Aaron’s Acres looks to consolidate operations in new facility

By on May 2, 2019

Aaron’s Acres is searching for a year-round facility to consolidate its operations and accommodate its growing programs.

The non-profit organization provides individuals with developmental disabilities ages 5 through 21 with year-round therapeutically based age-appropriate recreational programs focused on enhancing socialization and communication skills. “Right now, we’re too spread out: our offices are in Greenfield Corporate Center (Lancaster); we have three storage units off Rohrerstown Road (Lancaster), and our summer camp is in Manheim. It would be nice to have one central location,” explained Risa Paskoff, Aaron’s Acres executive director. Since the organization serves families and individuals in Lancaster, Berks and Dauphin counties, she said the search for a new location is focused on Manheim Township, Manheim, and Mount Joy.

“We want something that’s an easy drive for families in Dauphin and Berks counties,” she said. In Manheim the organization’s summer camp is held in Veterans Memorial Park. The park also houses the Manheim Community Pool, and summer camp participants use the pool. Constructed in 1958, the pool complex at 504 Adele Ave. contains an L-shaped main pool, a lap pool and a wading pool. The pool has operated at a deficit of around $100,000 in each of the last four years and attendance has been declining.

In addition to the annual deficits, it would cost $361,000 to $581,000 to make the overall repairs the pool needs, according to a study commissioned by borough council in 2017. Paskoff said the search for a new facility for Aaron’s Acres comes after the announcement of the Manheim Community Pool’s potential 2020 close. In November 2018, borough council considered closing the main pool and having the lap pool open for this season. However council agreed to keep the entire complex open this season after both the Manheim Swim Team and Aaron’s Acres pledged financial support to help defray the $50,000 cost for the most basic repairs to open the pool for this season.

“We have been challenged with a unique set of circumstances and are looking for a way to positively address the desires and needs of our community (the borough and Penn and Rapho townships) and larger audiences, particularly Aaron’s Acres,” said Manheim resident Carol Phillips, who serves as borough council president.

Aaron’s Acres is searching for a year-round facility to consolidate its operations and accommodate its growing programs. The non-profit organization provides individuals with developmental disabilities ages 5 through 21 with year-round therapeutically based age-appropriate recreational programs focused on enhancing socialization and communication skills. Photo courtesy of Aaron’s Acres.

“In my first year on borough council I became president, and thought it important to gain as much insight as possible about all facets of our responsibilities. At that time Aaron’s Acres was in its second year of providing the summer camp in the borough. The great majority of my career has been in nursing education, and after I visited the Aaron’s Acres summer camp I was most impressed with the benefits of the program, not only for the youngsters who are the recipients of services, but also for the many young staff members who have their eyes and hearts opened to the many challenges these children confront.”

“We’ve operated the summer camp program in Manheim and have used the pool for the past five years, but the pool’s future hangs in the balance, pushing the need for a permanent facility to the top of our priority list,” Paskoff said, “We are searching high and low for every possible option for 2020. We have extensively looked into existing sites that we might consider as a partner. However, because we have a large number of campers during each session of camp, approximately 90 campers, and a low staff to child ratio of 1:1 or 1:2, we require a good amount of space in the pool.” The pool has been a staple of Aaron’s Acres programs since their start in 1998. The programs focus on including all participants in every activity regardless of ability level, meaning they have special requirements for a future facility. “Because we accept children of all abilities and challenges, the pool needs to be accessible to all, requiring a zero-foot entry, or ramp,” she said Phillips said in addition to Aaron’s Acres, the Manheim community has a “vibrant, active Manheim Swim Team” that uses the pool in addition to community members.

“We have regularly hosted the county swimming championship events. So there are multiple groups that benefit enormously from what our community has provided for years. They would be very disappointed to see the pool close as a number of other pools in the county have,” she said, “However the expenses associated with maintaining the current pool are extensive, and we, as a borough, must thoroughly address these. BandAids will no longer work.” She added that the Manheim Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDC) has established a task force to address

the issue of a potential recreation/community center. Paskoff said Aaron’s Acres is ideally looking for a 16,000 square-foot building and six- to eight-acres of land; “that would enable us to have a swimming pool, playground area, and parking for 100 spaces.” But she said finding the perfect location under the gun has proven challenging.

“We’re open to either developing a new building or repurposing an existing site. As we work on this project, we want to make sure that we are being fiscally responsible and remaining true to our culture. We are committed to ensuring that the majority of the funds we raise are designated towards our programs and our participants,” she explained. Mergers with other groups have also been explored. “We have had conversations with businesses and other non-profit organizations in the community to explore possible partnerships. This exploration is continuing as we want to make sure that we have an appropriate location for our existing programs and for our new programs as we move forward,” Paskoff said.

During Aaron’s Acres 20th Anniversary Gala in December 2018, the organization unveiled conceptual designs for such a facility, but the group remains open to all possible discussion. Estimated cost of the project is $4 to $5 million. “We will begin a capital campaign and secure funds from our donors who have supported us for the past two decades. In addition, we will be submitting grants to several foundations that support capital campaigns.” Paskoff said. As a 501©3 non-profit organization, Aaron’s Acres is looking to the public’s help for possible leads.

To help the search, contact Aaron’s Acres Lancaster office at 717-917-6101. More information can be found at aaronsacres.org.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at RAASHENK@aol.com.

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