Pictured from left to right are Tom O'Neill, Passages, Inc. president and chief executive officer, David Smith and Kevin Snell of Star Financial Bank. Post & Mail photo â Phil Smith
COLUMBIA CITY â The capital campaign designed to fund a renovation of the former Lehmberg Medical Building on North Oak Street into Passages, Inc.âs crown jewel â the Creative Learning Center â got a massive financial boost, times two, Thursday afternoon.
Following a presentation billed as the kick off to the organizationâs capital campaign, David Smith of Star Financial Bank presented Passages, Inc. President and CEO Tom OâNeill with a check for $75,000.
On the heels of the surprise presentation, Capital Campaign Chair and former Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck announced the organization had also received a matching grant from the AWS (Anthony Wayne Services) Foundation, bringing the total windfall to the project to $150,000.
During a presentation on the many community benefits of Passages, OâNeill said the project had surpassed the halfway mark, having raised $523,000 of the estimated $1 million needed to convert the building from a medical office building into the groupâs vision for serving its clients.
OâNeill said contributions from the community such as Star Bankâs gift, the matching grant and $100,000 recently contributed by the Whitley County Community Foundation had fueled the campaign immensely.
âThe $75,000 is very important,â said OâNeill. âAnd the statement that the $75,000 makes is equally important.
âThe ultimate goal is to get the people in our community to get our clients as independent as possible.â
Smith of Star Bank said donating to the Passages cause was a pleasure.
â(The vision for Passages) isnât just shared by the people who run the organization. Sometimes we think we have our lives planned out and we think we have it all figured out and then everything changes,â he said.
September OâConnell, of the Community Foundation, said the decision by her organization to finance one-10th of the project didnât take long to make.
âOur grants committee didnât even bat an eye,â she said. âWe knew this was the place to give it.â
Also speaking to the group of community, city and county leaders was Passages employee Alice Anderson and client Jon Morris, who spoke on the many benefits clients receive from the organization and the positive impact passed on to the community.
âTheyâre (clients) telling us, âwe want creative programs based on our hopes and dreams,ââ Anderson said.
Morris told the attendees he was interested in art and would also like to see a special room in the new facility dedicated to model train enthusiasts.
âIâve really enjoyed my time with Passages,â Morris said.
OâNeill and his team have been busy in recent years.
With the purchase of the future Creative Learning Center finalized and fundraising for the buildingâs renovation continuing in earnest, room for the organizationâs future growth is also set.
âWhen we purchased the Lehmberg building,â OâNeill said, âwe also signed an agreement for the future purchase of the old hospital site.â
Demolition of the former Parkview Whitley Hospital on North Oak Street continues. The real estate, which totals 5.7 acres, isnât currently earmarked for a specific purpose. It also will be purchased by Passages once the site has a clean bill of environmental health.
OâNeill also said Passages will move its administration offices to a location on the second floor of the Van Buren Building in downtown Columbia City.
Passages, Inc. began providing services in the community in 1954.
With a budget of $5 million and a payroll to 158 employees of $3.5 million, the organization serves people with intellectual disabilities.
The Creative Learning Center will be located in the former Lehmberg Medical Building at 353 N. Oak St.