Warren — A school building that sat vacant for a year has been transformed into a resource center offering valuable services in Macomb's south end, which has the highest rate of poverty in the county.
The 9,400-square-foot Max Thompson Community Center at 11370 Hupp now offers programs for the Health Department, Community Services Agency, which includes Head Start and WIC food program, Meals on Wheels and the Michigan State University extension service.
"The south end was an area hard hit by the recession," said Steve Gold, director of the health department and the Community Services Agency. "It has higher proportions of low-income and unemployed and has suffered disproportionally. We were very interested in enhancing services in that part of the county."
In 2013, Van Dyke Public Schools and Macomb County began discussing ways to reuse the building. An agreement was reached last year that the two county agencies would house some of their programs in the vacant classroom space.
The community center, which had its grand opening last month, is still owned by the school district and, under the five-year agreement, the county will pay for utilities and custodial fees.
"To my knowledge it is unique in the fact that county agencies have coupled with a school district," said Joseph Pius, superintendent of Van Dyke Public Schools. "I know of no other."
The catalyst for the arrangement was a need for a new home for the county's Children's Healthcare Access Program. The program works in areas that have inadequate pediatric care resources and tries to link low-income families on Medicaid with services.
"They were just getting started and I said I had an empty building and you are more than welcome to hang your hat there," Pius said of the nonprofit MCHAP.
The center allows for streamlining, making it easier for people to get help.
"People who need and can benefit from services from all three departments don't have to come back three different times to get those services," Gold said. "Or get services from one agency but be unaware of useful services down the hall."
Beginning in 2011, Macomb studied other CHAPs in other counties such as Wayne and Kent. Kent County was the first to establish a CHAP in Michigan, but the first one in the nation was in Colorado in 2006.
MCHAP will receive $250,000 a year for two years to fund operations through a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, said Nancy Lindman, spokeswoman for the Michigan Association of United Ways, which is responsible for infrastructure to local CHAPs.
"The MCHAP funding decision was made in late 2014," Gold said. "This is so recent that the funds haven't been received yet. But the contracts are being written. It is a free-standing 501(c)3 nonprofit. It is a separate organization."
The endowment fund provides CHAPs throughout the state with nearly $4 million. In 2014, the association was awarded a $5 million grant, said Paul Hillegonds, president of the health endowment fund.
Created in 2013, the health endowment fund is a result of Blue Cross Blue Shield becoming a mutual nonprofit. The fund will dole out more than $1.5 billion over a 20-year period to programs for the health and wellness of children and seniors.
While Gold is the one who spearheaded bringing the county services into the community center, he credits Pius for helping residents in need.
"He is in close touch with the community and thought if there was a way to use the facility as a community asset he would rather do that," Gold said.