In the fall of 1993, the Social Ministry Committee of St. Michael Lutheran Church decided affordable senior housing would be their primary concern. Lou Wonderly, (who worked for ten years on affordable housing in Kennett) and Marilyn Forney (who had expertise on the HUD 202-Sec 3 Program) were co-chairs. It was a golden era and Lou wrote a great book Luther Houses at Jennersville outlining the building and chronology of the project. You can read it online and copies are available in our church.
With Lou at the helm, we recruited the members of our team. Bob Mattson, Art Knechtel, and Darwin Wika joined our all-volunteer organization to form Lutheran Senior Services of Southern Chester County (LSSSCC). This housing project was a massive undertaking for a volunteer organization. We couldn’t have had better people. Darwin had assisted in building plants for DuPont, Lou had tremendous executive and writing skills, Bob had years of experience running an organization, and Art Knechtel was made treasurer- he was parsimonious with money but could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. Longwood Foundation granted us $15,000 and we were off to the races. The grant money was used to buy office supplies and furniture. The office was set up in a Sunday school room, but we had to move all the equipment in and out to make room on church weekends. We operated from 9am-5pm Monday-Friday with Lou at the helm. It took us three to four years to get land, permits, money, and all the other necessary arrangements in line. At the time HUD was awarding significant yearly grants to urban and non-urban housing (for which Jennersville was a perfect fit).
From 1993-1998 LSS underwent a tremendous search to secure 18 acres of land in Jennersville. After much hard work and preparation, a HUD Grant was awarded for Luther House I (LHJ I). In 1999 the first occupants moved in to LHJ I. We opened in November at capacity and our wait list numbered over 400 people. During the construction of LHJ I we had submitted a duplicate application seeking HUD funding for Luther House II (LHJ II) and it was completed by 2002.
In 2003 HUD issued a faith-based initiative. We submitted a bid with our church as the sponsor and were awarded the total grant. This was an immense victory and allowed us to construct Luther House III.
We are proud to say that Luther House I, II, and III were completed with government grants and private gifts. No outside fundraising was needed- a testament to the diligence of our volunteers.
To date, over 800 individuals have benefitted from this mission to date and our waiting list continues to grow.
-- Marilyn Forney