For nearly eight years now, therapists from the Fountain Hill Center for Counseling and Consultation, a private counseling practice in Grand Rapids, MI, have been providing accessible, affordable counseling to individuals and families of the communities in and surrounding Oceana County. Although this unique partnership began and is based in New Era, it is now known as the Fountain Hill Center – Lakeshore Office to reflect the fact that many clients travel from as far as neighboring Muskegon, Mason, and Newaygo counties to seek help in hurting times. Clients often hear of or find the program on their own, or are referred by partnering churches, doctors, businesses or schools.
“It really began as a pretty simple grassroots thing,” says Amy Van Gunst, a Fountain Hill Center therapist who serves as the link to this area, having been born and raised in New Era. “I had just moved back to this community from Grand Rapids and a local pastor asked if I would be willing to see a couple he knew who was having some marital problems. It really just took off from there.”
In addition to Amy Van Gunst, two other FHC therapists make a weekly commute to the area to see individuals, couples and families in an office provided by New Era Reformed Church. The Center also regularly employs a graduate-level intern who provides counseling support to children and their families in the local schools.
Ann Byl knows this program well; serving as a council member at New Era Reformed, a Family Advocate in Shelby Public Schools, and as a member of both the FHC Board of Directors, and the newly-formed FHC-Lakeshore Office Advisory Board, a group tasked with increasing the financial backing of the program. “Having access to this kind of support for our community has been a real blessing. We [the church and school] provide them space and some support and they provide a service that is needed and otherwise, too often, not available in this area.”. Other members of the Advisory Board include Mishelle Comstock, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Shelby State Bank; Darrell Huggins, Community Advocate; Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald, Shelby Congregational Church; Paula Van Duinen, Wickstra Realty; Dana McGrew, Superintendant of Shelby Public Schools; Todd Kraai, Principal at New Era Elementary School; Mary Beckman, Coordinator of Support Services at New Era Christian School; Tammy Carey, Executive Director of Oceana Community Foundation; and Chuck and Jane Thompson, community residents.
And the need is great. The center has remained committed to its pledge to serve anyone who seeks help, regardless of their ability to pay. The Fountain Hill Center maintains a fund that subsidizes the cost of counseling for anyone who needs services and cannot manage the full cost of counseling. “This truly is a community effort,” says Mary Beckman, chair of the Advisory Board. “The therapists reduce their rate and cover their own travel and administrative expenses, the church provides space and money, clients are asked to pay what they can, and then we rely heavily on the financial gifts of individuals, churches, businesses and foundations to make this work. We have said that this is something we want for our community and now it is up to us to make it happen. Without that support, this program simply would not exist in our area.” The Committee has set a goal of raising $65,000 this year to keep the program funded at its current level of service, about 20-30 clients a week. One hundred percent of those funds are used to directly subsidize counseling costs as all overhead costs are paid by the program’s partners in the community.
So far this year, the counseling program has received generous grants from both the Community Foundation for Oceana County and the Great Lakes Energy People’s Fund. They have also received gifts from the Gerber Foundation, as well as numerous churches, businesses, and individuals in the area. For more information on the Lakeshore counseling program or to make a donation to the fund, call the Fountain Hill Center at (616) 456-1178 or visit https://fountainhillcenter.org/outreach/new-era/
Originally Published in the Oceana Herald Journal
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Amy Van Gunst, M.Div, MA, LPC
Amy Van Gunst has been the Executive Coordinator of the Fountain Hill Center since 1994. She has the kind of experience, both in life and with clients, that allows her to help individuals and couples deal with a wide range of issues. She works with people in a collaborative way as they walk down their own journey of healing, facing the issues that confront them. She is able to use a variety of tools in that process and is eager to find what works the best for each person.