Tommy Rueff didn’t set out to run a community non-profit.
Four years after Tommy Rueff to Cincinnati from Chicago to start an advertising agency, a chance event changed his life and pointed him in the direction of his life’s work. He wasn’t looking for a change. He wasn’t even unhappy in his work. But inviting a group of local schoolkids into his personal art studio opened a door, and Tommy chose to walk through it. It wasn’t an overnight shift, but twenty years later the organization that formed that night is still serving Cincinnati families with shared creative experiences that truly change lives.
Happen Inc., along with the sister organization Toy-Lab, sits at the corner of Hamilton and Chase avenues in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood. Day after day, week after week, kids stream in for events, workshops, concerts, parties. One look at the Happen Inc. event calendar and you see the diversity of programs and, more importantly the joy, that Happen brings to Cincinnati’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood. For twenty years Tommy Rueff has been at the heart of that activity, and he’s going strong.
Tommy Rueff & Happen Inc. Links and Information
- The Happen Inc. Website
- Happen’s Toy-Lab
- Facebook: /happeninc
- Twitter: @happennorthside
- Tēla Bar & Kitchen
- Facebook: /telabandk
Twenty Years of Happen, and Counting
The most striking thing about sitting with Tommy Rueff is how little attention he gives to the topics of most work conversations. Reputation, career ladders…Tommy’s focused on the present. It’s not that he’s not aware of that world. He’s just too busy working to pay much attention to it. He’s figuring out how to get tomorrow’s project done, how to take care of the kids who’ll be making Christmas decorations at Happen this weekend. Sure there have been times over the years where it seemed like Happen was ready to “blow up” (in both good and bad ways). Tommy’s work has been recognized far and wide, and he’s had some pretty heady encounters as a result. But the mission of Happen hasn’t changed and, if anything, over the years those brushes with fame have focused him on what Happen is really all about.
Before the recession Happen had a large staff, an ever-increasing yearly budget, and dreams of widespread fame and influence. Since then Happen has “grown” back down to a more sustainable size. Tommy and a small staff keep things manageable. He knows the work is not about press coverage. It’s about the look on a kid’s face when he does something he didn’t think he could. The clothes they were able to help provide for a kid in the neighborhood who needed them. It’s the joy and the wonder of creating beauty, and community, in the place you live. Northside, Cincinnati is lucky to have Tommy and the Happen Inc. crew there at the corner of Hamilton & Chase. Hopefully that will be true for another twenty years.