Ballard Center makes room for Penn House staff, services with consolidation of nonprofit activities

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Penn House, 1035 Pennsylvania St., is now empty with the relocation of the nonprofit's staff and services to the Ballard Center in North Lawrence.

It may be a little more cramped at the Ballard Center now, but the agency’s executive director said the consolidation of East Lawrence’s Penn House staff and services with Ballard’s North Lawrence site was a financial necessity.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for so long,” said Becky Price, executive director of the Ballard Center. “We’re finally all under one roof. Just the pest control bill for the Penn House alone was $75 a month. That may not sound like much, but for a nonprofit like us, it’s huge.”

The Ballard Center on Friday closed the agency’s Penn House location, 1035 Pennsylvania St., for its long-planned move to the Ballard Center in North Lawrence, 708 Elm St., Price said. A weeklong break in the services offered at Penn House will occur as the merger is completed. Those services include a clothes closet, community food pantry and household goods store.

“We’re taking a breath,” Price said. “We will have everything open for business August 27.”

The Ballard Center preschool for 2- to 5-year-olds will continue uninterrupted as will the emergency services the agency offers to families and children, Price said.

The Ballard Center took over administrative control of Penn House in 2005 at the request of Douglas County United Way, Price said. Since that time, the agency has offered various services at both sites.

Becky Price, executive director of the Ballard Center, listens as Mia Jackson, a student in the Ballard Center’s 4-year-old preschool class, reads a story about her family. The Ballard Center has moved staff and activities from Penn House in East Lawrence to Ballard’s North Lawrence site at 708 Elm St.

Working at a computer from her desk in Price’s office, Ballard Center board member and part-time bookkeeper Ginger Williams said she had not yet calculated exactly how much the consolidation would save the nonprofit.

“I do know we were spending $500 a month at Penn House on utilities alone,” she said.

The money saved from the consolidation and that collected from a successful summer fundraiser allowed the Ballard Center to add the new full-time position of director of operations and expand the hours of its child and family therapist from about eight to 20 hours a week, Price said. Making the move to the Ballard Center from Penn House is a janitor, an IT specialist, a family community service connections coordinator and the Penn House manager, who will now become the food pantry coordinator. The many Penn House volunteers will also be welcomed to the consolidated site.

“Penn House was heavily reliant on volunteers,” she said. “They will now be coming here, which is great.”

Client interviews and a demographic review that the Ballard Center conducted in advance of the consolidation showed that Penn House served people from throughout the county and not just from East Lawrence, Price said.

“We found there were no service clusters in East Lawrence,” she said. “We found the same thing for the Ballard Center. I thought our preschool children will be clustered from North Lawrence, but they are from all over the community and the county, really.”

Some modifications of Penn House services will occur along with the move; these were developed from a yearlong review of best practices, Price said. The adult clothes closet will focus on providing clothing to people applying for jobs or starting work.

The household goods store will focus on the basics that families need to start living independently: towels, washcloths, bedding, dishes, cookware and the like, Price said. The store will no longer accept donations of toys, furniture, books or large appliances.

Penn House, which volunteers built on a single weekend in 1969, will now be sold as is through a sealed-bid process, Price said. Those interested in inspecting the 4,040-square-foot building before submitting a bid should call 785-766-3934, Price said. The deadline to submit a bid is Sept. 12.


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