Since its founding in 1981, the Woodson Center (WC) has worked to bring recognition, training, and funding to community-based leaders and organizations to strengthen their efforts to uplift their neighborhoods and to create venues for exchange of best practices.
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How We Got Started

They told him many barriers hindered their work, including their own lack of knowledge about how to structure and effectively manage an organization, raise and track finances, and present their own case so others would want to support them. Armed with only a $25,000 grant, Woodson resigned his position as a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and launched the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

There have been many lean times over the years. But Woodson and the Center have remained true to those principles, and used them for some important victories, such as empowering resident management of public housing; giving low-income neighborhood leaders a voice in public policy; helping them create partnerships in the revitalization of urban neighborhoods; and developing a unique initiative that is effectively reducing youth violence in schools and communities throughout the nation. Over the years, the Center has brought training and technical assistance to more than 2600 leaders of faith-based and community organizations in 39 states and helped them attain more than 10 times the funding expended by the Center. On November 15, 2016, the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise rebranded as the Woodson Center as a tribute to our Founder and President, Robert L. "Bob" Woodson, Sr. (pictured right).

The Woodson Center Chronology
  • 1981
    Robert L. Woodson, Sr., resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, resigns to found the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.
  • 1982
    “Neighborhoods Reach for the Stars” NCNE’s historic national video teleconference links neighborhood-based groups from around the nation with policymakers in Washington, DC, in first major use of technology at this scale outside of corporate America.
  • 1985
    NCNE identifies and supports the efforts of public housing residents to take on ownership and management responsibilities for the properties in which they live, and helps establish successful pilot resident management program.
  • 1985
    With support from the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) office, NCNE begins 15 year program of offering minigrants to youth-serving neighborhood organizations that otherwise would never qualify for conventional government or private sector support.
  • 1987
    For first time in eight years, the U.S. Housing Act is amended to allow resident management of public housing. It is passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Reagan with resident leaders in attendance.
  • 1989
    “Not Here You Don’t” major national video teleconference dramatizes successes of neighborhood-based efforts to combat drugs and crime.
  • 1989
    NCNE provides training and technical assistance to empower neighborhood leaders in South Africa as apartheid ends.
  • 1991
    The unique training of leaders of neighborhood-based organizations that NCNE has provided since its inception is formalized through the establishment of the Center’s Neighborhood Leadership Development Institute (NLDI). NCNE begins holding classes near Washington, DC.
  • 1991
    Throughout 1991 and 1992, NCNE conducts series of “What Works and Why” conferences at five regions around the country, inviting effective grassroots program leaders to explain their success. More than 90% report that faith in a higher power is the most important element of their programs.
  • 1993
    Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith targets seven inner city Indianapolis neighborhoods for revitalization, and asks NCNE to help empower potential neighborhood leaders so that their organizations can participate in the economic restoration of the center city. NCNE provides training and facilitates new partnerships among residents, city officials, and the business community. Groups trained by NCNE receive more than $80 million in grants and participate as full partners in a $700 million campaign to rebuild the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
  • 1994
    At the request of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, NCNE begins work in Milwaukee, finding promising grassroots groups unknown to the foundation community. Working with its Milwaukee community-based partner Community Enterprises of Greater Milwaukee, NCNE provides training and technical assistance to more than 100 leaders, whose organizations were able to receive millions in funding as a result.
  • 1995
    In response to a request by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Center assembles a panel of some 30 of the nation’s most effective faith-based and community groups, to advise the Congress on welfare reform and other public policy issues. Their recommendations, presented in May, form the basis of Charitable Choice, the Community Renewal Act, and welfare reform legislation.
  • 1995
    The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania asks NCNE to assist its public policy efforts by identifying and coordinating a statewide task force of grassroots groups to develop specific recommendations. Their report is presented at an historic session of the legislature, May 10, 1995.
  • 1995
    The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) threatens to close a Teen Challenge chapter in San Antonio because the faith-based program does not use state-credentialed drug and alcohol counselors or meet other requirements of the therapeutic industry. After appealing to the government to no avail, NCNE President Bob Woodson stages a rally at the Alamo attended by hundreds of former addicts. The public demonstration leads to newly-elected Governor George W. Bush appointing a committee on faith-based programs, and introducing legislation to create a separate category exempting faith-based programs from the requirements of the therapeutic industry.
  • 1996
    The leadership of the Wisconsin Assembly asks NCNE to find successful grassroots service providers in that state, to elicit from them how government can reduce barriers and work more closely with them. NCNE and CEGM partner to convene the leaders of more than 25 highly successful organizations and facilitate the preparation of their recommendations. The task force members present the report in a full session of the Assembly.
  • 1997
    Washington, DC is shocked by the murder of a 12-year old boy in violence between two youth factions living at Benning Terrace public housing development. NCNE works with a grassroots group–the Alliance of Concerned Men–to negotiate a truce and stop the killing. The NationalCenter then enlists the DC Housing Authority to provide jobs and other support. There have been no further crew-related killings in that area since that date. NCNE’s Violence-Free Zone program is established.
  • 1998
    The State of Ohio asks NCNE’s assistance in developing partnerships with community and faith-based organizations in welfare reform. NCNE develops a pilot program for five counties, which Ohio subsequently applies to the entire state.
  • 1999
    National teleconference “Solutions to Youth Violence” is held with 78 sites participating across the nation. Young people from the inner city and suburban and rural communities like Columbine, CO share experiences and strategies to stop violence.
  • 2001
    In response to requests from White House, cabinet officers, and members of Congress, NCNE again convenes some 25 faith-based and grassroots program leaders to produce report on barriers and public policy recommendations.
  • 2002
    Community leaders from Lowndes County, Alabama, appeal for help. NCNE launches Alabama Rural Initiative with support from HSBC to address lack of septic systems, high utility bills, high unemployment, and lack of economic development.
  • 2003
    NCNE and HSBC launch financial literacy education initiative, with grassroots organizations in the NationalCenter’s network hosting workshops throughout the country in low-income areas.
  • 2003
    NCNE is awarded grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Compassion Capital Fund, to provide technical assistance and subgrants to faith-based and community groups in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8.
  • 2004
    The National Center links Victory Fellowship of San Antonio, TX and House of Help in Washington, DC to funders who make it possible for them to construct new facilities. NCNE provides training and technical assistance to both organizations.
  • 2005
    Violence-Free Zone initiative is producing outstanding results in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC.
  • 2006
    NCNE moves to new headquarters in Washington, DC, and streamlines its name to Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE).
  • 2006
    The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise celebrates 25 years of service to residents of low-income communities with a program of performances, videos, and inspiring testimonies at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, October 18, 2006.
  • 2008
    Milwaukee Public Schools contracts with CNE to put the Violence-Free Zone program in eight public high schools. The Latino Community Center and Running Rebels Community Organization are CNE community partners and implement the VFZ program in the schools.
  • 2009
    The Violence-Free Zone is in 32 public high schools for the 2009/2010 school year, including Atlanta (6), Baltimore (4), Dallas (13), Milwaukee (8), and Richmond, VA (1).
  • 2010
    From 2006 through 2010, more than 26,300 low- and middle-income adults received financial literacy training through a collaborative initiative of the CNE/HSBC “Your Money Counts.” Overall, CNE with its partners delivered financial literacy training to nearly 30,000 individuals, and many of the organizations that received training went on to start programs in their communities for youth and other groups
  • 2010
    Baylor University researchers publish two case studies: an update of a previous study of the Violence-Free Zone (VFZ) in Milwaukee and a report on the first year of the VFZ in Richmond. Both studies documented significant impacts on violence, disruptions, and attendance in the schools as well as a decrease in motor vehicle thefts in the surrounding neighborhoods
  • 2010
    Chicago Public Schools awards a contract to CNE and K.L.E.O. Community and the Family Life Center to implement the VFZ in Robeson High School for the 2010-2011 school year
  • 2010
    Staying True Awards: June 4, 2010. A Milwaukee member of CNE’s Community Affiliates Network honors exemplary youth.
  • 2011
    CNE initiates VFZ programs in in two additional high school in Milwaukee, for a total of nine VFZ schools in the city
  • 2011
    By the end of 2011, the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise has provided training to leaders of more than 2,600 community-based organizations in 39 states
  • 2011
    CNE hosts a “Joseph Summit” in Denver in August 2011. This forum presented best practices, victories, and the strategies for success of effective community organizations in low-income neighborhoods.
  • 2012
    The Richmond Public Schools expands its VFZ initiative to a second high school
  • 2012
    CNE Antipoverty Policy Summit: Washington, DC, September, 2012. This forum for policymakers, prospective supporters, and neighborhood leaders highlights an anti-poverty strategy in which local leaders effectively address the problems of their communities and work to build on the strengths of their neighborhoods.
  • 2012
    Ohio Forum/Community Tour: November 2012. With a site visit to a CNE affiliate in Ohio, Speaker Paul Ryan continues his nationwide listening tour of community-based programs that are effectively addressing problems such as addiction and violence and promoting upward mobility.
  • 2014
    Antipoverty Summit: Washington, DC, September 2014. Grassroots leaders from across the nation share their effective strategies and initiatives to provide a pathway out of poverty
  • 2015
    CNE implements its Kansas Community Leadership Enterprise training program to help community leaders throughout the state address the needs of children and families.
  • 2015
    Comeback Screening/Workshop Dallas, TX, April 2015. A series of videos debuts featuring dramatic transformations engendered by the personal, consistent investment of grassroots leaders
  • 2015
    Rep. Robert Dold Community Tour & Workshop: Suburban Chicago, September 2015. Congressman Dold enlisted the Center's expertise in identifying and highlighting effective neighborhood-based programs of community uplift and individual revitalization in his District.
  • 2016
    Through its partnership with Stand Together, CNE rebrands as the Woodson Center, launches Community Affiliate Network in 25 states and awards 62 Fellowship grants to help indigenous leaders, community and faith-based organizations strengthen their missions and programming.
  • 2016
    CNE, now the Woodson Center, hosts a “Repairing the Breach Summit”: Cops, Community and Country join to address lawlessness. A trailblazing summit at a time of national crisis highlights models of police-community collaboration, co-hosted by Las Vegas-based Hope for Prisoners, a prisoner re-entry program whose broad range of partners includes a spectrum of law-enforcement entities and police officers who serve as mentors to ex-offenders.