Family is important to me,” Rueff explained. “I really thought about how I can share my passion throughout and bringing families together through working with parents and kids and the community.”

Silas Overton participating in a Happen Inc. event.

For the first time this year Happen Inc. is accepting online donations to help make the magic happen. 

Each year Happen Inc. provides more than 70 days of teen activities, 21 community grill outs for families, more than 200 STEM programs and more than 200 studio days to families.

“We are making it easy for people to donate from wherever they are,” Rueff said. “They don’t have to come in and write a check, they can just donate online.”

Donors can give as little as $5 or $10, and donations can participate in continuous giving, allowing their amounts to come out each month.

Rueff isn’t putting an exact dollar amount on how much Happen Inc. wants in donations, but said if 500 people would give $25 per month it would cover monthly expenses, including 2 full-time and 7 part-time employees, and to keep programs running.

Happen Inc. has three facilities in Northside: a studio, a make-it space and Happen’s Toy Lab. Almost all activities are free to the public and families can learn about science, technology and nature along with art.

In January Happen Inc. will be celebrating Albert Einstein; the Toy Lab gives everyone a chance to choose 7 parts to make a new toy.

“(Toylab) is a wacky little lab filled with up-cycled toy parts ,” Rueff said. “Pick out 7 toy parts and leave with your own toy.”

Community-building activities like these are what Happen Inc. aims to provide all Tri-State residents, not just the ones living in Northside.

“Community is not just where you live, it’s how you live with other people,” he said. “We want to give parents kids and the community a stress-free way to come together.”

Silas Overton completes an art project at Happen Inc.

That’s how Eric Hemm, who sits on the board for Happen Inc., got involved.

His son was in preschool and was invited to a party at the Toy Lab when it was located on Beechmont Avenue.

“I just fell in love with the idea and recycling toys, I thought it was all great,” he said. “So I tried to track them down, and in one capacity or another I’ve been helping them ever since.”

From squirrel dissection to reverse engineering, Hemm has seen the programming at Happen Inc. grow and evolve throughout his tenure.

“It’s activities that because of our space, because of who we have volunteering, we can do activities you just can’t normally do,” Hemm said. “Fine, you can color at home, but to come in and do an art project where you’re focusing on the great masters, there’s a breadth and depth to the programs that’s hard to replicate on your own."