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Project Connect to create resource assistance network

The Antrim Review of Bellaire, Michigan

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ELLSWORTH - A group of Ellsworth area community leaders have begun to organize an assistance network for Antrim County residents to bring awareness to the public of the many resources available to them.

The group, called Project Connect, met on Monday, September 29 for the first time to gauge interest and gather information for a database of resources that will be made available to everyone through a web site, but especially to those community leaders that are in a position to get the resources to the people who need them, like pastors and teachers.

The idea is the brainchild of retired Ellsworth Community Schools Superintendent Lynn Spearing, who while attending an Antrim County Community Collaborative Committee meeting became aware of resources available in the county that she found herself wishing she had known about when she worked in the schools.

"I felt that there was a lot of information out there that professionals would like to know about," she said.

Because of Ellsworth's geographic location within the county, Spearing was often more aware of services available in Charlevoix or Emmet Counties than she was of services in Antrim County, she said.

"We are so much closer to Charlevoix," she said. "And further from Traverse City where so many of the resources designed to service us are located."

At the same time, Pastor Chris Wallace of Ellsworth's Wesleyan Church was given an assignment while working on his Master's degree that caused him to look at the resources available in his community.

He realized that not many people were taking advantage of what was available.

As a result, Project Connect is the result of months of conversation between the two professionals.

The September 29 meeting was the first step in bringing those resources together. Representatives from Northern Michigan Homes, MI Works!, the Antrim County Housing Commission, Veteran's Affairs, Northern Michigan Community Action Agency, Northern Michigan Community Action Agency, Antrim County Habitat for Humanity, North Country Community Mental Health, Womens Resource Center of Northern Michigan, Good Samaritan Family Services, and Moms and Tots Family Services were all in attendance and spoke briefly on the services they offer.

Also, several area pastors, teachers and school administrators were present with pen and paper in hand making note of the many resources discussed.

"There's a lot of things that we can help with out there," began Alice Yeoman with Northern Michigan Homes, a HUD and MISHDA certified housing agency that specializes in foreclosure prevention and financial planning. "All of our services are free we want to help people clean up their credit, maybe become a home owner, just to get the credit collectors off their backs is a huge step," she said.

As a result of the meeting, two areas of need were brought into focus for further research-the lack of affordable housing and transportation.

"So many of the folks we all know don't have access to quality jobs and resources because they have no way to get there," said Spearing. Ellsworth, in particular, is located close to the Charlevoix County line and the county transit systems frequently don't work together. "We could have decided to tackle any number of problems," she noted. "There are so many needs and issues. We have to find out what's possible. For example, we learned that Grand Traverse and Benzie County was able to work out a bus route where the two counties connect. We want to know how that's possible."

As far as improving the housing situation in the county, the group agreed that awareness is key. "If we can get one family some assistance, we may have other families decide they would like to find out what's available that might assist them," Wallace said.

"We are also looking forward to taking the next step of helping to bring senior affordable housing to our area," said Wallace.

A list of resources for many areas of need can be found on the Project Connect web site at www.ewcweb.org.

"Our overall goal is to make our community stronger," said Spearing.



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Original Publication Date: October 9, 2014



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