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Thea Bowman House in N.Y. gets $250k grant for new elevator

The social services center recently held a fundraiser for the same project, meant to increase accessibility and attract other nonprofit tenants.

Children display a rendering of the planned elevator at the Thea Bowman House's DeSales Center in Utica, New York. (Anthony J. Picente Jr./Twitter)

The Thea Bowman House, a nonprofit providing social services in Utica, New York, has received a new $250,000 grant from the local government for the construction of a new elevator at its DeSales Center location.

The news was announced Monday by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., who said the monies were allocated from American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“The Thea Bowman House has been delivering crucial services to at-risk families in Utica for over 30 years, providing quality care to some of our community’s most vulnerable children and youth,” he said. 

“Its DeSales Center is in desperate need of improvement, and Oneida County is happy to assist by funding the construction of an elevator that will finally provide access to all four floors of the facility. The important work that is being done by this organization deserves a space that can accommodate all of its needs.”

The 92-year-old, four-story facility serves a diverse community in the Mohawk Valley and more than 400 children each day through daycare and preschool for low-income families. Its other programs include a food pantry and a used clothing shop.

The DeSales Center’s need for an exterior elevator has been highlighted in recent months, prompting a fundraiser held earlier this month. The current building setup includes only a chair lift to part of the first floor.

“The addition of an elevator would not only make the building accessible for our children, families, and staff who have handicap conditions, but by being able to utilize the third floor, we can offer the space to other non-profit organizations,” executive director Jane Domi. 

“We would also be in compliance with state mandates on handicapped accessibility.”

Accessibility has been a major topic of focus of Church advocacy groups, including the National Catholic Partnership on Disability and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB has released guidelines calling for accessible church buildings, and Pope Francis noted the same just last year.

Though the Thea Bowman House is not a house of worship, it has close connections to the Catholic Church through its directors and its partnerships with local parishes. Both of its buildings were formerly Church properties, including the St. Clare’s Convent on Lafayette Street and St. Francis de Sales School on Genesee.

Converted into a social services center in 1986, originally known as Agape House, the latter building was renamed a decade later after Sr Thea Bowman, FSPA, the famed Black Catholic activist nun who died in 1990. She has since become one of several African Americans on the path to sainthood.

Two years after her official canonization cause was opened, and at the urging of Domingue, Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri declared February 12th to be Thea Bowman Day in the city, honoring her legacy of service.

“To this day Thea remains a beacon for intercultural awareness and a bridge-builder between races,” the Thea Bowman House website reads.

“[She] was an embodiment of agape, unconditional love, which is why we have named our facility after her.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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