Di­akon cel­e­brates 150 years of ser­vice

Lutheran Home’s Old Main reded­i­cated with rib­bon cut­ting

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - LOCAL NEWS - From Di­akon

Magic had al­ready oc­curred.

That is how Shari Van­derGast, Di­akon’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for ad­min­is­tra­tion and child and fam­ily ser­vices op­er­a­tions, de­scribed what had hap­pened in the new He­len N. Palmer Cen­ter for Per­ma­nency in the re­fur­bished Old Main building at The Lutheran Home at Topton.

“On Tues­day, a brand new re­source fam­ily ar­rived at the cen­ter for a re­view of their fam­ily pro­file—that’s the doc­u­ment we cre­ate about each new fos­ter and adop­tive fam­ily as they go through our train­ing and ap­proval process. They had just fin­ished their meeting and signed off on their pro­file when a fos­ter care case man­ager hung up the phone in her of­fice and walked down the hall­way to them,” Van­derGast said dur­ing re­cent ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­monies.

“Dur­ing that phone call, our man­ager learned of emer­gency need for care for two very young chil­dren. In their fam­ily pro­file the young fam­ily we had just met with noted they had room in their hearts and home for—two young chil­dren. So even be­fore their pa­per­work was fi­nal­ized, we had an urgent need they could meet. They en­tered this beau­ti­ful space as a cou­ple and left as fos­ter parents. It was mag­i­cal.”

That “beau­ti­ful space” was ded­i­cated as part of Di­akon’s 150th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion. The event at The Lutheran Home at Topton in­cluded reded­i­ca­tion of the Old Main building, on which a $7 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion project has just been com­pleted, ded­i­ca­tion of the Palmer cen­ter and a bless­ing of the iconic building and the en­tire se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity lo­cated there.

“Last year, there were 16,000 chil­dren in fos­ter care in Penn­syl­va­nia with an av­er­age amount of time of 18 months in care. About one-third of the chil­dren are in our care as a re­sult of their parents’ drug use. Last year, for the third year in a row, the num­ber of chil­dren en­ter­ing fos­ter care was greater than the num­ber leav­ing fos­ter care. On any given day here in Penn­syl­va­nia, the av­er­age age of a child in fos­ter care is younger than 9 years old. The need for fam­i­lies is great,” Van­derGast added.

The Old Main project in­volved ren­o­va­tion of the pre­vi­ously un­used sec­ond floor of the building, in­stal­la­tion of an el­e­va­tor and com­ple­tion of var­i­ous ex­te­rior re­fur­bish­ment ef­forts. While the 32,000-square­foot building was struc­turally sound and its first floor was be­ing used, Old Main needed ex­ten­sive work to pre­vent fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and make bet­ter use of the his­toric struc­ture.

Ren­o­va­tions in­cluded cre­ation of the per­ma­nency cen­ter, an area of the sec­ond floor of Old Main de­signed to pro­vide of­fice space for Di­akon Adop­tion & Fos­ter Care staff and fa­cil­i­ties to support and train fos­ter and adop­tive fam­i­lies and ease the tran­si­tion of chil­dren into a new fam­ily set­ting.

Founded in 1896, The Lutheran Home at Topton home rep­re­sents one of the two ma­jor roots of the Di­akon or­ga­ni­za­tion; the other is the Tressler Or­phans Home in cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia, which was founded in 1868.

Seed money for the Old Main ren­o­va­tion project came from a be­quest of $7.2 mil­lion, re­ceived sev­eral years ago from the es­tate of He­len Ni­chol­son Palmer of Wy­omiss­ing, who passed away in De­cem­ber 2012. Palmer had served on the board of man­agers of the Home for Wid­ows and Sin­gle Women, Read­ing, which was merged into The Lutheran Home at Topton in 1975. She also at­tended board meet­ings at Topton.

“Mrs. Palmer was very de­voted to ser­vice to peo­ple in need, in­clud­ing chil­dren. We are pleased we could name the per­ma­nency cen­ter af­ter her. The cen­ter is en­tirely in keep­ing with the orig­i­nal in­tent of The Lutheran Home to serve chil­dren and youths with few other re­sources,”

notes Mark T. Pile, Di­akon


“How is the Palmer Cen­ter for Per­ma­nency go­ing to help us meet the needs of more chil­dren?” Van­derGast asked. “Right now we

have fam­i­lies for only one out of ev­ery four chil­dren re­ferred to us. We need more fam­i­lies!”

Fam­i­lies in­ter­ested in pro­vid­ing fos­ter care or

adopt­ing will learn in the new train­ing room. The cen­ter in­cludes a play­room where chil­dren and parents can visit. In new kitchen, fam­i­lies can make a meal. The Palmer Cen­ter’s new space will hold ‘match­ing events’ at which prospec­tive parents can meet chil­dren avail­able for adop­tion.

Over­all ren­o­va­tion work was done with re­spect for the building’s historical ap­pear­ance, Pile noted. In ad­di­tion to in­te­rior work, the project in­cluded ren­o­va­tion or re­place­ment of ex­te­rior porches, win­dow re­place­ments or re­fur­bish­ment, in­stal­la­tion of new heat­ing and air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems and up­grad­ing of the elec­tri­cal sys­tem, all of which will help to pre­serve the building’s un­der­ly­ing struc­ture and en­sure con­tin­ued use of Old Main, listed in the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places.

The first floor of the building houses the Brandy­wine Com­mu­nity Li­brary, the his­toric Putz train lay­out and some of­fices for The Lutheran Home at Topton se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity and other Di­akon staff mem­bers.


Tak­ing part in rib­bon-cut­ting, left to right, front: Va­lerie Minett and Zaiden Lan­ningMinett, Di­akon Adop­tion & Fos­ter Care fam­ily mem­bers, and Cay­den Roth, served by Di­akon Adop­tion & Fos­ter Care and an Old Main project donor; rear, Lillyana Lan­ningMinett, fam­ily mem­ber; Joyce Riche, di­rec­tor of the Topton-based of­fice of Di­akon Adop­tion & Fos­ter Care; Shari Van­derGast, SVP, Di­akon ad­min­is­tra­tion and child and fam­ily pro­gram op­er­a­tions; Mark Pile, pres­i­dent/CEO; Larry Delp, Di­akon board chair; Steve Daniels, Di­akon fa­cil­ity plan­ning and devel­op­ment; Scott Habecker, Di­akon CFO/ COO; Sen. Judy Sch­wank; Kathy Roach, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Di­akon Adop­tion & Fos­ter Care; Jayla Lan­ning-Minett, fam­ily mem­ber.

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