The sight of a house being demolished across the street from Meadville Area Senior High earlier this month might have led some to think that an expansion of the school parking lot adjacent to the house was on the horizon.

An expansion is underway, but the result will be significantly more valuable than a larger parking lot.

The demolition of the house at 913 North St. is part of a multi-pronged plan by Erie Homes for Children and Adults to enlarge its presence in Meadville. In the past two months, the agency has purchased the North Street property, a vacant lot at the intersection of Chestnut and Grove streets and has occupied an office at 568 Washington St. that was purchased in November 2018.

“We have a lot of things happening, lots of irons in the fire,” said Beverly Keep, EHCA’s chief operating officer. “We’re very fortunate to have this opportunity to expand.”

Not only is the growth exciting for EHCA, according to Keep, residents of Meadville should “absolutely” be excited about what’s coming next.

The first step on North Street began with demolition, but construction is already underway for the facility that will take the place of the previous house.

“We are building a four-person home for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Keep said. The modular home will be constructed indoors through the winter with construction at the North Street location likely becoming evident in the spring, she said.

“This will be our first home in Meadville, but we do have other services in the area that are community-based,” Keep said. “We are expanding our continuum of care.”

EHCA has offered support services for people with disabilities since 1912, when the organization was founded as Erie Infants Home and Hospital, according to the EHCA website. Today, EHCA offers services Crawford, Erie and Venango counties, supporting more than 400 individuals and their families through 19 community homes and other programs.

The plan to expand EHCA’s services in Meadville has been in the works for some time, Keep said, in response to housing referrals from Crawford County for EHCA’s facilities in the Erie area.

After initially encountering difficulty finding a suitable property, EHCA located one, had another come available in quick succession and eventually purchased both. The plan for the lot at the intersection of Chestnut and Grove streets has not yet been determined, according to Keep.

“We’re assessing it,” she said. “If the need is there, we will build another home.”

In addition to the community-based services it has offered in Meadville, EHCA has had two homes in Titusville for more than 20 years, according to Jonathan Rilling, EHCA’s vice president of marketing, advancement and communications. Construction of the new group home on North Street represents a significant extension of its Crawford County presence.

“We really wanted to expand our residential services in Meadville to make Meadville like our second hub,” Rilling said.

The Washington Street office, the North Street home and the lot at Chestnut and Grove represent a real estate investment of $240,000, according to online county records. The North Street home is likely to bring several jobs as well, according to Keep. But having a group home like the one planned for North Street brings value in another form that’s difficult to quantify by allowing disabled people who need individual care to remain close to their families.

That value was reinforced by officials at other Meadville agencies serving disabled individuals as well.

“How great would it be to have it where people can stay in the community?” asked Lynn McUmber, executive director of Crawford County Mental Health Awareness Program.

There is “definitely” a need for such housing, according to Mark Weindorf, executive director of The ARC of Crawford County.

EHCA is already helping Meadville area individuals with intellectual disabilities remain in their community through its Lifesharing program, according to Melissa Love, who directs the program. Nearly 10 Crawford County participants are matched with residents who take them in as part of the family.

The program can also provide financial support so families whose children might otherwise have been able to keep their children at home are able to do so, according to Love.

The effect of the family environment can be life-changing, Love said. She was equally positive regarding the community environment, from EHCA’s reception at the Halloween parade, to the support from businesses that have provided positions for the agency’s clients.

“There’s something about Crawford County that is truly amazing,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the hometown feeling, but people have just been truly amazing about welcoming the people we support.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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