Elevated CDC to offer community services from the Milford Armory

Since the late 1930s, the Armory on Walnut Street in Milford has been used to serve the community. Now after about a decade of vacancy, the building will continue that legacy with a slightly different focus.

A few dedicated and service-minded individuals have been working to transform the building into a safe haven for young and old alike to seek help, fellowship and security, led by Lillian Harrison of Elevated Community Development Corporation.

A local native and 1988 Milford High School graduate, she knows of the intimate needs found in the poorest parts of the community. It’s those needs that continue to speak out to her as she works with others in her organization to tailor their services to the Milford area including activities for kids, transitional housing, apprenticeships through their construction company, financial mentorship and more services.

“The community is telling us what it needs. It’s not so much what we want and think about what it should be. The community is telling us what it needs,” Ms. Harrison said.

The building, given to the city of Milford in 2014 by then-Governor Jack Markell for just $1, was previously occupied by the Delaware National Guard who moved on when they opened a new headquarter in New Castle.

Since then, the building facing Walnut Street has remained vacant and in increasing need of repairs as it continued to age, although the longer building behind the Armory is now used by the city of Milford’s Park & Recreation’s Department for storage.

Back in February this year, Ms. Harrison’s former employer, the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc., started leasing the building from the city of Milford, hoping to offer their financial and legal resources to the community. Under the lease, it was agreed that DCRAC would also help renovate the Armory and cover the utility and other costs associated with running the building. A transition within DCRAC and Ms. Harrison’s switch to full-time employment within her own organization, Elevated, CDC., forced DCRAC to reconsider their obligations to the antiquated building.

Jaclyn Quinn, deputy director for DCRAC, gave the news to the Milford City Council in October, offering support to Ms. Harrison’s organization as she had already offered services to the community up until that point.

“DCRAC’s position is that we have to terminate our lease, but we support Lillian’s non-profit, Elevated, in pursuing the same goals that we had laid out for the Armory,” she told council members.

Council members agreed to end the lease with DCRAC, which was up for renewal in February of 2021, and offer a short-term lease to Elevated, CDC. to be up for renewal in February of 2020 with the same expectations in mind.

The Armory itself is in need of a new HVAC system, kitchen renovations and shingles repairs to name a few of the larger projects. The building is also not currently compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“She’s beautiful as is,” Ms. Harrison said. “There’s not a lot of renovations that need to be done; there’s maintenance and upkeep. That doesn’t sound like a lot of renovations because it’s scaled down from what we originally thought. But it’s what the community has asked from us.”

When DCRAC occupied the building, one of several goals was to renovate the gymnasium to create a workshare space. Ms. Harrison says the community needs both a workshare space and a gym as the last gym open to the public was closed when the Multi-Cultural Center in downtown Milford became The Insurance Market.

She now hopes to create a workshare space in the lower level of the building while maintaining the gym upstairs where GG4L runs a cheerleading squad, open-gym time and before and after school care.

“I knew the skating rink had closed, but I didn’t walk down and see what it had become. It’s a professional space. So, what do the kids do,” Ms. Harrison asked. “GG4L was at Pastor Richie’s [the Multi-Cultural Center] when it was there. When it closed, they had no place to be. Gee You Will who offers prom dresses is also looking for a home. A boxing group… everybody’s looking for a home.”

Although the nearby Boys & Girls Club does offer a gym and other spaces for children’s activities, Ms. Harrison said it isn’t within walking distance for most kids, plus they have to cross a highway to get there. She and GG4L leader Nicole Albino hope to talk to the Boys & Girls Club to help provide transportation so children they serve can attend activities safely.

Transportation can sometimes be one of the greater struggles people face regardless of age, but none of these services could be offered to the scale that is needed without a home for their organization, Ms. Harrison emphasized.

“We have about 60-70 kids easily who come for different things weekly. The city started sending us table tennis starting next month, too, and the Spanish soccer league will be coming. A small church comes on Sunday mornings and does a small service. And we’ll be offering housing counseling starting after the holidays,” she said. “Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty with housing, credit and budget classes, and resources to provide additional jobs quicker for people. We talk to employers all the time. We have been able to make some employers more comfortable with hiring ex-offenders, chronically homeless or displaced veterans.”

All of these services are now being offered from the same Armory in Milford that served the community for decades.

“When the opportunity came for us to look for a new building and were told that the armory was available, I said, ‘That’s a whole lot of building.’ I didn’t know if we needed that much building. But, when I saw her, I said we had to do this,” Ms. Harrison explained. “For me, coming back here, God blessing us with this and being able to work in Milford was really like coming home for me. Sitting out there on that step, you can see Milford move. It was just so nostalgic. And we are no different than any other small organization. We are really just two people here who are blessed to have lived and grew up in this community. We want to help. These are our neighbors, too.”

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