October 30, 2012 | Vol. 73 No. 13

Group proposes community center in Schramm Hall

A Giving Heart plans renovations, programming

“We hope to be community partners, neighbors working hand-in-hand with you, to hear your pain points and discover how we can work together to alleviate them,” said Kim Young at Thursday night’s regular monthly meeting at the Allentown Community Development Corporation.

Joined by her colleagues Kristee Cammack and Averill Pippens, Ms. Young spoke on behalf of A Giving Heart, a non-profit organization planning to renovate and reopen the former Schramm Hall as a community center.

Ms. Cammack explained opening a community center and homeless shelter are goals A Giving Heart has had its sights set on for 10 years. Though the organization has had other charitable outreaches, such as a soup kitchen it operates at 2546 Centre Avenue in the Hill District, Schramm Hall will be the first building it has obtained for its purposes of opening a community center.

As per the other part of what Ms. Cammack described as a “two-part program,” Mr. Pippens clarified A Giving Heart is not naming Allentown as the future site for its homeless shelter. “We’re not saying everything will be here,” he said. “Right now, the focus is on bringing community services to the area.”

When asked exactly what types of services A Giving Heart intends to bring to Allentown, Ms. Cammack stated that plans for a semi-monthly soup kitchen, etiquette classes for teens and a youth basketball league are already in the making. Other services, she explained, will be offered based on community interest and/or need, as expressed in response to questionnaires the organization will distribute to the community surrounding the center’s anticipated spring 2013 launch.

Before the community center opens its doors, A Giving Heart proposes to renovate the building. Improvements Mr. Pippens mentioned include mold removal; roof work; floor resurfacing and refinishing; repairs to a hole in the ceiling of the banquet hall; cosmetic work, such as painting and carpeting; and making the facility handicap-accessible.

Mr. Pippens said he foresees no problems brining the building up to code, and that the plumbing and electricity appear to work fine. Parking shouldn’t be a major issue either, Ms. Cammack said, as St. John Vianney Parish has agreed to allow center visitors to use its lots when not in use by parishioners.

In town hall tradition, the meeting was open to questions and comments from the public. Key talking points included the demographics to be served, the program needs of the area, and the funding and staff support for the facility.

Regarding the demographics to be served, one Allentown resident asked whether the community center would be open exclusively to Allentown residents or would pool people from other neighborhoods and communities. Ms. Young replied the center would be a public facility, possibly funded by public monies, and, therefore, could not close itself off to people from other neighborhoods.

Furthermore, she noted, certain services, such as the youth basketball league, would draw people from other areas simply by virtue of the program.

“Inadvertently, kids from other neighborhoods will come here, and we won’t shut them out,” Ms. Young said.

In response to a follow-up question about the potential for rivalries consequent of mixing kids from different neighborhoods, Ms. Young said, though it was a valid concern, she did not anticipate outside rivalries would present any greater threat than internal rivalries that already exist within the Allentown community.

To prevent any rivalry outbursts or friction, Ms. Young continued, A Giving Heart would assess and implement necessary security measures.

Services for children and teens were discussed at greatest length, because, as Ms. Cammack commented, “there is an obvious need [for such services] in Allentown.” Mirroring this sentiment, Mr. Pippens said, “We want to target the kids who are in need, who don’t have anything to do… to reach out to as many kids as possible and keep them in the program continuously.”

To achieve these ends, Ms. Cammack said evening activities for children and teens are already at the top of A Giving Heart’s philanthropic agenda. Services would be scheduled from around 6 to 8 p.m. to accommodate the school and homework routines of school-aged children.

Ms. Cammack said she also expects A Giving Heart to serve the adult and senior citizen slices of the population, and will check any tentative programs against those provided by other organizations already in place, such as the Hilltop Alliance, Birmingham Foundation and Brashear Association, to prevent unnecessary overlap and competition for funding.

Monsignor Victor Cianca, of Santa Maria Magdalena, said he would like to see A Giving Heart address the special needs of drug- and alcohol-addicted individuals and the employment and childcare needs of single-parent families not only with Allentown residents, but also with those in Beltzhoover, Knoxville and adjacent neighborhoods. Monsignor Cianca also pointed to the pressing needs for food, clothing, coats and recreation in these communities.

About the funding for, and staffing of, the proposed center, Ms. Cammack said both will come from public support. The financial backing for the programs will come from grants, she said, as will the funds for the renovations, which will be helped in part by supply and material donations A Giving Heart expects to receive from Home Depot.

Volunteers, who will receive all mandatory clearances to work with and around children, will come from A Giving Heart’s existing volunteer base and, Ms. Cammack hopes, from the Allentown community.

The level of volunteerism from the area was an issue of concern for Allentown CDC vice-president Judy Hackel. She cited the low public attendance at the meeting as a red flag for community involvement, saying the CDC had sent out a newsletter announcing the meeting to more than 1,500 neighborhood residents.

While resident attendance at the meeting was low, attendance by government representatives was strong. District Justice Richard King came out to hear the updates on the community center project, and to remind residents of services available at his office at 2213 Brownsville Road. Among the things residents can bring to the district judge are work issues, questions, hearings and other concerns.

Judge King has later office hours of 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, when other district judges’ offices typically are not open.

Liz Style, from the Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, came out to provide two booklets for community reference. The first is a guidebook from the College Board which provides information on questions parents should ask their children and suggestions on how they should prepare for a meeting with their children’s teachers.

The second booklet contains Halloween safety tips and activities for enjoying a “spook-tacular” holiday in the ‘burgh, which, Ms. Style announced, was recently named by zillow.com as the safest U.S. city in which to trick or treat.

Copies of both booklets are available at the Allentown Senior Citizen Center, at 631 E. Warrington Avenue. Additional copies can be obtained by contacting Ms. Style at 412-255-2626.

In other neighborhood news, Kyle Stewart, legislative assistant to PA State Representative Jake Wheatley, Jr., attended the meeting to extend to area residents an invitation for a spaghetti social.

Mr. Stewart explained he was going around to local senior centers to raise and garner interest in holding such socials, with food and beverages to be provided by Rep. Wheatley’s office.

If interested in seeing a spaghetti social hosted at the Allentown Senior Citizen Center, contact Mr. Stewart by phone at 412-471-7760, via email at kstewart@pahouse.net or by stopping in Rep. Wheatley’s legislative office at 2015-2017 Centre Avenue. District residents may also bring their SNAP, PennDOT and other state program questions and concerns, as well as take advantage of the free fax and notary public services provided at the state representative’s office.

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