Freedom Center Update -- Nine Years and Going Strong

Submitted by admin on Sun, 06/12/2011 - 19:59

Freedom Center is going strong!

After more than 9 years of fast-paced activism focus, Freedom Center is going strong -- and evolving. We're  concentrating on our community support and wellness programs these days: support groups, yoga, writing, and acupuncture. We're also continuing to co-sponsor Madness Radio and we collaborate with the Recovery Learning Community and the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition.You may not see our website always reflecting what's going on (our webmaster has moved to the west coast!), but come to one of our groups and be part of our thriving community!

The Freedom Center support group is one of the most longstanding and successful peer-run volunter support groups in the country. Begun with the FC's founding in 2001 and running weekly ever since, the support group has held more than 500 meetings and reached many hundreds of people - maybe more than a thousand! -- over the years. The group is a real sanctuary to find friendship, share stories, connect with resources, learn about recovery methods, affirm our human rights, and speak truth to power. And the meetings are felt far more than just the two hour gatherings alone -- the support group is the central hub of the informal community of people who meet each other through Freedom Center, forming a broad fabric of connection and caring throughout the Pioneer Valley and beyond. With the spirit of caring, listening, and understanding nurtured by the support groups, people are learning to take care of themselves and each other in the community, an "underground" alternative to professional care.


Freedom Center also co-sponsors the Hearing Voices Group held at the Recovery Learning Center in Holyoke, which focuses on voice hearing experiences considered "psychotic" by mainstream care, and helps people explore and understand what they are going through. This is one of the few Hearing Voices groups in the US -- another one was recently started in Portland Oregon by Freedom Center co-founder Will Hall.

Since starting our free community acupuncture clinic in 2003, we've held more than two hundred weekly sessions, several thousand treatments, and hundreds of people have gotten acupuncture for free through Freedom Center. Acupuncturist Barbara Weinberg, assisted by FC organizer and acupuncture student Lee Hurter, brought the first free mental health acupuncture to the Pioneer Valley, and is one of the first peer run clinics of this kind anywhere. Since then other agencies have followed FC's lead and embraced this valuable and cost-effective wellness tool, and followed our example by making holistic wellness tools central to mental health recovery. Acupuncture is ongoing and offered every monday 430 pm -6pm Quaker Space, 43 Center St, so come check it out!


Our weekly yoga class is, held monday nights at the Somatic Institute, is a solid Northampton community asset. Begun in 2001, we've held at least 350 weekly classes for hundreds of people. The class has had many teachers over the years and is currently taught by Sally Morgan, a bodyworker and cranial sacral therapist. FC was one of the first organizations in the country to offer free and open yoga classes to the community, a growing nationwide trend. We've led the way in creating trauma-informed yoga and spreading yoga into mental health care. You're invited to join us any night. Our writing groups, started by Chaya Grossberg, remain popular as well, co-sponsored by Freedom Center, the RLC, and Windhorse and held at Windhorse Associates offices.

The biggest news is how the Pioneer Valley community has changed over the years. When we first started there was zero support for peer mental health programs in the area. None. The idea of holistic care for mental health issues was considered unthinkable by mainstream agencies. Today the City of Northampton supports Freedom Center, and the biggest change is the emergence of the state funded Recovery Learning Community. Putting much of the values and inspiration of Freedom Center into practice on a bigger scale, it was Freedom Center's years of activism and organizing that sent a clear message the community wants and needs peer support and the RLC, and our activism helped make this valuable resource a reality. Many Freedom Center organizers are ongoing workers and volunteers with the RLC, and the RLC co-director is Oryx Cohen, Freedom Center co-founder.

FC's other co-founder Will Hall moved to Portland Oregon to study at the Process Work Institute, a graduate psychology program with an innovative spiritual and systems model of extreme states. Will now works as a counselor and consultant, and continues to host Madness Radio, work with The Icarus Project, and is involved with many advocacy organizations in addition to his ongoing involvement with Freedom Center -- including the new organization Portland Hearing Voices. Lee Hurter remains the main Freedom Center administrator, coordinating the ongoing calls and emails we get asking for support and resources, as well as organizing logistics for our yoga, acupuncture, and support groups. Freedom Center organizer Caty Simon played a central role in the Poverty is Not A Crime campaign to stop the Northampton's anti-panhandling ordinance, gaining national recognition for her work. Freedom Center development volunteeers are working to get us funding, and a network of FC activists talk to the media, give presentations, and keep our services going. We continue to get tons of emails and phone calls with people from around the US looking for alternative ways to deal with emotional crisis.


We invite you to connect with Freedom Center through some of the wellness groups we offer -- there are links on the left side of the website. We are still a shoestring, low-budget operation and need donations, so please use the Donate button to give online (we estimate that we annually save the city, county, and state thousands of dollars in costs when people don't need to call 911 or go to the hospital because they have alternate ways of support, and dollar for dollar we are the most cost-effective mental health wellness services in the state.)


As we head into our 10th year, we're watching the entire culture continue to change around mental health as our movement gets stronger and we reach more and more people. We look forward to the day when Freedom Center is no longer an alternative -- but represents the beginning of a new mainstream in how we take care of ourselves and our communities.



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