The city’s oldest community center – the “United Nations of Madison,” serving various immigrant communities – has reinvented itself numerous times. Now it’s poised to do it again.

It all started with pizza.

Sam Brown was running the Rocky Rococo on Regent Street – one of the pizza restaurants co-founded by his father in 1974 – when a man named Dan Foley asked him to donate to the Neighborhood House Community Center.

This was 2011. Foley was executive director of Neighborhood House on Mills Street, and his programming included a regular “Movie and Meal” night for the kids. Might Brown provide some pizza?

“Absolutely,” Brown said. “Anything you need.”

Foley, in that moment, needed plenty. He’d only recently joined Neighborhood House after a distinguished two decades at the Madison YMCA. Foley had inherited a fiscal nightmare. A bad few years fueled by the national economic crisis had left Neighborhood House in debt, its credit exhausted, with bankruptcy a real possibility. It was bade enough that Foley took no salary for his first six weeks.

Brown had never heard of Neighborhood House, though it was only a few blocks from his restaurant. Impressed by Foley and the organization, Brown donated pizza and soon afterward accepted Foley’s invitation to join the Neighborhood House board of directors.

Under Foley’s leadership, Neighborhood House regained its financial footing. By 2014, Brown was board president. Realizing it had a future, Neighborhood House looked to mine its past.


In early 2018, Neighborhood House enlisted Urban Assets Consulting of Madison to do a feasibility study on a new building and the kind of creative capital campaign that would be needed to make it happen.

“We engaged the community quite a bit on what they wanted to see in space and programming,” says Laura Gundlach, who started as the Neighborhood House’s youth program director in 2018 and became executive director in 2020.

The eye-opening result, after several years that included a pandemic, was publicly announced in a front-page Wisconsin State Journal Headline in May 2023: “A Rebirth in Greenbush.”

The article described Neighborhood House’s collaboration with Madison’s The Alexander Co. “on a roughly $29 million, five-story project to deliver a bigger, better space for the organization and mixed income housing above it.”

One year later, the ambitious plan is still on track, with ground now expected to be broken – the current Mills Street building will be razed – in 2025 in the same location.

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This article was originally published by Madison Magazine.