EDITOR'S NOTE: This content was published courtesy of the North End Improvement Collaborative.
MANSFIELD -- The Friendly House and Terry Conard are synonymous. The former Friendly House kid turned executive director has been affiliated with the non-profit organization for 43 years.
“It’s been a huge part of my life,” Terry said. “I started as a kid and worked my way up to a locker room attendant, (and) to a lifeguard. I’ve also worked at Hidden Hollow as a counselor and a dishwasher, so I’ve done just about everything that can possibly be done here.”
The Friendly House, 380 N. Mulberry St., is a north end institution and has been serving the Richland County community for over a century.
“Our objective is to provide crime prevention, recreational, educational, health/fitness, camping and daycare programs to our immediate neighborhood and our community as a whole, at a cost everyone can afford,” he said. “Our camping programs are conducted at Hidden Hollow Resident Camp and at our Day Camp, Happy Hollow.”
Conrad said he feels he knows what children and families need and want from a community center because of his deep ties to it.
“Since I grew up here and loved coming here, it wasn’t something that we were made to come to the Friendly House, we wanted to come to the Friendly House and enjoy all the activities and all the things it provided for us,” he said. “We went swimming and camping during the summer.
"And obviously the job opportunities because at that age you didn’t make much money, but you started at (age) 15 and 16 to make a little bit of money, which has been huge for probably hundreds of people throughout the county, in order to get their foot in the door and learn some good work ethics.
"So, I’m trying to give back and do it in the same type of way that I was accustomed to as a kid, but obviously it’s (operated) differently from when I was a kid, but I still think it’s enjoyable and I still think we’re making an impact on the North End.”
Conrad was reared on North Mulberry Street, then moved to the Bowman Street area behind the Johns Park.
“We spent a lot of time at Johns Park during the summer,” he said.
He knows the importance of the Friendly House to families of the North End area - then and now.
“I have five siblings and my dad worked at Ohio Brass and my mom stayed home. So, there were six of us in the household, so I think for my mom to get us out of the house was just a blessing for her,” he said with a chuckle. “And it gave us something to do besides running and getting in trouble all of the time.
"I think it has kept a lot of people out of trouble by providing as many activities as we were accustomed to as a kid and I think it’s doing the same thing today.”
The Friendly House is a multi-layered organization that offers the resident and day camps, but it is also known for its fully booked, very popular after school and Summer Fun program for grades K-6. Swimming lessons are offered in their Olympic sized pool as well as classes for senior citizens.
“We still provide programming for the junior high and high school students; however, they’re not coming in how I wish they would,” he said. “We have the computer lab, the gym, the game room and I just wish more teenagers would take advantage of those programs.”
Membership to the Friendly House is simple by filling out a membership registration card, and a $10 fee but if someone cannot afford it, they will work with them with what they can pay.
“We just want them to come in and take advantage of everything we have to offer,” he said.
The organization is funded by United Way, private donations and revenue from Hidden Hollow resident camp.
“With United Way dollars is how we can keep our membership fees so low,” Conrad said.
With the closure of the Ocie Hill building in 2020, Terry said he is looking to see what the Friendly House can do to fill in the gaps of programming that were provided out of that building.
“I’d like to start doing more programming and opportunities for either seniors or adults during the day when we don’t have kids in here to utilize our building so we’re looking at that,” he said in terms of the future for the Friendly House. “With our after-school programs those things are just full, and we can’t take anymore because we just don’t have the space to do it.
"But we do have opportunities during the mornings to provide a library or a computer class or for people to just come in and play cards or whatever they wanted to do in the mornings.”
He said the Friendly House hopes to have another grand re-opening in September or once the national pandemic is over.
If residents have any ideas on how the Friendly House can be a benefit to the neighborhood, Terry encourages them to stop by the facility, call 419-522-0521 or visit their website at www.friendlyhouseonline.com.