Empowerment Network Turns Twenty
It began with a vision to get mental health consumers integrated into the community in a safe recovery focused environment, and has culminated, more than 20 years later, with the Empowerment Network purchasing their own building and celebrating a milestone anniversary.
A drop in center, in which people with mental illness can have a safe place to grow in their recovery, became a goal for Newaygo County in the late 1990's. After meeting in church basements to plan the transition from day programs to a drop in center, a core group of consumers and Newaygo County Mental Health professionals moved forward to rent a space in the Hendon and Slate plaza. People in recovery from a mental illness were able to stop in for a meal and activities. The center grew exponentially, and Gabrielle Blackwell was hired in 2003 to run the program and in 2006, Jan Flinton was added to the staff as activities coordinator.
When the program outgrew the small space, the Empowerment Network moved downtown to 5 E. Main, its present location. Extensive remodeling, including a kitchen, was added to the building. Later, a resale shop was added to the front of the building to provide opportunities to interact with the public, learn retail skills and generate income for the center.
Today the program serves more than 150 members. It provides a safe, supportive environment for those who have shared similar experiences with the goal of helping them to live productive and independent lives. It is governed by a Board of Directors, comprised of members, who are also consumers of mental health services. Many individuals have gained valuable experience through being involved with internships working in the store, assisting with meal preparation, cleaning or providing outreach.
Many resources are available at the Empowerment Network, including internet access, creative activities, a family style meal, assistance with community services, physical and recreational activities and laundry facilities. Empowerment Network also runs a clothing closet and food pantry, providing needed resources for those in our community.
In May of 2019 the Empowerment Network purchased the building it had rented for many years. Peggy DeYoung was added as the new assistant director and the hours have been expanded to include Fridays. An Open House was held on May 15th to celebrate the 20th anniversary and more than 60 community members stopped in to celebrate this milestone.
Plans are being made to add a handicapped accessible bathroom and their Facebook page and website have been redesigned. Check empowermentnetwork.net for a schedule of activities, support groups, volunteer opportunities or ways to make a donation and help the Empowerment Network continue to grow and serve the community.