Located on Main Street at the east side of town, hundreds of cars pass by without even knowing what goes on in the building that was once a flower shop years ago. Few probably know that on August 1, 2016, the nonprofit Alpha Family Center, formerly the Alpha Women’s Center, added new services, reaching out to men in the community.
The center has been in operation since April 2006 but saw a need for expanded services and a name change. “We believe that including the men in helping our families to be healthy is vital,” Executive Director Christa Wetzel says. “In addition, we have seen the need for the court system to have a resource of parenting education for fathers.”
In addition, a medical facet was added with the name change. The center offers free pregnancy tests with medical confirmation and ultrasound services by medical staff. Many times a positive confirmation of pregnancy is needed for someone to apply for assistance such as Medicaid.
However, The Alpha Family Center goes beyond simply offering pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. It also helps individuals and families with educational and material assistance, all of which is provided confidentially and free of charge. Clients can earn “Alpha Bucks” by attending and doing homework for classes such as Life Skills, Practical Fatherhood, Prenatal Care, Toddlers, The Key to Discipline, First Aid, and Car Seat Safety. These bucks are used to purchase essential items in their store including maternity clothes, baby formula, diapers, wipes, new car seats, cribs, and children’s clothing. In this way, clients are given the tools needed to become successful parents in the prenatal through toddler stages and beyond.
What’s more, client advocates serve as a shoulder to lean. During one-on-one sessions, advocates help provide support, ideas, leadership and more. They are part of the volunteer force and are not licensed professionals but oftentimes their real life experiences can help someone find information on how to search for a job, show empathy when it comes to raising kids, provide a big picture outlook or some other kind of guidance. The center also works with other local organizations such as FROM, the Y, churches and KDL to further assist clients.
A typical client may come in feeling overwhelmed and even scared. And finding the tools and answers to becoming and being a parent can be difficult without a support system. Volunteers are able to educate and support men, women, and families prior to a birth through five years of age.
April Russo was able to participate in a collaboration program with the Y where she received a six week membership at no cost. She had access to a personal trainer and child care while she was at the Y. She says, “It was amazing. It meant so much to me to be able to get out, to have a little time to myself, to learn about nutrition, and to work out with a trainer one-on-one and to have my daughter cared for during that hour.”
Wetzel has been with the Alpha Family Center since October 2013, and a year ago her position as Executive Director was made full time. The rest of the people powering this organization — approximately 30 in number — are all volunteers.
The center sees on average 25 clients per month although some months can go as high as 45. Since the center opened, it has held 4,820 sessions with families. When asked about what the center hopes to accomplish in the future, Wetzel says, “Continue to grow in our ability to walk alongside parents to the best of our ability. We want to continue to develop our curriculum and add whatever services that will help us in assisting the families we work with. Part of our strategic plan for the next five years is to have more ongoing support and establish more relationships as far as fundraising and having more people involved. There’s still a huge need for awareness in the community. We’re still very unknown.”
In order to offer services free of charge, several fundraising events happen throughout the year such as Lifewalk, Friendship Banquet (happening in the fall), Baby Bottle Campaign, and Ladies’ Luncheon. Tangible items including baby wipes, formula, baby/toddler clothes, shoes, baby food and cereal, diapers, and maternity clothes can also be donated at any time. If you’re interested in volunteering some of your time you can contact Christa at 616-987-9533 for an application and to set up an interview. Background checks are done due to children being an instrumental part of the organization.
If you’re expecting a child or have children up to the age of five and need assistance, or know someone who does, the Alpha Family Center is a wonderful, free resource for those in need. Most of the center’s clients come in through word of mouth. This organization is a valuable asset to the Lowell community offering services which help families get off to a good start. For more information on seeking services, donating, or volunteering go to The Alpha Family Center homepage or stop by the center at 517 E. Main Street for more information.