Space still available for Higher Ground sessions in Evart, Reed City

OSCEOLA COUNTY – A community building program designed to educate families expanded to multiple sites in Osceola County.

The Higher Ground Program began in Cadillac five years ago, Manistee has run a similar program for 10 years, and Reed City started a site last year. Evart also hosts the educational program this year for the first time, with sessions starting last Thursday.

“We’ve been wanting to do some community outreach and I think this is a great way to do it,” said Deb Lockwood, director of Higher Ground in Evart.

Community members of all ages are welcome to attend the free Higher Ground sessions, which include dinner, classes and a store where people can pick up essential items. Classes feature local experts talking about topics such as finance, nutrition, parenting and women’s issues. Childcare is provided, and teenagers can attend a separate class.

The program also provides bus transportation for individuals in need.

“Our goal is to help build relationships in the community that will enable families to meet the challenges that they face,” said Deb Booher, director of Higher Ground in Reed City. “It’s open to families that think they might benefit from developing more ties in the community.”

One session at the Evart higher ground program last Thursday was called, “Frugal Family Fun.” The class was geared towards creating fun family activities at a low cost, such as creating a toy out of cutting up a swim noodle.

“There’s lots of things out there that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on,” Lockwood said.

By attending the classes, adults and children earn participation points, which can be cashed in at the store in exchange for household items, clothes, toiletries and toys for the children.

“For some families keeping toilet paper on the shelves is a hardship, so we stock that in our store,” Lockwood said.

Participants also construct arts and crafts and learn how to make their own homemade household cleaning products.

Higher Ground runs for six to 10 weeks every spring, depending on the site. Reed City’s sessions are from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays until May 23 at Reed City Church of the Nazarene. Evart’s sessions are from 5:15 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays at Evart Free Methodist Church.

Healthy dinners provided for participants. Thursday’s meal at the Evart site was beef and vegetables over rice along with a gluten-free dessert.

“It really makes a difference in family dynamic if you can eat your meals together,” Lockwood said.

Each location is supported by volunteers from local churches, the Department of Human Services of Mecosta and Osceola counties, community foundations and Love INC of Wexford and Osceola counties, a Christian nonprofit with locations across the country dedicated to meeting needs of the community.

Between 20 and 25 volunteers keep each session running by serving dinner, donating items to the store and leading classes. The relationships established among volunteers and families is an important part of the program, Booher said.

“Once you get to know the families, you see what they need,” she said. “The relationship part is what I really emphasize. People build relationships with other families and support each other.”

Seeing the communities collaborate to run Higher Ground is inspiring, Booher said.

“My belief is our community will be healthier as we develop these relationships,” she said. “I love what’s happening. It’s affecting the volunteers as much as the participants. It’s life-changing on both sides.”

Those interested can still register for the current Higher Ground sessions. For more information on volunteering or attending, call (231) 779-1888 or e-mail highergroundosceola@hotmail.com.

Pioneer staff writer Lauren Fitch contributed to this report.