DONATION: Star Bank gives $75,000 to Passages capital project

COLUMBIA CITY — The capital campaign designed to fund a renovation of the former Lehmberg Medical Building on North Oak Street into Passages, Inc.’s crown jewel — the Creative Learning Center — got a massive financial boost, times two, Thursday afternoon.Following a presentation billed as the kick off to the organization’s capital campaign, David Smith of Star Financial Bank presented Passages, Inc. President and CEO Tom O’Neill 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, O’Neill 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 group’s vision for serving its clients.O’Neill said contributions from the community such as Star Bank’s gift, the matching grant and $100,000 recently contributed by the Whitley County Community Foundation had fueled the campaign immensely.“The $75,000 is very important,” said O’Neill. “And the statement that the $75,000 makes is equally important.“The ultimate goal is to get the people in our community to get our clients as independent as possible.”Smith of Star Bank said donating to the Passages cause was a pleasure.“(The vision for Passages) isn’t 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,” he said.September O’Connell, of the Community Foundation, said the decision by her organization to finance one-10th of the project didn’t take long to make.“Our grants committee didn’t even bat an eye,” she said. “We knew this was the place to give it.”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.“They’re (clients) telling us, ‘we want creative programs based on our hopes and dreams,’” 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.“I’ve really enjoyed my time with Passages,” Morris said.O’Neill and his team have been busy in recent years.With the purchase of the future Creative Learning Center finalized and fundraising for the building’s renovation continuing in earnest, room for the organization’s future growth is also set.“When we purchased the Lehmberg building,” O’Neill said, “we also signed an agreement for the future purchase of the old hospital site.”Demolition of the former Parkview Whitley Hospital on North Oak Street continues. The real estate, which totals 5.7 acres, isn’t currently earmarked for a specific purpose. It also will be purchased by Passages once the site has a clean bill of environmental health.O’Neill 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.