The Lancaster Urban League: Much to do with little means

The first in a series by Cliff Lewis

NewsLanc recently interviewed three project directors involved with the Lancaster Urban League (LUL): Regina Duell, Director of Operations; Zeltha Ellis, Director of Adult and Youth Education Support Services; and Melinda Zapp, Director of Project Hope. The LUL exists to empower poor and underprivileged minority groups, primarily living in Lancaster City.

The Lancaster Urban League (LUL) first began operations in 1965. Initially, the LUL focused exclusively on serving the African-American community in Lancaster through employment/housing assistance and civil rights advocacy. Today, the organization has expanded both its clientele and its services. As stated on the LUL website, their mission is now to serve “African-Americans, the poor, the disadvantaged, and other minorities” through programs ranging from technology training to health services.

Working out of their S Duke St base, the LUL spreads their far-reaching influence into diverse realms of Lancaster City life. At McCaskey High School, there’s the Teen Elect Program, where case managers can assist teen parents in learning crucial skills and finding financial assistance for school-time childcare. According to Regina Duell, the three case managers each serve up to 35 students at a time. From the S Duke headquarters, the LUL also provides the Integrated Employment Program, which assists adults in searching for jobs, creating resumes, and even provides bus passes to keep the pursuit of employment as smooth as possible.

Also at the S Duke headquarters, the LUL houses an internet-connected computer lab, which serves over 500 individual community members each year. As explained by Zeltha Ellis, the lab is used during school hours to teach adults basic computer and web search skills and also serves as a hub for GED test preparation. After school hours, the lab is open to neighborhood children as a place for tutoring, homework, research, and some free activity. During the summer months, dozens of restless kids pour into this 20-seat lab each day, even requiring special activities for those waiting on overflow.

Project Hope is a division of the LUL that aims to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in the surrounding community. Testing, counseling, education, and free contraceptives are just a few of the ways that Project Hope fights the spread and the effects of this local epidemic. (In a later issue of this series, the local presence of HIV/AIDS and the efforts of this particular program will be discussed at greater length.)

Although the LUL is doing significant work in Lancaster City, their financial support has suffered in recent years. The drop in funding, which is not unique to this particular nonprofit, has painfully limited the LUL’s capacity to provide services that fully match the needs they see around them. Considering the broad array of programs undertaken by the LUL, one might expect a large and bustling office staff. But, currently, the LUL has to run on a staff of five.