Grant will fund research that could expand Momentum Center model across U.S.

The Momentum Center for Community Engagement recently received a $66,625 research grant from the Strategic Partner Fund of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. The fund will serve as a catalyst for reducing negative attitudes people hold toward those wrestling with mental illness, addictions, and disabilities.

And not just for residents in the Grand Haven area, but across the nation.

“We’re really trying to determine whether we have an evidence-based program that can be replicated in other communities and can even maybe move the needle in policy change for how we help people with mental illness, addictions, and disabilities,” says Barbara VanHorssen, co-founder and executive director of the Momentum Center in Grand Haven. “There are still a lot of people who are told all they need is willpower. They are told to move on. Get over it. A lot of misunderstanding persists.”

A model worth replicating

Since launching the Momentum Center in 2017 at 714 Columbus Ave., VanHorssen has amassed a bevy of anecdotal observations and data collection that makes her nonprofit a community-based model worth replicating. VanHorssen wants the research project to enable communities throughout the United States to replicate the Momentum Center’s model, which includes recreational and social activities such as yoga, meditation, baking, and day trips, so that disenfranchised people may experience healthy relationships.
Barbara Lee VanHorssen is the Experi-Mentor (executive director) of the Momentum Center in Grand Haven. The center is part of the (Anti) Racism Task Force.
“It costs $1 a year to join,” says VanHorssen. “You don’t need a clinical diagnosis, you don’t need a referral. You can just be going through a hard time. We are there to be kind of early interveners. If somebody requires clinical care, we can make those referrals and get them to those resources.”

This is all the more vital in helping to reduce people’s levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness considering the isolation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engendering community

Now, more than ever, it’s about shepherding a sense of belonging, of engendering community.

“This grant will allow us to take the next step in creating an even more robust research environment,” says VanHorssen. “The big goal is we want evidence-based outcomes so we can share the model because it’s a model that can fill the gap between the person and clinical services. We believe the Momentum Center can be implemented in any community.”

It will take about 12 months to complete the research that will be conducted in two stages. The Momentum Center’s clinical partners are Ottawa County Community Mental Health, North Ottawa Community Health System, and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. The project will be led by Travis Andrews of ThenAtlas Analytics and Gloria Lee of Michigan State University.

“I’ll be able to look at our internal data and do a comparative analysis with our partners in order to test the efficacy of our program and see what kind of comparative conclusions we can draw from similar populations of those who are, and aren’t, engaged at the Momentum Center,” says VanHorssen.

Measuring impact

The second phase of the research is equally vital — measuring the impact the Momentum Center may be having on attitudes and stigma.

“Ultimately, we believe this model can save money in health care, in the legal system, provide better outcomes for people, and further indicate how we might be able to improve our services,” says VanHorssen.

Part of the Momentum Center’s model is having its members pay the $1 annual membership.

It’s a small amount that serves a large purpose.

“That’s one of the key elements as to why the Momentum Center works,” says VanHorssen.

“People, when they first visit, sometimes sense they’re an outsider. One dollar is a transaction that helps them feel like an insider, part of the affiliation and belonging. We make it low so it’s affordable to everyone. It doesn’t create fear. It’s truly accessible to all. ‘Now I’m a member. I have a place and belong here.’”

Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.