A place where people can access a wide array of social and health services was dedicated Tuesday on Fort Wayne's south side.
Described by its backers as a “no wrong door” service, Connect Allen County at 201 E. Rudisill Blvd.'s lower level will allow individuals and families to meet on-site or by telehealth with professionals representing 13 groups.
Those representatives help people get connected with entities that can meet their needs – ranging from food and housing to mental health and abuse-related care.
The staff is bilingual in English and Spanish and has access to translators who can speak Karen and Thai. The group is working on finding those who can translate Burmese.
“Whatever a person is in need of, they've come to the right place,” said Kylie Riecken, center coordinator. “We're not going to tell them to go somewhere else.”
Organizers said they believe it is the first of its kind in the area and possibly the state.
About four years in the making, the center has been supported with about $600,000 in grants from The Lutheran Foundation and $35,000 from the AWS Foundation, Riecken said. She led a committee of community professionals that resulted in the center's start.
Represented providers include some traditional ones and some working on not-so-traditional issues.
Journey Birth & Wellness, Fort Wayne, provides childbirth education, prenatal and postpartum contact and childbirth assistants called doulas to a diverse population of women, including refugees and women of color not typically served, said Shanna Bradley, executive director and mother of five.
The organization hopes to reduce local premature births and maternal and infant mortality rates, Bradley said. One study found the 46806 ZIP code on the city's south side, where the new center is in a former Sears department store, had 15.4 deaths per 1,000 births, fourth highest in the Indiana, between 2013 and 2017.
Made Strong Ministries works with victims of human trafficking as a nondenominational ministry not connected to one particular church, said Angie Montgomery, director. Bienestar Sin Fronteras, or Wellness Without Borders in English, provides free individual, family and marital counseling and other mental health services for the Latino community where such conditions are often culturally stigmatized, director Alice Jordan-Miles said.
Other organizations with a presence in the space are Building a Stronger Family, Catholic Charities, Choices Coordinated Care Solutions, Crossroad Child & Family Services, Lutheran Social Services, Meridian Health Services, The Otis R. Bowen Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute, The Rescue Mission homeless shelter, and SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect).
Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County is providing 24-hour emergency food kits to the site.
Staff members also have a wide array of contacts within the area's social services' network, including Amani Family Services, which works with refugees, and groups that work with people with disabilities.
Riecken said the center is not open or targeted only to residents of Fort Wayne's south side but to anyone in the county.
She added the center is in the same building as a new health clinic, the WorkONE Northeast Indiana office and a Department of Child Services office. Easy referrals should be likely, Riecken said.
The center does not require an appointment or charge for its services, she said.
However, participating agencies may go by their existing policies regarding payment for additional services, including assisting people with obtaining health insurance coverage, Riecken said.
The number of people expected to be served has not been projected, as the center has been open on a trial basis about a month, she added.
But the center already has provided food and food vouchers, connected someone to autism behavior therapy for their child and guided several people to same-day mental health appointments, organizers said.
Groups that maintain an office there are being aided by The Lutheran Foundation, which is covering rent for a period of time, Riecken said.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who spoke at Tuesday's news conference announcing the center, said he sees it as an economic development aid.
When he once asked the head of a company who chose to locate here what made the difference, the response surprised him, he said.
The company official said it wasn't the economic incentives, which are much the same anywhere, Henry said.
“What brought us to Fort Wayne is the quality life,” Henry said the official explained. “People care for each other. I don't think there is one need that people can have that you don't have someone to address.”
To get in touch
Connect Allen County is on the lower level of 201 E. Rudisill Ave. (Rudisill Plaza) in Fort Wayne. The office is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The office is on the Citilink No. 5 bus line. Call 260-901-5480 or www.ConnectAllenCounty.com.