Youth programing coming to former orphanage, teen center

·5 min read

Jun. 11—SUNBURY — An athletic mentoring program for youth will be the first plan that the new owner of the former orphanage and former Youth Challenge outside Sunbury has for the property.

Dave Murray, the founder of Mifflinburg-based Clarity Prep, said he is looking forward to relocating the headquarters of Clarity Prep and establishing a private school at the former Youth Challenge Bible Institute at 1810 Snydertown Road in Upper Augusta Township. Mikal Properties LLC is the new owner of the 39.36-acre site, having closed on the real estate transfer on June 3.

"We've been working (in Mifflinburg) on Clarity Prep for the last seven years, getting our curriculum down, getting our organization structured, getting our board in line," said Murray on Thursday afternoon. "The overall idea for this property is to create a Clarity Prep concept to help mentor kids."

The main focus is "helping kids become the best possible version of themselves," said Murray.

The buildings on the 39.36-acre site include a three-story administration building, with offices and classrooms; separate women's and men's dormitories; a two-story education building; and 13 regents apartments. The education building will house Clarity Prep once it's renovated with a goal of expanding into other parts of the property once more is fixed up.

As a history teacher, Murray said he could see the vision of the property when he toured the property with Mikal Properties LLC.

"It's an amazing place," he said. "I can see the vision of renovating it and getting it to be a beautiful place for kids to come and learn and structure our mentoring development for youth and athletics."

Clarity Prep in pre-pandemic had 50 young people attending the programs. As the world returns to normal, Murray said Clarity Prep is working on making a comeback by bringing in more students and revamping their website.

The goal is to establish a fundraiser and capital campaign as well as to seek grants to aid in the renovations, said Murray.

A representative of Mikal Properties LLC gave The Daily Item a tour on Thursday of the grounds, showing how vandals have broken in and spraypainted on the walls and thieves have stolen copper pipes and other valuable items. The property is now under surveillance and off-limits to visitors, Mikal representative Michael Bishop said.

Abandoned since 2004, the buildings have water damage, chipping paint, broken windows, dirty carpets, dead animals and feces inside and other issues. The roof has been patched to address leaks, he said.

"Cosmetically, it needs work, but structurally it's solid," he said. "The main thing is it's not going to get worse."

It will take a lot of work and effort to bring everything up to code and presentable, an estimate that's not yet available.

As for other uses, he said he is open to other ideas. The property is zoned for a nonprofit school, so anything else would need to special permission from the zoning board, he said.

History of the orphanage and teen center

Records from both the Northumberland County Historical Society and archives of The Daily Item show that the Independent Order of Odd Fellowship in Central Pennsylvania built and chartered the original property as an orphanage in 1896 with the first children admitted in 1897. In its first 35 years, 644 children were fed, clothed and educated at the facility.

By 1970, the facility shut down due to increasing expenses of meeting state requirements. The property was purchased in 1972 by Teen Challenge Institute, a nonprofit affiliated with the Home Missions Department of Assemblies of God that trained personnel for staffing its varied programs designed to rehabilitate troubled youth and those struggling with addiction. Teen Challenge in 1981 changed its name to Youth Challenge.

After 31 years, Youth Challenge in 2004 decided to relocate out of the area. The intention was to sell the property, but a major sale fell through weeks before the facility was closed. It never resold. Efforts to sell, revitalize and rehabilitate the buildings and property continued throughout the last 17 years.

An effort in 2006 to convert the buildings to house and rehabilitate homeless veterans fell through after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs changed plans for the location.

The property was almost sold in 2008 when the institute backed out of a deal with Firetree Ltd. to sell its property. Firetree intended to convert the buildings into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, which did not fit the criteria stated by the Upper Augusta Township zoning ordinance. Township supervisors ruled that the Williamsport-based corporation's plans did not meet the definition and rejected the permit application.

It was one of the sites considered in 2016 for a new Northumberland County Prison after the original one in Sunbury was destroyed in a fire in 2015. It was up for auction in 2018 but failed to sell — the minimum bid was $250,000.

Cindy Inkrote, the president of the Northumberland County Historical Society, said it is the "great dream" of any historical society that historical properties be restored.

"It might not be practical," said Inkrote. "We would be happy to see someone occupy the property and we hope it will be preserved."

Inkrote said the new owner is welcome to come to the society building at 1150 N. Front St., Sunbury, to review the records of the former orphanage. There are photographs, lists of orphans and other historical documents.

The property was listed at $199,900, but Mikal said the purchase price was less than that. He declined to reveal the final offer and the public paperwork for the deed is not yet filed at the Northumberland County Register and Recorder's office.

It has an assessed value of $97,940, according to county records.