An old Freemason lodge on Ross Street in Cleveland may not look like much right now, but Eisha Jones, co-founder of Tuff Kids, has a vision. She sees the building’s potential as a future gathering spot for children in her community.
“Our hope is to find constructive activities for the kids to grow mentally and physically, and to provide them with guidance for where they want to go in life,” Jones said.
For the last decade, the roughly 2,000-square-foot building has stood empty. It was shuttered after membership declined in a now-defunct chapter of the Freemasons – made up of black gentlemen in the Cleveland community known as Pct. 20.
For the last three years, Jones says she attempted to find people associated with the building. Periodically she sent letters to the post office box associated with the property tax account listed with the Liberty County Central Appraisal District, but she never received a reply.
“A couple of months ago, I said, ‘Lord, they aren’t doing anything with this building. It needs a ton of work but I think we can make it into something great for the children in this community,'” she explained.
After speaking to friends about her ideas, she was directed to Bernest “Slick” Mitchell, a longtime barber in the Cleveland area. Mitchell, now in his 80s, was able to point her in the right direction as he was one of the former members of the lodge.
“He asked me if I realized how much work needs to be done to the building,” Jones said.
She began to explain to him how she envisioned the layout of the building to be – with an open floor plan and a kitchen on the first floor, and an open area with rooms on the second floor.
“He told me that I have a pretty good imagination because that is exactly what it’s like,” Jones said with a laugh.
According to Jones, Mitchell encouraged the other former members of the lodge to turn over the ownership of the building to Tuff Kids.
“He said they need to let the children do something with that building,” Jones said. The men – now in their 80s – signed over the house to Tuff Kids. The transfer came with a $10,000 liability for back taxes.
With the help of her family members, Jones has cleared most of the brush and growth that was surrounding the building that sits on a two-lot parcel. With the help of contractors, she now plans to compile a list of projects that must be completed to bring the building up to code and make it usable for the children’s organization.
“If we can get some of the materials donated, we will probably still have to pay for the labor. I am just believing that God is going to meet our needs. I do know that with many hands our labor is light,” Jones said. “
Jones’ vision is to set up a computer lab in one area of the building where children can work on their school work and build skills they can use when they enter the workforce. Another room will be set aside as a media room where they can film and produce videos. Other rooms will be used for crafts and gatherings.
Tuff Kids was established in 2010 by Jones and Ivan Williams. Since then, annually they have provided summer activities to 30 to 60 children from the Cleveland community. Last year, 48 children benefited from participation in the organization.
Jones gets emotional as she talks about some of the successes of past Tuff Kids.
“We have three who have graduated college and we have others who are still in college. It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see these kids accomplishing their dreams and knowing we had a hand in molding them. That makes it worth it.”