Arch Street Center

Reason to smile

With community's help, 31-year-old organization that aids people with mental illness today opens new home

Jose Figueroa watched Thursday as movers carried boxes and refrigerators from the Arch Street Center.

The computers where he checks Pittsburgh Pirates scores were being taken down. The pingpong tables he loves already were gone.

Asked if he’ll miss the basement of St. John Lutheran Church, which the Arch Street Center has called home for 31 years, Figueroa said yes.

“But the new place is awesome.”

After a two-day closure over the weekend, the center opens today at 629 N. Market St.

The day center for adults with a mental health diagnosis is normally open daily.

“I’m going to be the first person in line,” Terrance “Tito” Barber said of the opening.

Barber has spent most of his weekdays at Arch Street for the past three or four years. “It gives me some­thing to do, if I’m bored in my apartment,” he said.

The center, which has been at the rear of the church at 223 W. Orange St. since 1983, has nearly 200 members who pay $5 annual dues. Forty to 50 people arrive each day to play games, watch television, have lunch or dinner, do crafts or just sit.

Some people come and interact; others sit quietly by themselves. But they are not

alone, said Susanne Materia, who was a longtime board member before becoming Arch Street Center’s development director last fall.

It was nearly a year ago that Arch Street’s executive director, Susan Lilly – the center’s only other full-time employee – announced its plan to move.

She also announced that the center would hold its first capital fundraising campaign.

The campaign has raised about $440,000 of the $660,000 goal. That money allowed the organization to purchase the former Weber Advertising building for $260,000 and renovate the first floor.

Raising the funds, Lilly said, required looking beyond the group of about 30 annual donors who contribute about $220,000 for operating expenses. More than 100 donors have pledged toward the campaign.

More surprising to Lilly and Materia were the in-kind donations. Some companies donated materials; others donated labor toward the renovations.

On Thursday, it was workers from Empire TV & Appliance who transported the large commercial refrigerators. Inside the new space were sofas that had come from a law firm which also is moving. “Somebody talked to somebody and told them we were moving,” Lilly said. “It’s just been phenomenal.”

The center will still open with some tired furniture from its former location. Much of that was in the waiting rooms of the former Community Hospital, which closed a decade ago. It will be replaced when the remainder of the capital campaign funds are raised, she said.

Eventually, officials plan to renovate the building’s upper floors. Offices could be rented or accommodate the expansion of center programs.

The 3,000-square-foot first-floor space is brighter, bigger, and more open than the church basement. It was created as offices decades ago when walls were knocked out separating three North Queen Street rowhouses.

Lilly is looking forward to having a plant on her desk for the first time since taking her position at the center 14 years ago.

“I think it has more room,” said Barber, who believes the new facility will be less crowded.

Materia is glad the new center will have laundry facilities. Staff members now take turns taking laundry home, she said. Those and the shower facilities will particularly aid the 10 to 15 center members who are homeless at any given time, Lilly said.

Donated lockers will be an asset. Center members, particularly those with schizophrenia, are reluctant to part with coats or backpacks.

“They’re afraid they won’t get them back,” Materia said.

There will be a 34-space parking lot off Market Street. It will allow for outside activities and also provide revenue with the rental of the spaces to nearby businesses, Lilly said.

The new facility is wheelchair accessible.

“That’s going to open us to a whole new population to come to the center,” Materia said.

All center members are referred to Arch Street by a doctor, a case worker, or other mental health professional. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays and noon to 6 p.m. weekends.

A community open house is planned the afternoon of Aug. 14, Materia said. Details of the event will be posted on the organization’s website:

One thing that is not changing with the move is the organization’s name, she said.

At least initially, it remains the Arch Street Center. That follows the extensive outreach of the capital campaign, Materia said.

“This is the first time in our 30-year history that people know our name. So it is not the time to change.”

Lancaster New Era – Monday, June 30, 2014
By Bernard Harris, Staff Writer