A labyrinth grows in Allentown

By Margie Peterson
The Morning Call
May 24, 2013

Reminiscent of the beloved novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," a labyrinth of wild grasses has taken root next to the Grace Montessori School in the shadow of a seven-deck concrete parking garage in one of the busiest sections of downtown Allentown.

But the grasses and accompanying herb garden were no accident. They are the product of planning and hard work by a partnership of the school and business groups intent on giving the Montessori students a green space for play, storytelling and meditation on the grounds at 814 W. Linden St.

On Friday morning, the school dedicated the labyrinth with short remarks from local officials, songs by small children and a ribbon-cutting next to the fenced-in little park.

"This area is transforming," said Allentown Mayor Pawlowski, whose children had attended the school, which is owned by Grace Episcopal Church in the city.

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Part of the Grace Montessori mission is to provide quality education for children of all incomes. A third of its students, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, are on scholarship and many live in the downtown, GMS executive director Libby House said.
Uma Rajendran of Breinigsville and Shruti Saraf of Whitehall Township, who attended the dedication, said they weren't put off by the proximity of the parking garage and all the concrete when they chose to send their children to Grace Montessori for pre-school. Saraf said her son is in his second year and loves it. "The school was so good, no matter where it was I would have sent him," Saraf said.

[snip, snip]

Full story, with brief video narrated by GMS program director and elementary school teacher Radhika Hoshing.

Six photos.


The news release by Elizabeth House
In its 20th year in Allentown
Grace Montessori School celebrates the Earth and dedicates new Labyrinth


Grace Montessori School, located at 814 West Linden Street in Allentown on the edge of the city’s redevelopment area, is pleased to announce the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth, constructed in the school’s outdoor green space, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, May 24, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.  As the school has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this academic year, the exciting new project, built over many weeks during the spring, has just been completed. The dedication and ribbon cutting will be an important part of the school’s annual Celebration of the Earth. Honored guests will be PPL Community Relations Director Don Bernhard, State Senator Pat Browne, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, State Representative Mike Schlossberg, Allentown City Council Member Peter Schweyer, and representatives of CREW LV, which sponsored the labyrinth. The Reverend Beth Reed, priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church (located at 5th and Linden Streets in Allentown), which owns the school, will offer a blessing, and the children of Grace Montessori School will perform a concert of songs honoring the Earth and the environment that sustains all life. Parents, church vestry, board of directors, and members will attend.

The labyrinth, which has been generously donated to the school by the members and friends of CREW LV (Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley Chapter) plus Spillman Farmer Architects along with Joanne Kostecky Garden Designs, will be featured at Greenbuild, the largest sustainability conference and expo in the U.S. presented by the U.S. Green Build Council in Philadelphia in the fall of this year.

More than 30,000 professionals of the green building industry, including environmentally conscious engineers, realtors, architects, and manufacturers will come from across the nation to take part in the conference. The local chapter of the USGBC, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, asked all organizations and companies within the region to make a pledge in preparation for the conference. The Grace Montessori labyrinth is CREW LV’s contribution to the conference. Material and time to build the project was donated by the members and friends of CREW LV. Volunteers from PPL assisted members of CREW in performing the back-breaking work of digging up sod, laying Belgian block, shoveling mulch and planting wild grasses and herbs. It is a particularly appropriate project for a school such as Grace Montessori, in light of the Montessori philosophy’s emphasis of reverence for the Earth and the environment.

A labyrinth is generally synonymous with a maze, but there is an important difference between the two: a maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices in paths and direction; but a labyrinth has usually only a single, non-branching path, and its route is not difficult to navigate. Labyrinths have historically been used for both group and private meditation. The Grace Montessori labyrinth will feature a pathway surrounded by raised boxes containing wild grasses chosen for hardiness and bordered by benches and areas for plantings. According to CREW founding member Rosalin Petrucci, “the labyrinth is composed of sustainable materials. Youngsters will connect with nature through the plantings and grasses, which will change over the seasons.”

The labyrinth will become an integral part of the school, its curriculum and mission. Children will enjoy the benefits of the herbs and vegetables planted in the garden and learn about social interaction through activities within. Their teachers have made presentations to the children about the proper uses of labyrinths. They will appreciate spending quiet time there, walking, imagining, gathering in small groups for storytelling, and tending to the grasses and herbs contained in the space. Children who participate in the primary school’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd will walk the labyrinth in mediation and prayer, and it will also be used by the elementary students as part of their inter-faith chapel class.

Grace Montessori School, located in the heart of the downtown HUD focus and Historic areas, began with the purpose of providing high quality education and child care to children of Allentown’s economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. At the heart of the school’s mission is the goal to maintain a first-rate preschool, kindergarten, and elementary grades (1-5) for children ages 3 to 11 who live in the downtown of the city. While the school attracts children of families of a large variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and of all economic levels from all over the Lehigh Valley, GMS reserves 30 percent of the enrollment each year for children who are able to attend only because of the financial assistance offered by its scholarship program. The school also offers child care and summer camp programs.

Grace Episcopal Church is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. It has been known for decades for its many social justice programs, primarily Grace Community Foundation Food Pantry, Grace House, a permanent group residence for previously homeless individuals, and Grace Montessori School. Its outreach efforts also include providing space to the GED Program of the Adult Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, IMPACT Project, Inc., which helps first-time juvenile offenders to re-establish good criminal justice records, and North Penn Legal Services, all of whose staff and volunteers provide essential services to the people of the surrounding neighborhoods.

CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), Lehigh Valley Pa chapter, is the premier real estate organization in the Lehigh Valley and the local chapter of a national organization that is 8,000 members strong. Its members, men and women both, represent every aspect of the commercial real estate industry, including law, leasing, brokerage, property management, finance, construction and more. The organization’s mission is to advance the success of women in commercial real estate.

For more information, contact: Elizabeth H. House, Executive Director, Grace Montessori School, 610-435-4060, or ehhhouse@yahoo.com

Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998)
newSpin blog, Email (c)610-393-1833
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]



Montessori School in Allentown celebrates 20 years of diversity

The Morning Call
Jan. 12, 2013
By Libby House

Did you know Maria Montessori's first classroom, Casa del Bambini (House of Children), was founded in 1907 in a tenement in Rome? The first Italian woman to receive a medical degree, Montessori started her school with 50 poor children living in a slum and successfully taught them, using her method based on the belief that each child has within his or her own potential that can be developed fully when allowed to work independently, with great educational materials and help from highly trained teachers. News of her school quickly spread throughout the world, as did the highly respected Montessori Method.

While most people think of Montessori schools as located in leafy suburban locales or cosmopolitan areas, did you know that a very successful Montessori School has been operating in inner-city Allentown for the past 20 years? A Montessori School in downtown, drawing families with children from all over the Lehigh Valley?

It may seem an oddity, but Grace Montessori School, on Linden Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, in the ground floor of the former Hess Brothers parking garage, is in a beautifully renovated state-of-the-art facility. It is alive, well and happily teaching approximately 100 children (ages 3 to 11) each year from Allentown, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

I am thrilled to be the director of this remarkable school, which many didn't think would stand a chance if we followed the dream of Maria Montessori, educating poor children so they may achieve their highest potential. But we did, and the school has thrived.

It was founded by Cathy Constantin Reid in 1992 to meet the need for excellent preschool education for children whose families were clients of the Grace Episcopal Church Food Pantry. From the start the school provided scholarships for children whose families could not otherwise give them a Montessori education.

The mission became to reserve 30 percent of the enrollment for children from economically disadvantaged families. The intention was never for an exclusive school, but an inclusive one that would bring in children from all socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethnic groups to learn and play together.

After getting over the initial surprise that a Montessori school had chosen an urban location, suburban parents came and saw the beautiful classrooms consisting of high-quality Montessori materials and furniture, all under the loving and careful supervision of Montessori-certified teachers. And they enrolled their children by the scores. Winning over these parents came quickly once the school's reputation for excellent early childhood education had been established.

But after an initial gift from an anonymous donor to the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, the questions became: Who will provide the money for all those scholarships? Where will we find the grants? What kind of fundraising can we do so that parents who can afford to send their children to our school do not end up paying higher tuition to underwrite parents lacking income needed to pay for the costs?

That called for a development program that includes grants from Allentown and local foundations, money from companies and individual sponsors, and an annual scholarship benefit auction held by the parents. When parents decide to enroll their children at Grace Montessori School, they demonstrate their willingness to buy into not only the Montessori philosophy but also into the church's inner-city mission for social justice and serving the poor.

The city has provided grants, and foundations such as Harry C. Trexler Trust, Century Fund, Keystone Nazareth Charitable Foundation, The Rider-Pool Foundation, Charles H. Hoch Foundation, Holt Foundation, Just Born, and Talbot Hall Fund have provided support. This year the school became an Opportunity Scholarship Organization, so that companies can funnel some of their state tax money to the school. And our parents worked hard and raised $20,000 for scholarships last spring, while thoroughly enjoying themselves at their auction benefit held at the Allentown BrewWorks.

I'm looking forward to this 20th anniversary year of celebration, including Heritage Day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, when our families revel in the school's amazing diversity — a mini-Unit Nations — and climaxing in the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth to be completed in spring, a gift from Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley. I invite you to come and visit our unique and welcoming school.

Libby House is executive director of Grace Montessori School in Allentown.


Book drive to benefit children whose families come to the Grace Food Pantry

[From Elizabeth House, director, Grace Montessori School and senior warden, Grace Allentown]

Grace Church Allentown’s Grace Montessori School is holding a book drive to benefit children whose families come to the Grace Food Pantry, located at the church, for supplemental groceries.  We invite you to ask your child, grandchild, godchild, niece, nephew, or neighbor to look around the house for a gently used children’s book that he or she has outgrown and which they would like to donate to a child in need in the Allentown community.
 
The food pantry serves about 200 families (including 350 children) per month.  The school’s goal is to be able to give each one of those children a book to take home. Please ask a child you know to pick out a book they would like to share with another child. Such a simple gesture can make a big difference and put a smile on a child’s face.
 
If you would like to donate more than one book, or would like to purchase a new book for the book drive, that is fine as well.  All donations will be gratefully received, and you can be assured the books will be put to very good use. Thank you in advance for your support.
 
Books may be donated Monday through Friday
May 16th – May 20th
 
Collection bins will be available at the primary school site (814 W. Linden in Allentown)
and at the elementary school site (located in the administrative offices of the church).
 
You may also drop off donations or mail them directly to
Grace Episcopal Church, 108 N. 5th Street, Allentown, PA 18102.


Six chronically homeless persons will live next to Grace Episcopal Church in Allentown

By Libby House and Bill Lewellis

Grace House2 On April 20, Grace House at 112 North Fifth Street, Allentown, a newly renovated three-story brick and stucco property next to Grace Episcopal Church, will welcome its first homeless residents.

The creation and development of a group home to provide permanent housing in apartments for six chronically homeless persons began a few years ago with a conversation between Robert Wilkins, president of the board of New Bethany Ministries from 1998 to 2010, and Elizabeth House, senior warden of Grace Church.

It was the brain child of Wilkins, House, William Kuntze, former executive director of New Bethany and Patrick Malloy,  former rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Their initiative received enthusiastic moral support as well as financial commitment from Bethlehem Diocese Bishop Paul V. Marshall.

Grace House Funding for Grace House came from a wide variety of sources. Grace Church donated to New Bethany Ministries half the value of the property which for nearly 15 years had served as the church's headquarters for its former AiDS Outreach Ministry that closed in December 2007 when federal and state funding dried up. The $500,000 costs for renovating the facility were paid for by a $250,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank, Pittsburgh, through KNBT grants from Lehigh County and the City of Allentown, and additional money generously provided by Episcopal Ministries of the Diocese of Bethlehem, the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, Senator Pat Brown, Representative Jennifer Mann, The Century Fund, and individual donors.

The new group home will become part of the City of Allentown's First Lady's Commission to End Chronic Homelessness in 10 years. The six individuals who will gain the safety and stability of a permanent residence through this project represent 10 percent of those described as chronically homeless in Allentown in 2010.

Grace House will be a joint project of New Bethany Ministries of Bethlehem, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and community operated, and Grace Allentown, a parish of the Diocese of Bethlehem. The facility's location in downtown Allentown will allow New Bethany Ministries, which has been working to address the needs of homeless people and others on the margins of our society, primarily in Bethlehem, for 25 years, to expand its outreach. it will also allow the Grace Church community to continue to develop and increase its mission and ministry to the people of the inner city neighborhoods of Allentown, where it already provides strategic services to the poor.

in addition to New Bethany and Grace Church, the Lehigh County Conference of Churches will play a crucial role in supporting and supervising the residents who will live in the facility by providing rent subsidies and social services. The organization will select the individuals who are to live in the group home and will assign a caseworker to help see that those living in Grace House will have the assistance they need to help them become independently functioning and contributing members of the community. They will assist with access to public benefit funding, subsidized meals, clothing services, referrals for medical and mental health treatment, and job skills training.
Grace Episcopal Church houses several ministries that will also provide additional support for the group home residents, such as supplemental groceries through its food pantry, Grace Community Foundation which provides supplemental food in a respectful manner to some 6,000 ethnically, religiously and racially diverse persons in need every year; access to a job placement counselor through the City's Weed and Seed Program; a GED program for those who dropped out of school who wish to work to earn their diplomas; the iMPACT juvenile offender program; services from paralegals from North Penn Legal Services; and blood pressure screenings. The church hopes that the tenants may wish to become part of the Grace Church community and will benefit from the possibilities that can be derived from relationships offered there.

Once described at a national conference because of its outreach ministries as the largest small church in the United States, Grace Church also owns Grace Montessori School, which provides scholarships to one-third of its diverse student body of more than 100 in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility.
 
Episcopal Ministries of the Diocese of Bethlehem, Inc., dba New Bethany Ministries, is an agency of the Diocese of Bethlehem and as such is a church-sponsored, non-profit corporation whose purpose is to organize and operate housing and social ministries with related services in the geographic area of the Diocese of Bethlehem for the care and relief of the needy, poor, displaced and other distressed persons.
 
With its long history and experience in battling homelessness, New Bethany Ministries brings compassion and expertise to the Grace House initiative at a level that cannot be overstated. This ministry of The Episcopal Church summons the talents of approximately 20 employees and 600 volunteers to serve the needs of the homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill, and the poor. In addition to managing its many shelters, homes, and apartments and providing much needed social services, the agency also serves breakfast and lunch daily in its hospitality center in South Bethlehem and offers emergency food pantry services. it is hoped that the unique combination of experience, expertise, services, proximity, and common mission of these three social justice power houses, New Bethany Ministries, Grace Church, and LCCC, will serve as a model for faith-based groups wishing to work together to address the problems of the most desperate of individuals living in our society, making a permanent difference in their lives that will restore them to dignity and independence.

New Bethany's 25-year history has included one deep valley. It was buried in debt in 1998. Low morale had spread through the staff as its executive director and two executive board members resigned. The staff had to be cut from 16 to 10. The organization was close to going out of business. That’s when Wilkins, retired senior vice president of finance for Bethlehem Steel and former Bethlehem city administrator took a leave of absence from his business to serve as interim executive director during New Bethany’s crisis when the ministry was having a hard time finding the $1,000 a day in donations (half the budget) it takes to operate its shelters, subsidized housing and meal programs. That's when the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, New Bethany’s 1983 founder, stepped in.

The Diocese of Bethlehem provided New Bethany the security for a loan and lent the charity $200,000 without interest. Bishop Paul Marshall convened a “Blue Ribbon” panel of leaders in business, social service, church and philanthropic fields to explore the problems and challenges facing New Bethany. The panel met during the last quarter of 1998 and offered a series of recommendations to the New Bethany board. By 2001, the charity cut its annual spending plan by $100,000. It got back up to a full staff of 16. It began offering just as many services as before its financial fall.

[Mrs. Elizabeth "Libby" House is senior warden of Grace Episcopal Church, Allentown, and director of the Grace Montessori School. Canon Bill Lewellis, now retired, served for nearly 25 years as communication minister for the Diocese of Bethlehem.]

Download: (1) An outline of the origin of New Bethany Ministries, by Bill Lewellis, (2) New Bethany's Two-Year Recovery, by Bill Lewellis, Diocesan Life, Dec. 2001, (3) Remarks by Beth Reed at Grace House open house, 4/7/11.

Download NBM.Outline of Origins

Download NBM’s Two-Year Recovery.Lewellis

Download NBM.GraceHouse.Holy Ground