The Lighthouse Center for Vital Living will move this summer into a more central, visible location in Duluth’s downtown. The disability support services nonprofit will leave its West Duluth location and reopen at 309 W. First St.
Mary Junnila, executive director of the Lighthouse, told the Duluth News-Tribune that the move has been serendipitous for the organization. The Lighthouse’s current location was sold to a New York investment group last December, so the Lighthouse was no longer able to depend on rental income from other building tenants. In addition, Junnila said the organization’s assistive technology library was growing too large for the 8,000-square-foot space to contain.
The Lighthouse’s new building was donated to them by Landsmenn Energy Service, founders of Lake Superior Consulting. The building used to house Lake Superior Consulting until the engineering firm moved. Junnila said the 1908 building was recently remodeled, so it’s in good shape for them to take it over. The main expense will be making the three-story building handicap accessible and adapt the space for training rooms, including a wheelchair-accessible kitchen.
A grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services will be a big help with that. A $350,000 Live Well at Home grant will go toward renovations at the donated building — specifically to install an elevator. Junnila expects the Lighthouse will use the first two floors of the 12,600-squarefoot building, and is considering renting out the third floor. The nonprofit expects to be in the new building in June.
“With our adjustment to blindness services, it’s great to be downtown near the DTA and the skywalk systems,” Junnila said. “A big part of what we do in that division is help people to use public transportation, and to be right in the center of that is really important.”
She also looks forward to the opportunity to increase awareness for the assistive technology services the Lighthouse provides. Assistive technology encapsulates many different things to help a person complete a task or function independently,
Junnila said the assistive technology branch of the organization has become their biggest customer market, and it’s grown exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, people became more isolated and needed more help at home. In addition, the number of people who are elderly and/or disabled continues to increase. Junnila said their services have grown alongside those needs.
The Lighthouse works with elderly adults and people with disabilities of all ages to help them learn skills, including digital literacy classes, adjustment to blindness programming and occupational therapy. The center does onsite occupational therapy and travels to clients’ homes. Junnila said oftentimes, therapists can help clients identify any assistive technology they could benefit from and helps them master using it.
Another grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, a $642,000 Tech for Connectivity award, will help people who are older or have a disability to access technology. The grant will go toward getting people internet access, cell phones, or other devices and teach them how to use them for communication, medical appointments and job applications.