At Clare House, a non-profit transitional home dedicated to serving homeless women and their families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it’s a typical day. Mothers are getting ready for work while simultaneously preparing kids for school or daycare.
The phone rings frequently while the families are out for the day. Maryanne O’Neill, Clare House executive director, answers questions about availability of housing and the various programs they offer. But there’s a lot more need than one organization can provide. The 12-month Clare House program is designed to shelter families while mothers save money and get back on their feet after suffering all variety of life challenges.
That evening, the seven moms currently living at Clare House attend a weekly meeting with staff to discuss their needs. Occupants have very different experiences and life skills. Some need counseling, help with childcare or managing a budget. One of the organization’s goals is to place women in jobs with a real career path, leading to self-sufficiency.
A new issue came up in the meeting. It was November, during the year’s first real cold snap. Several of the families didn’t have heat in Harmony House, one of two houses operated by the Clare House charity. O’Neill turned to a familiar source for help.
“I’ve used Lancaster Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical in my own home, so I called them to see what could be done about the heating system,” said O’Neill. “They purged the parts of the system that weren’t heating correctly, but they also let us know upfront that we’d need to replace the boiler very soon. Those were words none of us wanted to hear.”
Upon arriving, Larry Gassert, General Manager at Lancaster PHCE, found a boiler well beyond its lifecycle.
“Larry explained that our system was like an old car needing a lot of repair,” said O’Neill. “They could probably keep it running for a little longer, but it wasn’t worth the expense or trouble.”
That left Clare House in a predicament. There was a big need for a new boiler, but a limited budget to make it happen. That’s when the pieces started falling in place.
O’Neill told Beth Valentin, a community volunteer who chairs a Clare House fundraising committee, about the problem. She explained that much of the year’s fundraising efforts would need to be diverted to the boiler replacement.
“I reminded Maryanne that I work for a boiler company,” said Valentin, manufacturing engineer at U.S. Boiler Co. “I thought there was a good chance that we could help.”
Valentin and Alexis Gessner, U.S. Boiler Co.'s digital marketing manager, had recently founded U.S. Boiler Social Impact, an initiative for the company and its employees to do good in the community around them. The heating system need of Clare House clearly aligned with the committee’s mission.
After U.S. Boiler Co. approved to donate a boiler to the cause, Valentin began putting together the pieces of the puzzle. She contacted Gassert at Lancaster PHCE, who offered to donate the labor for the boiler retrofit and handle permitting. Jason Richards, at Hajoca’s Lancaster branch, donated all the remaining heating system components.
In early January, four Lancaster PHCE technicians spent two days at Clare House. The company’s 43 people provide residential plumbing, HVAC, electrical and drain cleaning service to Lancaster and the surrounding counties. Clare House, in downtown Lancaster, is very close to home.
“This job would’ve come together more quickly, but the mechanical room was very cramped, and we needed to wait on an inspector to look at the existing venting, which wasn’t up to code,” said Gassert.
After removal of the old unit and all near-boiler piping, Lancaster PHCE’s Rick Myers, Dave Longabaugh, Jared Keiffer and Jan Graver installed the donated U.S. Boiler Co. Series 2 boiler and all of the material donated by Hajoca. This included zone control panels, circulators, LWCO, hi-limit, ProPress fittings and copper pipe.
The 205 MBH Series 2 boiler supplies heat to the three-story building with three zones of standing cast iron radiators, and a fourth zone for an indirect-fired water heater.
“Our company donates time, money and services each year to give back to the community,” said Gassert. “This job was a little different in that it provided a unique opportunity to team up with two other local businesses that we have a lot of respect for; Hajoca and U.S. Boiler Company.
“U.S. Boiler Company is one of the oldest manufacturers in Lancaster, and Hajoca was founded in 1858,” he continued. “Lancaster PHCE opened its doors in 1904, so there’s some real historic significance to the relationships here.”
The Clare House vision is a community where all women and children have a sense of optimism, confidence, and hope for the future. And with its staff, volunteers and supporters, the organization is making their vision a reality, one family at a time.
“One of the things that makes Clare House unique is that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to the help, mentorship and guidance provided to the women and families that seek refuge here,” said Valentin, who has been involved with Clare house for more than six years. “There’s fluidity in how long they reside here, and in the type of help they get in that time. The challenges these women have faced varies widely, and the support provided reflects that.”
Most recently, Valentin’s role at Clare House has focused on fundraising. She explains that non-profits can’t exist without for-profits. Local businesses large and small shouldn’t underestimate the power they have to improve lives in the communities around them.
“This boiler replacement project went from being a source of anxiety to creating feelings of peace, community and outreach almost overnight,” said O’Neill. “We are in awe of the generosity that these companies have shown us.”