Harrison’s nonprofit in Armory provides 'safe space' in Milford

From left, Lillian Harrison, the executive director of Elevated Community Development Corp,. does some brainstorming with her son Chris Turner and Morgan Sizer out of Ms. Harrison’s office in the Milford Armory.
From left, Lillian Harrison, the executive director of Elevated Community Development Corp,. does some brainstorming with her son Chris Turner and Morgan Sizer out of Ms. Harrison’s office in the Milford Armory.
Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

MILFORD — Lillian Harrison wears a lot of different hats.

Sometimes, she’s a real estate agent. Sometimes, she’s a community organizer. And sometimes, she’s a mom.

The same is true for her base of operations in Milford, a former National Guard facility known as the Armory, which serves as a business incubator, a lounge, a gym and much more.

“I think the most vital thing we do really is to give hope to people in whatever it is that they’re going through. We do Christmas. We do Thanksgiving. We provide a safe space,” Ms. Harrison said.

Through her nonprofit organization, the Elevated Community Development Corp. — of which she’s the executive director — she offers a wide array of financial and educational resources to the community.

Jason James, Milford’s vice mayor, said Ms. Harrison and Elevated are each important assets.

“I think they’re a very valuable resource to the community,” he said. “She has a place where there’s homework help. (Kids) can come do activities, whether it’s basketball or pool or indoor soccer or just to use the computers.”

But Ms. Harrison is focused on adults, too.

“She definitely does things like teaching people how to budget, how to increase their credit score, how to become qualified homebuyers,” the vice mayor said.

“When we started here, the first program here was our homeownership program,” Ms. Harrison said.

“One of our homeowners-(to-be) came in yesterday,” Ms. Harrison said earlier this month. “I’ve been working with her for a year. She finally got her preapproval, and she’s ready to buy a home.”

She said the process “started with being able to give her the understanding that it’s possible, that she could do it, and we would be willing to work with her.”

Ms. Harrison has prior experience in the field.

“Before I jumped out and really kind of started working full time for my organization, I was a housing counselor for Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council,” she said. “I was working with them for five or six years. When I started here, doing the homeownership program, it was really just a natural extension.”

Early in the pandemic, Ms. Harrison got her Realtor’s license and began working for Seaford-based Linda Vista Real Estate.

“When I became a Realtor for Linda Vista, the great thing was that I brought all that extra experience to the table,” she said. “Getting my real estate license, the best part about that is that I do understand the homebuyer’s side as thoroughly as I do, not just homebuying, but foreclosure prevention and things like that.”

On an average day in the Armory, Ms. Harrison juggles the needs of Elevated and Linda Vista with the help of her son, Chris Turner.

“I feel the most important thing we do is give people a safe, comfortable environment to actually do what they like to do,” he said of Elevated and the Armory facility. “Around here nowadays, it’s hard to find an area that’s actually secure enough to be out and about without the worries of the outside world.

“A lot of times, it’s hard to be out and about doing what you want to do without people just being people.”

One of those activities is basketball. The Armory has a full-size indoor court.

“The first summer we were here, we were doing basketball, and it was good because the kids didn’t have to cross the (highway) or anything,” Ms. Harrison said.

The other indoor public court in Milford is at the Boys & Girls Club at the edge of town, far from the city’s residential core.

“We’re right centrally located to several residential communities,” Ms. Harrison said. “Kids literally can walk here.”

In the Armory’s basement, which has a noticeably wider footprint than the first floor does, she’s also set up a lounge with a pool table and couches. But more importantly, the basement serves as Ms. Harrison’s business incubator. People can rent inexpensive office space, and she’s also creating a studio, where people can play video games and stream content online.

“You can rent the space by the hour, the day, the week or the month,” Ms. Harrison said. It costs anywhere from $200 to $300 a month.

Ms. Harrison also helps budding businesspeople, like her son.

“I’m starting a tattoo shop,” Mr. Turner said. “She’s the one that helps me with the advertising, the looking for people, the resources when it comes to buying certain equipment.”

She’s also helping Morgan Sizer become an interior designer.

“I’m helping her with her boutique right now, and I’m working (in the Armory) to get it all homey,” Ms. Sizer said.

Ms. Sizer’s boutique is located in Penney Square, on Walnut Street downtown.

“Our next project is to get our kitchen up and running,” Ms. Harrison said of the Armory’s basement.

Before the pandemic, her plan was to make the space available to organizations like the Food Bank of Delaware and the First State Community Action Agency, which provides free culinary education for needy people looking to break into the food industry.

As those renovations will be expensive, Vice Mayor James has come up with a potential way the city could help fund the construction.

“It’s a city-owned building,” he said. “She leases it from the city of Milford.”

The vice mayor wants to lock Elevated and the benefits it brings to the community into the property.

“Her lease may be coming due real soon. What I would like to see the city do, because she provides a great resource in that building, is to get into an extended lease for her,” he said.

“Maybe (we can) have the city do some renovations to the building. The city could recoup its money through rent payments from Elevated,” he said. “Being that it’s a city-owned building, I think the city could entertain doing the work upfront and then recouping the money from Elevated through additional rent payments.”

That sounds like a good idea to Ms. Harrison.

“My hope is that they acquiesce to a long-term lease,” she said. “They did discuss it with me that the payments would be over the life of the lease, so I’m hoping for a long-term lease that would make the payments reasonable.”

Staff writer Noah Zucker can be reached at nzucker@newszap.com.