EVART — Learning about yourself and others in your community, can help improve your life and those around you.

That is the goal of the Higher Ground Learning Center in Evart, said Deb Booher, Higher Ground director for Love INC (In the Name of Christ).

The family-focused program is designed to offer encouragement, support, a chance to make new friends and network, and will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Evart Free Methodist Church, located at 6151 95th Ave. The program will run for eight weeks through Thursday, Nov. 10.

“It’s really designed to facilitate new relationships in the community,” Booher said. “The most important part is the relationships they will have by meeting people they normally wouldn’t meet.”

Over the course of the eight weeks, adults, teens and children will be able to take classes designed specifically for what the participants think will benefit them, Booher said.

“It’s also another way to access networks of support and resources,” she said. “That is the most helpful thing; if I am trying to find something I don’t know about, I can find out about it faster if I know someone who knows about it or through my network of people I know. That really helps.”

Booher said the classes for the session haven’t been finalized, but will include topics such as financial fitness, which will be taught by a retired banker; healthy lifestyles; gardening; cooking and others taught by experts or volunteers.

“On the first night, they will be selecting and identifying what skills they’re hoping to take away from the classes,” she said.

This will be the ninth session held in Evart, and Booher said a second, eight-week session is planned for the spring. She said she’s seen firsthand the changes in the community, as it has become a friendlier place because two different groups of people know each other now and are friends.

“For some people, the session was their way to find a new church home,” she said. “For others, they now know someone at a local agency that when they need to make a contact, they’re not starting as a number or a stranger. They’re seeing more friends on the sidewalk and they both shared something together in life.”

Each Thursday, the sessions begins with registration from 5 to 5:45 p.m., and will be followed by a volunteer-prepared dinner from 5:30 to 6:10 p.m. Classes will begin at 6:15 p.m. and run until 7:30 p.m., with shopping in the “store” ending at 8 p.m.

“The adults and teens earn points for attending and participating in the difference classes,” Booher said. “They can exchange those points at the Higher Ground store for different things.”

In past sessions, she said they’ve had between 100 to 120 people attend, and Booher said it’s tricky to plan a meal out for an unknown number of people and volunteers.

“The cooks don’t know how many people will be there, but they always rise to the challenge splendidly and they know how to stretch a budget,” Booher said.

Between 25 to 30 volunteers are needed for each session, the program director said, with many coming from the local community and surrounding agencies.

“The volunteers and the participants have dinner together, and they get to know each other,” she said. “The volunteers meet someone they probably never have before. After the session, they’ll now see each other on the sidewalk and greet each other.”

Fall sessions also are being held in Cadillac and Big Rapids.

For more information about Higher Ground or Love INC, call (231) 779-1888.