Freedom Center Is Transforming!

Submitted by admin on Wed, 01/01/2025 - 01:00

Check out the Freedom Center video!

Freedom Center is transforming! After 10+ years of community support, education, and human rights activism, Freedom Center is in a new phase.

Our community has grown and the movement has become more successful, and so the Freedom Center has changed, and become more of a spirit and vision than an on-the-ground organization. Activities that do happen are more informal and small scale these days, coming and going as people pick up initiative in Northampton and beyond. As organizer Dave Burns used to say "People ask me where is the Freedom Center. And I tell them, it's here, right now, you and I talking and connecting." We encourage people who want to network with Freedom Center to find folks face to face in the Northampton area community. A great way to start is to connect with peer and recovery resources in the area in general, and we strongly encourage you to check out the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community.

Everyone involved with us over the years is excited about the transformations in Western Massachusetts since we began. It's incredible how the region has changed - when we first began the general attitude was "who are these crazy people?" and the local newspaper published misinformation about us. Then just a few years later, the Mayor of Northampton came to our anniversary party to congratulate us on our work, and the local Hampshire Gazette ran a newspaper editorial supporting us. Freedom Center is the oldest peer run organization in the Pioneer Valley and one of the first in Western Massachusetts. We did this work without paid staff, bringing together dozens of volunteers who dedicated thousands of volunteer hours to the vision of peer support in Western Massachusetts. Freedom Center has been recognized for this work internationally, including awards from Smith and Mt. Holyoke colleges, Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst, and Forbes magazine. Freedom Center's work is described in the video we produced in 2007,, and in Professor Gail Hornstein's excellent book Agnes' Jacket. Freedom Center was the first organization to bring peer-run services to the region; first to offer holistic wellness programs in mental health; first to bring coming off medications into open discussion; the first to go on the radio; first free yoga class, first to invite Robert Whitaker and many others, one of the first to organize against psychiatric abuse -- with many groundbreaking innovations before the term "peer movement" was even in use, Freedom Center truly led the way in the Pioneer Valley and made a big impact nationally and even internationally.

Today state funding for peer run services is a reality in Massachusetts because of many years' pressure from many activists -- including pressure from the Freedom Center. Freedom Center initiated and proved the effectiveness of many of the kinds of programs now widely adopted with state funding. Freedom Center's years of work contributed to the advocacy pressure on the State of Massachusetts to stop dragging its feet and start funding peer programs statewide. This success of the peer movement meant that many of the innovations and vision of Freedom Center now have state financial and institutional support. There's a new awareness of our issues like never before, and while there is still is a great need for activism unhindered by the political constraints of government funding (such as the cross-issue anti-poverty work Freedom Center did), the regional advances in peer run services are huge.

Many of our efforts are now underway through the resources and funding of new organizations, and Freedom Center organizers became very involved with the creation of the new Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (WMRLC), the Afiya peer-run hospital alternative respite, and national organizing. Many volunteers working with Freedom Center moved over over to WMRLC, and the WMRLC carried forward experience, skills, networking, community awareness and educational work that Freedom Center had done previously. Oryx was very involved with founding Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community and became Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community's first co-Director. Oryx now works as a Director of the National Empowerment Center as well as producing the new film Healing Voices, and Will Hall works as a trainer, consultant, and therapist, as well as continuing his radio and community development work. Lee Entel is now an acupuncturist in Colorado, Caty Simon is a sex worker, write, and poverty rights activist, Cheryl Alexander is a local therapist, and Chaya Grossberg is a counselor and advocate. Other organizers from the early days of Freedom Center continue work to transform the mental health system. We strongly encourage people interested in the work of Freedom Center in the area to get involved with the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community:

Freedom Center and Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community worked together closely as the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community got off the ground. We continued to co-sponsor many groups and events and collaborate on many levels, with many organizers paid at WMRLC also doing volunteer work with FC -- which was a great cross-fertilization. The state funders of the peer movement were not so supportive, however. Freedom Center was consistently denied funding through state mental health sources, though as we got funding through city Housing and Urban Development anti-poverty initiatives. (Freedom Center was even harassed at one point when the state monitored email records of a state employee who was also a Freedom Center activist, in an attempt to discourage their continued off-hours volunteering with Freedom Center.)>/p>

So as "peer" programs grow in the state, there is a struggle to keep the human rights and activist values and vision of Freedom Center and Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community alive in the face of co-optation and silencing dynamics shaped by funding sources. While the community has been enormously supportive of Freedom Center, the state, it would seem, would prefer that Freedom Center just fade away. But Freedom Center has always been above all a spirit and a vision, and that spirit and vision will always be alive and will always move forward.

To support this vision and carry the work to the future, this website is a wealth of information and links to further Western Massachusetts resources, as well as about Freedom Center's rich history of activism, community events, and mutual support. So please bear with anything outdated as you use this as a jumping off place to getting involved with the broader movement.

-- Will Hall