Innovator: Susan Lilly, Arch Street Center
When it comes to serving the community, Lancaster is noted for its resources and the professionals and volunteers who are committed to ensuring those most vulnerable are taken care of. Amongst the most accomplished is Susan Lilly of the Arch Street Center, whose take on providing a program for those in need emphasizes self-empowerment and community connection.
The Center, which was located at the basement of St. John Lutheran Church on Orange Street for the past 30 years, moved to its own building five years ago, a shift that Lilly cites as being crucial to the group’s development. Now, they offer “support in the recovery of adults living with serious mental illness by providing social, moral and material support, recreational and hygiene facilities, and fresh, nutritious meals in a safe, nurturing environment.” Currently, the group has 300 members and serves about 45 individuals daily, of 16,500 meals annually.
“All of Arch Street Center’s programs and services are designed to encourage socialization, personal responsibility, empowerment and self-advocacy, all of which can lead to a more stable and rewarding life,” Lilly, who started her career at the Center in 2000, explains. “The moral and social foundations we offer can help reduce recidivism into self-destructive behavior, hospitalization and legal entanglements. By providing opportunities for relaxation and entertainment we help members reduce stress and become happier, healthier people.”
Lilly went on to explain that real caretaking is a holistic thing, and that people don’t just need clothes and food, they need somewhere to belong. “Collectively, our varied services help to support the entire person, body, mind and soul, and assist members in becoming more active and productive citizens. Arch Street Center isn’t just a place to go… it’s a place to belong,” she explained. “Why is this important? Because every person deserves the right to have somewhere to belong! Just because you may have some challenges doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to belong. Every person is important and has worth and value.”
Lilly argues that she thinks society overall is afraid of individuals with mental illness. “People always assume that every bad thing that happens in our society must have been carried out by a person with mental illness. When the actual fact is, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be the victim rather than the perpetrator,” she explains.
Ultimately, Lilly wishes people could understand how difficult it is to live with these kinds of issues.
“I wish people could know how hard it is. Hard for the people with the issues to sometimes do the simplest tasks. How hard it is for families who have to sometimes fight and advocate for their child every day of their lives,” she says. “I wish that people could learn how to look past the sometimes rough exterior, get past the stigma to meet and talk to some of the greatest people I have ever met.”