GJR plans to add program for adults

MONICA PRYTS | Allied NewsGeorge Junior Republic in Pine Township is proposing to open a long-term, structured residential program for adults in addition to its existing programs for troubled youth.

PINE TOWNSHIP – George Junior Republic is planning to open a long-term structured residence program for adults on its Pine Township campus.

To move forward, GJR must have a variance request approved by the Pine Township Zoning Hearing Board, said Nathan Gressel, chief executive officer of GJR.

A public hearing has been set for 7 p.m. Wed­nes­day, Sept. 16, at the Pine Township Social Hall, 1252 S. Center St. Ext.

GJR’s proposal calls for a 15-bed facility with psychiatric, structured therapeutic, medical and recreational services, according to a public notice issued by the township.

GJR is requesting a “change of use” for an existing building on campus, said Ernie DeSue, the township’s zoning officer.

The organization wants to use the building to house adults, which is not a permissible use under current township regulations.

Neighboring property owners within 300 feet of the property – who includes residents and businesses like the Sheetz convenience store – have been notified of the hearing, DeSue said.

Hearing attendees must wear face masks, and the chairs will be spaced apart, he added.

GJR representatives will be sharing information about the program, which would expand upon current services, Gressel said.

Now, George Junior houses at-risk males under the age of 18. It is part of the Grove City Area School District and offers academic programs along with counseling, mental and physical health services, recreation and more.

The building that GJR plans to renovate is near the intersection of George Junior Road and state Route 58. It is vacant and formerly housed residential youth.

That building would be the only one on that side of campus to serve as a residential unit, keeping the adults separate from the youth, Gressel said.

The project is being funded by money from a 2015 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit in Pennsylvania that focused on people who are waiting in state hospitals and prisons for mental health care, he said.

Mercer County was selected as the “channel point” of those funds, which can be used to treat people who live in the western Pennsylvania counties of Crawford, Venango, Mercer, Armstrong, Butler, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland.

There are multiple long-term structured residence programs across the state, but the closest one to the Grove City area is in Lawrence County.

“This will provide quicker access,” Gressel said of the GJR program.

It is also a court-ordered program that must be approved by state health officials, and the folks at GJR want to be able to help more people, giving them the ability to be resilient and recover.

It is a restraint-free program for non-violent men and women who would have access to things like recreation, health care, counseling, wellness, peer support and legal aid.

Safety and security measures for the new program would be modeled after other parts of the campus.

GJR leaders in late 2019 discussed the program with the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission and Beacon Health Options, and the GJR board thought it was a good idea for the area.

The program would create about 25 jobs and could be operational by the end of October at the soonest. The public would be invited to an open house.

“We want to be open and transparent about it,” he said.

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