News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 15, 2012

Friends save Allen Chapel

TERRE HAUTE — The Allen Chapel AME church may owe its current existence to a not-for-profit group calling itself “the Friends of Allen Chapel.”

In the past 15 years, the organization has raised and spent about $850,000 on repairs and renovations to the old structure.

Joy Sacopulos, a founder of “the Friends,” said she first became aware of the need for renovations at the historic church while involved in a Third Street “beautification” project in the 1990s that involved painting the chapel.

While painting the building, Sacopulos said she and David Butler, former director of the Swope Art Museum, noticed the mortar between the bricks on church had basically turned to sand.

“Things were in truly bad shape,” Sacopulos said. “David and I decided somebody should do something.”

The first Friends project involved repairs to the building’s masonry at an estimated cost of $22,000. The organization received its first grant from the Wabash Valley Community Foundation for $5,000 and another grant from the Hulman family for $25,000.

“That was our first stroke of luck,” Sacopulos said. Later, after more elaborate renovation plans were made, the Wabash Valley Community Foundation truly launched the Friends group with a grant for $200,000, she said. The people of the Community Foundation “are our godparents,” Sacopulos said.

Members of the Allen Chapel congregation are often also volunteers with the Friends group, which works closely with the church leadership. Without the efforts of the Friends, the church would likely not be around today, said Leonard Handley, a trustee of Allen Chapel.

“It’s very important to us to keep [the church] going,” said Handley. “I’m sure the church probably wouldn’t be here” without the friends, he said.

The Friends have raised money to pay for new church pews, new stained glass windows, insulation, a new heating and air condition system, a new roof, new carpeting, new electrical wiring and much more. The organization still has plans to replace interior walls and ceilings, Handley said.

About 40,000 people drive past Allen Chapel on U.S. 41 each day, Sacopulos said.

“If Terre Haute let a building with that kind of history fall down in front of 40,000 people going by every day, that would be disgraceful,” she said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

You can help

n To raise funds for their work, the Friends of Allen Chapel will be hosting a Mystery Dinner Theater on Sept. 27 at the Landing. To receive an invitation or to volunteer to help the organization, call (812) 234-2718.

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