Neighborhood House renovations lift and serve community

CHARLESTON—Neighborhood House has undergone a transformation.

The outreach center, which has been a place of acceptance and hope to those in need for over 100 years, was feeling its age. Sloping floors, leaks, drafts, outdated plumbing and wiring, and termites had taken its toll on the community’s favorite house.

Then, with much excitement, renovations began in October 2017 and a grand reopening was held in September 2018.

In the past month, the staff and clients of Neighborhood House have enjoyed every moment in the upgraded space.

“Everyone has been incredibly positive!” said Deborah LaRoche, program director. “I remember one woman joking about how it certainly was worth the wait.”

Among all the newness and niceties, the first floor boasts an office, staff kitchen, half-bath, community room, intake office, work space and large closet.

The second floor has an all-purpose classroom, office, powder room, supply closet, and computer lab for classes. And the third floor is now a beautiful space currently used for storage. LaRoche said it provides an area for large donations so they can add as needed to the clothing closet.

Along with the physical renovations, LaRoche and Ericka Plater took the opportunity to conduct a needs assessment to determine the best way to help the community.

Plater, executive director of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, which oversees Neighborhood House, stressed the importance of working with other agencies and not duplicating services so everyone is working together to help people.

What Neighborhood House offers now

* Computer classes. LaRoche said additional volunteers are needed to teach, or even to just monitor and answer questions.

* Budgeting class. Led by Rita Aidoo, case manager at Neighborhood House, it is required of anyone seeking assistance with a bill.

“Rita really works with families to help them get back to zero debt,” LaRoche said.

Aidoo also directs clients to needed resources from other agencies. For example, a representative from 180 Place comes once a week and stays through lunch at the soup kitchen to meet people where they are.

* Addiction classes. Jeanette Drayton, an outreach coordinator with Charleston Center, provides addiction information sessions once a week. She speaks on topics such as recognizing triggers, coping mechanisms, and what to do if a family member is using or if you encounter an overdose.

Already, people attending the addiction class have stayed after to ask how to get clean, LaRoche said.

* Community approach. More than ever, Plater said they provide a combination that really works. Neighborhood House offers a safe and caring environment in tandem with outside partners. Because their clients trust them, people in need also quickly trust the support services, which gets them the help they need.

No longer in the mix

The flip side of the needs assessment was doing away with services already offered by other agencies.

For example, GED classes that were once held at Neighborhood House are also provided right next door by Trident Tech, so now the outreach links with them. This opened space for additional services. Plater said one thing they are looking into and would love to add is a way to address mental health issues.

Also, Neighborhood House is no longer looking to establish a Clean of Heart laundry service in the community. Plater said there is already a Laundry Matters in the area so they would be duplicating services.

Finally, as a point of clarification, ESL classes, or English as a Second Language, were never held at Neighborhood House. That class is offered at Johns Island Community Outreach.

On the horizon

Plater and LaRoche said they have also met extensively with people in the community and are looking at ways to address their needs as a whole, such as voting issues and gentrification.

“It’s the whole concept of what it is to be a neighborhood,” Plater said.

Miscellany/Doug Deas: People attend a money management class at the newly renovated Neighborhood House in Charleston recently.