The building that once housed 7-Eleven in Park Hills at 103 Strauss is being transformed to a child and family therapy center, said its new owner, Lee Ann Roberts.
Estimated to be built in the 1980s, the 2,400 sq. ft. building has been vacant for eight years. The 7-Eleven corporation shuttered the convenience store in Fall 2011, citing recession-influenced, decreased sales as the culprit.
Roberts said once 7-Eleven vacated it, a church eventually bought the building, possibly intending to use it as a place of worship. Then, Roberts said, it made its way to Gary McKinney, from whom she bought it.
“He had thrown it up on Facebook and said, ‘I need some ideas on what we could possibly do with the old 7-Eleven building,’ and I messaged him and said, ‘I don’t want to lease it from you, I want to buy it from you,’” Roberts said. “We met, went in, talked about the possibilities. It’s a bigger project than we anticipated, but hey, that happens.”
The building’s roof is being replaced, the coolers along the south wall need to be removed, and pipes stick out of the concrete floor where the bathrooms and sink used to be. She said they had quite a time removing the old cashier platform to the left as one enters.
But Roberts already has a vision for what visitors will see: Offices where the coolers were. A play area. Group meeting rooms. A reception area. Seasonal decorations in the windows.
Half of the building, she said, will house the non-profit she’s hoping will fund the therapy necessary for the low-income children and families she wants to serve. She’s looking for a grant writer to help net more funding.
“The grants are out there,” she said. “It’s just a matter of knowing how to write for them well enough to get them.”
Roberts said she’s already familiar with the interior of the building and its location, having worked for 7-Eleven part-time in the 1990s when her sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Steve Kinsey, owned it.
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“When I worked here, I’d have never dreamed I’d be back here opening up a therapy center for children and their families,” she said. “After working in the Children’s Division for about a year and a half, I realized children were getting the services they needed to recover, but what about their parents and other family members?”
She said often, children are sent back into family situations that might have enabled or exacerbated the child’s problems in the first place.
“The family might not have access to therapy, or health insurance for that matter,” she said. “They might be carrying on bad habits that have been passed down from generation to generation and they don’t even know it. So even if the child gets help, the family might need to consider learning new ways of interacting with each other so the results only get better, and they all become happier and healthier.”
Roberts has a Master Social Worker degree, and is getting ready to take her finals steps to achieve the Licensed Master Social Worker designation. She said she’s already gotten affirmation from several part-time social workers that they would be interested in helping her initiative.
“I want to offer CEUs (continuing education units) to professionals because nowhere else local offers it,” she said. “And ‘play’ therapy. We only have a few registered ‘play’ therapists in the area, but it’s so effective in establishing a rapport with the child.”
Roberts said that’s also why she was attracted to the location. Columbia Park is right across the street.
“Sometimes, when I would try to talk to a child, they just wouldn’t respond in a sit-down situation,” she said. “My thought was, if a child has a lot of attachment issues and behavioral issues, it’s possible to take a walk in the park, calm down, take the child’s mind off things.
“A lot of children don’t have the ability to just sit and talk. But if I could shoot hoops with them, or go play ball with him, I could get them to open up a bit. Being close to the park was an ideal setting.
“I have a lot of aspirations for this location and I’m looking forward to making them come to fruition.”