Community Service: Growth Opportunity Center is commended at 40-year anniversary

By Jack Firneno
Wire Editor

Lisa Cattell counted the number of people at the Growth Opportunity Center’s 40th anniversary at around 225. This made the event, held at Gloria Dei Church in Huntingdon Valley, much more well-attended than they’d expected — to the point that their room was at capacity.

But perhaps that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise: The Center’s success over the last four decades has caused it to move twice into larger and nicer facilities, most recently to Southampton in 2012.

The Center was co-founded by the Rev. Dr. Ernst G. Schmidt who was senior pastor of Gloria Dei church and Dr. Kenneth Barber Jr. a clinical psychologist and church member. Now, what started out as Barber holding sessions in a church’s nursery has grown into one of the largest mental health facilities in the Delaware Valley, noted Cattell, the director of office operations for the Center.

In its first two years, the Center saw approximately 500 patients in the nursery of the Huntingdon Valley Church where they held the anniversary. At the time, Barber worked with two other doctors to address issues like depression and anxiety.

Now, the Center has a staff of around 70 clinicians, helping individuals and families over some 1,300 sessions every month. Their services have expanded, too: Today, they include everything from ADD and ADHD evaluation and treatment and social skills workshops for people on the autism spectrum to tutoring and SAT prep.

Many of those clients, along with members of the community and church where the Center began, were there for the anniversary. Also in attendance was keynote speaker Dr. Dan Gottlieb, psychologist and award-winning radio host of “Voices in the Family” on the NPR affiliate WHYY.

And, state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf presented a Senate congratulatory resolution to the group for its continued work in the community. Greenleaf noted that the Senate voted unanimously — a rarity, he said — to recognize the Center’s efforts.

“The Growth Opportunity Center has developed a strong reputation for the highest quality of service by steady adherence to the principles of fairness, reliability and integrity and has become the leader of the community,” said Greenleaf at the anniversary.

“Over the years, those in leadership positions, as well as the staff members, have contributed in a tremendous way this growth and development.”

What’s always helped the Center develop, offered Cattell, is that the mission consistently comes first. “It was always a nonprofit organization,” she said. “There was a need in this area, and [the Center] was offering sliding-scale fees. It was more the community service.”

Even as the Center expanded and began accepting insurance plans, that arrangement still stayed in place. As they grew, the organization added services to address different mental health needs that emerged over the years.

And, along with new patient services, the Center also began offering outreach to its own staff. Two or three times a week, said Cattell, clinicians meet to discuss their work in order to brainstorm new ways to handle difficult situations.

“They look forward to it, it’s like a support team. They can feed off each other and learn from each other,” she explained. “They enjoy the sense of support and getting to hear from their coworkers.”

And, of course, that support extends to their clients, in an ever-growing range of services. Earlier this fall, it began a group for adolescent girls and a bereavement group for parents who have lost children and young adults to substance abuse. Its next offering will be a program on mindfulness.

“We’re constantly expanding,” said Cattell. “We see what our client base is looking for and we get someone who specializes in it.”