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Fundraising goal achieved, construction begins on Bethlehem wellness center

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Artist rendering of proposed center.
Artist rendering of proposed center. - (Photo / )
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As they took hammers to smack holes in a wall, participants celebrated the realization of a capital campaign goal.

Signifying the breaking of barriers to economic success and achievement, participants in a “wall-breaking” program at a South Bethlehem wellness center under construction celebrated achieving their goal of raising more than $2 million to establish the Fowler Community Wellness Center.

The Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit that serves thousands each year, hosted the event Wednesday to share details of the project at 520 E. Fourth St., site of the new center.

The center is designed to promote a variety of assistance, wellness and community building initiatives and economic achievement objectives such as job training, placement and financial management for people at or below the poverty level.

The wellness center, being built by Allied Building Corp. of Bethlehem, will include a common lobby area, shared tenant space and areas for Promise Neighborhoods, an educational program; a St. Luke’s University Health Network clinic; and mental health space.

BDA Architects, which has an office in Bethlehem, designed the project.

The center’s mission is to get nonprofits to collaborate on bringing a range of services to help area residents, officials said. A number of organizations signed on as partners in the creation of the wellness center, including St. Luke’s University Health Network, Bethlehem Area School District, two government agencies, four colleges and seven human service providers, officials said.

The campaign committee raised more than $2.1 million to support Wellness Center renovations and also secured the funding to renovate the nearby Basilio Huertas Senior Center. Its next goal is to secure funds to fix capital needs at the existing Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley facility, officials said.

“It allows us to collaborate in new and exciting ways for those impacted by poverty,” said Mary Colon, interim executive director, president of the board of directors for the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley.

Participants can also learn job-training skills, she said, thanking the many companies, foundations and nonprofits that donated to the cause. A number of local businesses donated funds to the project, including Air Products and Chemicals, B. Braun Medical Inc. and ESSA Bank & Trust.

“Fourteen organizations have signed on to make South Bethlehem a place to have a wellness center,” Colon said.

By this time next year, construction should be finished and the wellness center should be ready to open, she said.

“Once the center opens, we will have many success stories to share,” Colon said. “At one time, we were strangers to each other but we’ve come together to be neighbors. I just want it to be a center where everyone is welcomed. It will be the one-stop shop where all services will be available to them.”

The Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley serves more than 4,000 people a year, most from this community, she said.

Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez said the wellness center will help fill a gap in supporting low income people and said he was confident in the center’s ability to help residents. He said the project further strengthens the commitment St. Luke’s and Lehigh University are making in South Bethlehem.

Both organizations will occupy space in the nearby Third and New Street office project under construction at the base of the Fahy Bridge.

St. Luke’s and Lehigh University donated $250,000 each to the wellness center project, said Dale Kochard, retired assistant vice president of commercial and regional affairs for Lehigh University. St. Luke’s also loaned staff to help the organization with construction oversight on the project, Kochard said.

“Community is the main reason we embarked on this goal,” Kochard said. “We have asked community members to take part in this ceremony.”

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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