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Rep. Nolan takes closer look at ABC, HAWC partnership

Danielle Lien, owner of A Better Connection, explains to U.S. Congressman Rick Nolan and Laura Johnson of the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center the building project currently underway to house the non-profit Heartland Activity & Wellness Connection (HAWC) in conjunction with mental health services in the old Window World building in Park Rapids. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

The Heartland Activity & Wellness Connection (HAWC) may have gained an important ally in U.S. Congressman Rick Nolan.

Rep. Nolan was in Park Rapids on Friday and visited A Better Connection (ABC) at its location on Hollinger Street and future home of the HAWC.

Danielle Lien, president of ABC, is renovating the former Window World building for the mental health clinic, and established a partnership with the non-profit HAWC to build the community center at the same location.

Rep. Nolan's office was interested in learning more about plans for the HAWC and requested to meet with Lien and her staff while in Park Rapids on Friday. Lien, Rita Anderson and Carrie Parks gave a presentation about the partnership and mission of ABC and the HAWC. They talked about the history of ABC and the HAWC regarding behavior health needs and the proposed project.

Phase I of renovating space for ABC and some initial uses by the HAWC are underway. Lien said they need to fundraise and write grants to build an addition for the HAWC which would include a gymnasium.

Lien explained she is funding the first phase of renovations through ABC. The second phase would be an addition for the HAWC services.

"The addition is what we are looking to find additional funding for," she said. "We're looking to find other sources and other people to take a risk on us. Right now, we're doing all the renovations and we're going to finish everything in this current building."

They are waiting on daycare and Head Start classroom space to make sure it's finished according to licensure they will have. The kitchen and multi-purpose room will be completed, and the community would like to have gym space and above ground walking space.

"If we can we're going to try and meet all those needs as much as possible."

Anderson supervises chemical and co-occurring services. She said during the presentation services ABC currently provides is going to bridge into what they want the HAWC to do when that is fully and operational.

The group walked through the building currently under renovation and Rep. Nolan left impressed with the partnership, stating that when completed the HAWC could serve as a model for other communities.

Rep. Nolan and his staff were interested in learning more about the project and working with Lien about possible federal funding sources.

"This is very inspirational to see what the community is doing, pulling together the private sector, the community, the state, the federal in a way that really benefits the community," Nolan said following the presentation and tour. "This really could be a model for the rest of the country."

He said most people want to see the communities in the world a little better place to live in, and this is just a shining example of a community pulling together to make Park Rapids a model as a place people want to live, raise a family and spend their lives.

Nolan called the partnership of for-profit ABC and the non-profit HAWC very creative in pulling it together under one roof. The HAWC will operate independently of ABC, but the two will collaborate to provide mental health-related services and recreation opportunities.

The Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC) approved New Market Tax Credit Funding for ABC to purchase the building earlier this year.

Parks provided information about plans for the HAWC to Rep. Nolan and other visitors at the meeting.

The Phase I remodel has begun at ABC and will include offices for current and incoming ABC and HAWC staff; public restrooms/locker rooms; a new entry way that will allow more privacy for ABC clients; reception/office administration area; daycare space; three community meeting rooms; and commercial kitchen for dietary services/classes.

ABC looks to move in to Phase I by mid-October.

Phase II will begin once funds have been secured. The HAWC is a non-profit center with funds secured through grants, donations and other financial support. Included in plans for the HAWC addition are a gymnasium, walking track, exercise room, and multi-purpose room to be used as an exercise classroom.

Total estimated cost for Phase II is $1.75 million.

Plans for the gymnasium include an indoor rec center, multi-use courts for different sports, low impact flooring, and kindergym program for infants and toddlers. The second focus of Phase II is a walking track located above the gymnasium and overlooking the multi-use courts. This will feature low impact flooring designed to encourage safe physical activity, exercise machines on the sides of the track for circuit option, and multiple lanes of use for different levels of activity.

Other services planned for the facility include drop in daycare, adult day services, community banquet area, outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment, and community classes.

Funding sources Lien and the HAWC are pursuing include federal, state and local grants for non-profits, community support, fundraising, business loans, and donations.

The idea of the partnership between ABC and HAWC is to treat and support community health by promoting physical activity, brain development, social integration and community economic development. The renovated facility will house therapeutic and rehabilitative services for children, adolescents and adults.

Efforts to establish a community center in Park Rapids have been going on for a number of years. The most recent was for The Wreck, a non-profit organization which looked to build an indoor playground and gym as a community project. That effort stalled due to lack of available funding.

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