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Lee Initiatives Health & Wellness Endowment completes campaign to replace Heritage Discovery Center elevator

Lee Initiatives Health & Wellness Endowment completes campaign to replace Heritage Discovery Center elevator

JAHA today announced that Lee Initiatives Health & Wellness Endowment has stepped forward with a $22,000 gift that will enable the organization to replace the elevator at the Heritage Discovery Center. JAHA has been engaged in a $92,000 fundraising campaign to replace the elevator, which failed in December 2019.

“The Heritage Discovery Center features five stories, and must be accessible to people using wheelchairs, parents with children in strollers, and anyone with any type of mobility limitation,” said Richard Burkert, president and CEO of JAHA. “We are extraordinarily grateful to Lee Initiatives for their generous gift to complete this campaign.”

“Although most of the donations from the Lee Initiative Health and Wellness Endowment are provided to organizations that are involved in health-related areas, we also work with other non-profit organizations to help them meet their needs,” said Don Gardill, CEO of Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment. “The Heritage Discovery Center is a wonderful resource that has documented the history of Johnstown. We are pleased to be able to help them with the replacement of their elevator.”

A fundraising campaign on the GoFundMe platform was launched in January 2020 to address the crisis. It had gained some momentum when the coronavirus hit in March – necessitating a temporary closure of the building. Currently, the museum is open three days a week.

Despite the pandemic, the GoFundMe campaign has been supported by about 100 individual and corporate donors, contributing amounts from $15 to $5,000. The CTC Foundation, GBU Life Members in Action Program, and two anonymous donors each contributed $5,000. The campaign had raised enough to complete much of the excavation work required, as well as to order the custom part needed, before today’s announcement.

“We’ve been so encouraged and grateful to all those who have contributed to this campaign in this very difficult time,” Burkert added. “Obviously, time is of the essence in getting the elevator back in operation, and without Lee’s generous gift I’m not sure when we would be able to do that.”

The lack of an elevator impedes JAHA’s day-to-day operations in many ways, Burkert noted.

“Last Fridays, lectures and presentations, children’s programming, private rental events – all of these require an elevator, and even moving artifacts to our archives and collections is challenging now,” Burkert said. “We are looking forward to resuming longer visiting hours, and our rich schedule of programming, as the pandemic subsides.”

The Heritage Discovery Center occupies the former Germania Brewery, which was built in 1907. Land was expensive in Cambria City then, and a multiple-story building allowed the company to use gravity in their brewing process. JAHA purchased the building in 1992 and opened the first phase of the Heritage Discovery Center in 2001. The elevator, which features seven stops to serve the building’s five floors, a mezzanine level, and basement, dates from this phase.

The Johnstown Children’s Museum, the Ethnic Social Club, and the Iron & Steel Gallery opened in 2009. Today, all five floors of the building are active.

Although the pandemic has limited JAHA’s operations, the organization has found ways to improve and add to the experiences offered at the Heritage Discovery Center. These include:

  • Wentzscope: A grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies allowed JAHA to purchase this hands-on, durable microscope that enables kids to explore the world of microscopy at the Johnstown Children’s Museum. A donation of 20 slides from the University of California at San Francisco has greatly expanded the number of specimens we have for the Wentzscope, which can display five slides at a time.
  • Great Migration exhibition panel: This new exhibition panel tells the Johnstown story of the Great Migration, the story of Southern Blacks who were recruited to fill jobs when European immigration to Johnstown was cut off by World War I. The Great Migration is a successor exhibit to the story of the East Central European immigrants in Industrial Johnstown, and was made possible by the Benjamin Bosler Fund and the Debra Mayer Fund at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
  • Native Species Garden refurbishment: JAHA has been working to refurbish this exhibition on ecology and native species, located on the rooftop at the Johnstown Children’s Museum.
  • Refurbished 8” rolling mill: This mill stand from Bethlehem Steel’s Gautier Division has been restored and moved just outside the entrance of the Iron & Steel Gallery, thanks to the efforts of Tom Leslie and Ramsey Machine.