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OUR Community Center: Susquehanna County’s first facility of its kind

 Mural on the exterior of OUR Community Center building in Forest City.
Donnie Kirchner
Mural on the exterior of OUR Community Center building in Forest City.

A first of its kind facility is coming to Susquehanna County. In February, plans were announced for the creation of OUR Community Center in Forest City. Since then, interest in the center and the programs it will provide have been the talk of the town.

“In the last couple of weeks, it’s been amazing,” said Forest City Mayor Christopher Glinton. “People coming out of the woodwork. People stopping me on the street to talk about it!”

OUR Community Center, or OCC, will be housed in a donated building on Main Street. At the heart of the complex will be a coffee shop where people of all walks of life can mingle and chat over their favorite beverages. In addition, there will be several floors of common areas, workshops, and classrooms for get togethers, classes, and support groups. Therapy groups will also be offered free to participants.

The seeds of OCC have been germinating for a year and a half. Mayor Glinton and Paul
Daugenelo, the co-owner of Ros-Al Floral, had been discussing the need for a common meeting place for their community, dreaming up ways to get such a project off the ground.

The lack of a community center in Susquehanna County had also been on Commissioner Judith Herschel’s mind. The topic came up during a meeting with Mayor Glinton.

“It was like divine intervention,” Herschel said. “It’s been one synchronicity after another with this project since that meeting.”

“Serendipity,” Glinton added. “[The planning of this project] has brought us all a lot closer. And that’s what it’s about. It’s not just a community center, it’s where everybody can get together and put our minds together and everybody benefits from it.”

One thing that both Commissioner Herschel and Mayor Glinton stress is the importance of having a place for various demographics in the county. From teens, to seniors, to the LGBTQ community, Herschel and Glinton say this community center will act as a safe haven and source of growth and inspiration for all.

“We want to be able to have a safe environment for anybody and everybody to come to, where they can feel at home and be around individuals who are likeminded, but also individuals who are different from themselves,” said Herschel. “It’s a place where we can all get together and learn about one another, learn new things. Unfortunately, our culture is moving away from that, and rural America needs that now more than ever.”

While Mayor Glinton and Commissioner Herschel maintain that most of the feedback is
positive, they say some community members have voiced their displeasure. The idea of a place that will be welcoming to marginalized citizens, such as members of the LGBTQ community or individuals in substance recovery, has not been embraced by some.

Jake Rosen, a retired Susquehanna County resident and volunteer organizer of OCC,
stands firmly behind the center being a place for everyone in the community.

“If you legitimize the ability to exclude, you destroy civilization itself,” Mr. Rosen says. “It’s that simple. And our effort is to unite people through activities that are good, that are useful, and that are fun. Some people don’t like that? Don’t come,” Rosen said.

Mayor Glinton added, “but if they see that OCC is striving and growing … the person that was so negative might stop by just out of curiosity and come in and say ‘this is really great. Maybe I need to be a part of this.’ That’s what it’s for.”

Lauren Canfield with the Forest City branch of the Susquehanna County Library System is excited for OCC to open.

“I do think it will bring more people to town, because I don’t think we have a lot of hang out places in the county,” Canfield said. “I’d love to see it bring more people into the library, for sure!”

While Lauren and others wait for the grand opening of the OCC facility, Commissioner Herschel and fellow organizers have looked into additional ways to bring people together.

“We understand that this is such an important thing for us now,” said Herschel. “It’s taking us a little bit of time to get open. It’s an endeavor. We have an older building that needs quite a bit of renovation, so we’re going to need help with finances, public donations, and volunteers.”

According to Commissioner Herschel, several area businesses, nonprofits and organizations have stepped up to help with just that. Some have offered the use of building space while renovations are made to the OCC facility.

“What we’re working on right now is being able to provide activities and classes in a mobile setting throughout the county,” Herschel said. “We don’t want to wait for the building, we want to get started!”

In the coming months, OCC will offer four offsite programs. Jake Rosen expects a formal announcement of dates and locations soon.

“These are programs that can be held anywhere, and that’s okay because our center isn’t a site-specific center, it’s a countywide center.” Rosen said. “One program is about financial literacy called ‘Money Doesn’t Grow on trees,’ and it’s a discussion and workshop on how, basically, to handle your money. To understand how credit cards work, mortgage matters, interfacing with banks, that kind of thing. We’re going hold that in Montrose.”

The second program slated for the spring is a workshop on mental health for adults. It will teach participants how to look for the signs of mental health issues and how to guide a person to appropriate care.

A third program will focus on computer basics for older residents.

“We have a large county population of older people,” Rosen said. “Twenty percent of the
population are senior citizens. Many of them know how to use computers, but many of them don’t, or don’t feel comfortable. This is the kind of thing we’ve been asked about.”

Sticking with the technology theme, OCC’s fourth countywide program planned for the spring and summer is a long-term course on how to write your own video game.

“The point here is to provide for our young people especially a kind of computer programing education,” Rosen explained. The course will detail how to get into the world of IT and will be helpful for anyone planning to study computer science in college.

A common thread among everyone involved in the creation of Our Community Center is recognizing the need for facilities of its kind, and the potential for community growth. According to Commissioner Herschel, everyone involved has learned a considerable amount about how to get a community center from a dream to reality, and she hopes their efforts can be used as a blueprint for others.

“What I would like to see, and what Mayor Glinton and our volunteers would like to see, is this become a model for doing this in other communities, not just in Susquehanna County, but all over rural America,” Herschel said.

For more information about OUR Community Center and to find classes and groups, visit their Facebook page, facebook.com/OURcommunitycenterFC.

To support OCC programming and renovation efforts, donations can be mailed to 503 Main Street, Forest City, PA, 18421.