Hope of Nations Christian Center unveils plans for community center in Reading

Jun. 1—Hope of Nations Christian Center has unveiled plans for a community center in downtown Reading.

The nondenominational church introduced plans for the building at 134 N. Fifth St. during a recent reception attended by City Council President Donna Reed, council members Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz and O. Christopher Miller, and Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera.

Hope of Nations received $17,774 in American Rescue Plan Act funds from Berks County last year for a feasibility study, retrofitting cafe space on the premises and outfitting second-floor office space.

Pastors Angelo and Teresa Sarna presented conceptual drawings and elaborated on the design for what they called a center of hope where destinies can be discovered, developed and deployed.

The first step in what is planned as an arts center and business incubator took place in April with the opening of Salt and Light Cafe, Teresa Sarna said.

The cafe, run by Shiloh Mennonite Church, 421 Bingaman St., is intended as a place where youth and young adults can develop business knowledge and skills.

Hope of Nations shares its facility with two Spanish-speaking congregations, but there is still much space that can be used by the community, she said.

Although the feasibility study is still in progress, Sarna said, the center plans to partner this summer with Kelly Manana of Feet on the Street Ministry, 405 North Front St., to offer a summer dance camp program.

The building's design lends itself to use as a community center, Sarna said.

It was built in 1904 as an indoor swimming pool, called a natatorium, by cough drop maker William Luden, who dedicated it to the health and happiness of mankind, she said.

Over the years, the building served many organizations, she said, most memorably as the Jewish Community Center.

The center occupied the building from 1945 until 1967, when it moved to the Hampden Heights area, Goodman-Hinnershitz said.

The councilwoman grew misty eyed as she toured the facility and recalled the network of family, friends and the larger Jewish community that gathered there when she was a young child.

Goodman-Hinnershitz also recalled taking dancing lessons at the Bonnie Dance Studio, which once shared space in the building.

"There's a space upstairs," Sarna said, "and I'd always walk in and say this needs to be a dance studio."

And now it will be again, she said, referring to the dance camp planned for five days beginning June 26.

For more information or to sponsor a camp scholarship, contact Hope of Nations at 610-736-9255.