How Pressley Ridge has kept alive a 186-year tradition of support
By Anthony Castrovince
A cholera epidemic swept through river-linked cities like Pittsburgh, and women in a sewing circle at the First Presbyterian Church decided to do something for the children orphaned by the deadly disease. On April 17, 1832, they announced plans to open the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Orphan Asylum, with a purpose of “protecting, relieving, supporting and instructing orphan children.”
Much has changed in the 186 years since then. But the organization those women formed—the nonprofit now known as Pressley Ridge—operates with the same basic intent of bettering the lives of children and families facing adverse circumstances.
Today, Pressley Ridge has an expansive presence in six states (Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia). From mental health and foster care services to residential treatment facilities and education for children with special needs, Pressley Ridge serves more than 7,000 people a year.
“Sometimes we underestimate the number of people that are facing really complex issues in their life, people that are looking for a resource to help them overcome challenges and help them see through the difficulties to what their future success could be,” says Pressley Ridge President and CEO Susanne L. Cole. “Without services like Pressley Ridge, alot more people would be living in despair. We don’t want people living in despair; we want them living healthy, successful lives, because that’s what builds healthy, successful communities.”
Pressley Ridge’s mission is doing “whatever it takes” to help people overcome challenges. Sometimes that means looking inward to see how to improve the support organization.
Recognize and react
Cole arrived at Pressley Ridge fresh out of college as a teacher/counselor in a residential treatment facility for children who had been removed from their homes. By the time she worked her way up to CEO in 2011, Pressley Ridge was in the middle of re-evaluating its programs and services and looking toward the future.
“The environment and the funding were changing rapidly,” Cole says. “Some services we had could no longer be funded, so the question we had to ask ourselves was, what do we need to do to remain relevant, fulfill our mission and stay financially viable?”
Beyond taking internal inventory, Pressley Ridge must be flexible and responsive to changing societal dynamics. More than 115 Americans die each day overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, making opioids a critical matter1.
“We can’t neglect that,” Cole says. “We’re preparing to deal with that issue because we’re seeing more kids coming into our care that are impacted by this issue.”
Pressley Ridge adjusted its strategy and negotiated new contracts geared more toward more in-home, community-based services, as opposed to residential treatment facilities. These innovative and forward-thinking changes produced tremendous success.
“We’ve seen growth not only in revenue but in impact when we’re able to serve more people in more communities,” Cole says. “That’s the biggest positive.”
Difficulty yields opportunity
More positives will emanate from Pressley Ridge’s new School for Autism and Deaf on the main Pittsburgh campus, accredited by the Council on Accreditation. The $12 million project, a product of an ongoing funding campaign called PR2020, broke ground in the spring.
The schools will not share classrooms, but will share resources such as library/media room, STEAM classroom and others.
The new school will include state-of-the-art classrooms, including Smart Board technology, and a multimedia/computer lab, in addition to a STEAM classroom. All resources are aimed at helping students explore diverse interests while learning life skills that encourage independence.
With the new facility, Pressley Ridge will continue its commitment to outcomes measurement and satisfaction surveys that ensure family needs are being met and students are learning the skills they need to succeed. Quantifiable progress is prioritized.
“What are we doing well and how can we improve?” Cole says. “For us, it’s about being able to measure the impact on those we serve.”
Whatever collective challenges are emerging, Pressley Ridge will adapt and face them head on and continue to thrive with a culture of optimism in the face of adversity.
Making the right choice
In 2014, Pressley Ridge sought out a new banking arrangement and the organization couldn’t be happier with its choice in Huntington.
“We didn’t feel we were getting great customer service from our previous bank. We were looking for more than a bank; we wanted someone to help us advance our mission,” says Pressley Ridge President and CEO Susanne L. Cole. “Huntington was well known in the nonprofit space. Their folks were out at events meeting people, and that’s what compelled us to choose Huntington.”
The banking relationship can be especially important for non profits, which seek institutions that share their values and can help build their network. Pressley Ridge found that in Huntington.
“We feel we get not just great service on the banking side but that they’re with us to talk through issues and opportunities,” Cole says. “They have such a strong, positive reputation, and they have been able to introduce us to other people in the community who share our values, and that has been extremely valuable.”
For more information, visit www.pressleyridge.org.