Derry Upper Room's mission celebrated
DERRY — On Wednesday, the Upper Room celebrated 30 years of reaching out to children and families in the Greater Derry area.
The organization was founded by local church members Anna Willis and Claire Hamilton, Executive Director Brenda Guggisberg said.
“It started in Anna Willis’ and Claire Hamilton’s homes,” Guggisberg said. “They started talking about it.”
The original location was in an upper room on the third-floor of a building at the corner of Main and Lawrence streets, said Guggisberg, who used notes from a past speech given by Willis.
The program focused initially on helping teenagers with SAT preparation before adding parent education and starting a summer session of a drug and alcohol program for teens, Guggisberg said.
Then the fledgling project moved to a building on Birch Street. Eventually, the Upper Room found its current home at 36 Tsienneto Road, Guggisberg said.
Over the years, the programs expanded to help families and include a highly successful juvenile diversion project that began in the 1990s. Still in operation, the juvenile diversion program is for first-time offenders and allows participants a chance to repay society and make restitution, in some form, for their offenses.
In addition to these early programs, the Upper Room’s family resource center has hosted a teen after-school program and senior job training.
The Upper Room also now offers Alateen to support children from 9 years old to 19 years old, she said. Free of charge, the program supports all children who may be living or have lived with an addict.
“Many kids have had the experience of losing a parent to incarceration or death due to drugs,” Guggisberg said. “We have seen an overwhelming impact on young people, and thought that this was a need. So when Alateen approached us it was a no brainer, there is a need, and there is a resource.”
The program is offered on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., she said. “As an organization we collaborate with community agencies and state wide entities to strengthen our resource knowledge, to increase our staff’s knowledge and best practices, and to share with other organizations the mission of helping families,” she said.
Guggisberg said the Upper Room’s mission is to “strengthen individuals and families by providing them with the education and resources they need to lead health, self-sufficient lives.”