Members of the Conference Disability Concerns Committee and other United Methodist clergy and church members in Beaver and Lawrence counties are urging officials in the borough of Koppel to approve plans to build of group homes for people with disabilities.
McGuire Memorial, a faith-based non-profit headquartered in New Brighton, has proposed building homes offering one-floor living for individuals with mild to severe disabilities in the borough. McGuire's Community Home Program currently has 22 such homes throughout the region. Residents go out to work or school each day, returning to the private homes, with in-house staff who assist them with daily needs, transportation and medical care.
"For the church, the Disability Concerns Committee, and me, this is a civil rights issue, where all people are welcomed into any community," said the Rev. Chad Bogdewic, pastor of Koppel First UMC and Wurtemburg UMC in Ellwood City, and a member of the Conference Disability Concerns committee. "We have started a campaign asking the residents and the zoning board to let McGuire build homes in Koppel. Unfortunately, many of these individuals, if they do not get the housing that they need, will end up homeless."
Koppel is a mill town with about 800 people along the Beaver River outside of Beaver Falls. The Conference Disability Concerns Committee, attempting to offer a "moral compass for the community," has written a letter to the borough council asking that the homes be allowed. "We believe that this is a chance for the community to better understand IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) and other cognitive disorders and disabilities." Read the letter.
Bogdewic said McGuire Memorial was scheduled to go before its the Zoning Board at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21.
"From what I've heard, he said, "there will be a number of people there who are going to fight against this." A variety of reasons have been voiced from the claim that it will hurt the community's tax revenue to fears of home residents looking in windows to warnings that residents will be loud and disruptive.
First Church of Koppel is a small membership church, but the active members are a faithful group of people, their pastor said. "They are justice-focused and are standing beside me in this endeavor." He also noted that some in the community, especially those who work with special needs populations support McGuire Memorials efforts.
"For me, this about civil rights," Bogdewic said. "Disabled people are the poorest, least employed, and least evangelized people in the world, and I believe the church needs to raise up our voices for them and with them."
Since its founding in 1963 in New Brighton, McGuire Memorial’s main campus has served those who are physically and developmentally challenged, including those with profound multiple, complex disabilities. A ministry of the Felician Sisters of North America and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, its main campus, community homes and programs are non-denominational and open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.
"McGuire has always operated under the guiding principle that every person, as a unique gift of God, is created for a sacred purpose and is able to attain a fullness of life. As a direct result of that core value, every individual served at McGuire Memorial is loved, supported, and encouraged to reach their fullest potential, according to the ministry's website.