Affirmations: A Safe Space for Community, Services, and Support in Downtown Ferndale
(Mary Dupuis, Aug 8, 2022)
Ferndale, MI – Affirmations, an LGBTQ+ community center located in Downtown Ferndale, was founded in 1989 as a safe space for the community, founded on acceptance. According to their website, their mission began as, and still is, being “a welcoming space where people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and cultures can find support and unconditional acceptance, and where they can learn, grow, socialize and feel safe.”
While Affirmations is housed in one building, its services are numerous.
Within the center community members can find access to youth programs, behavioral health programs, a black box theatre, a center for inclusion training, COVID-19 vaccines and resources, STI testing, support and discussion groups, name/gender marker change clinics, advocacy, food and clothing banks, showers and restrooms and the list goes on.
The facility is also able to be rented out by groups looking for a safe space to hold their activities or events.
Being a resource center built to support the community, Affirmations thrives with help and charitable donations from its volunteers.
Many of these volunteers have been dedicating their time and care to Affirmations for years, leading some to hold full time positions in the center.
Aneesa Alphonsus, Affirmations’ Community Engagement Coordinator as of this year, began volunteering for Affirmations in 2013.
In her new role Alphonsus still works closely with volunteers. Having been one herself for so long, Alphonsus said she feels she better understands what she needs to bring to the table to make working with Affirmations the best experience possible.
“Being on the back end of things I kind of realized okay, you know, if I were working (in this role) this is what I would like to have,” Alphonsus said. “Things like a nice working space or more resources so that I can better help the people who call.”
Alphonsus said in her time volunteering and working for Affirmations she has recognized just how important it is to have this safe space for the community.
“Having visibility of the flags, having visibility of the rainbows, it’s very telling,” Alphonsus said. “Having somebody ask you, ‘What are your pronouns?’ You know, it’s very affirming. And so having a place like this, we’d like to think of it as a safe space, where you don’t have to worry about how you’re dressed or how you present yourself. Nobody’s going to care, as long as you’re in here in a respectful way.
Alphonsus said she personally understands the importance of the affirming care Affirmations offers and the inclusivity it fosters.
“I think representation is very important,” Alphonsus said. “When I was younger, I used to think, ‘I’m just me I don’t need to belong.’ But I do need to belong. It’s important, you know, having that identity and having a place where you say, ‘These are my people, and I feel safe here.’”
At Affirmations Alphonsus works closely with the Community Engagement Manager, Justin Bettcher.
Bettcher began volunteering for Affirmations in September of 2019. He was promoted to his current role at the beginning of 2022 but had begun officially working for Affirmations at the end of 2020.
Bettcher said through his time volunteering and working for Affirmations the most rewarding part of the experience has been his ability to help others in his community.
“At the end of the day we’re able to help people,” Bettcher said. “And as cliche as that sounds it’s the best feeling in the world. Yeah you had a stressful day but you helped people get housing and groceries and just gave them someone to talk to and that’s amazing.”
Bettcher is especially proud of the way Affirmations has been able to expand their services in recent years.
He said the behavioral care program has especially expanded over the past few months, something which the Care Manager, Brendan Bell, has been directly involved with.
Bell began his role as Care Manager about two months ago, but had previously worked as a therapy intern and therapist. He said he enjoys the direct client interaction but also the planning processes behind the behavioral health programs.
As the first person in this role of developing the Care Coordination Program at Affirmations, Bell said he has greatly enjoyed getting to know the community within Affirmations.
“The thing I enjoy most is that I’m able to be here and hold space with people that are in crisis or close to someone who is without housing or food insecurity,” Bell said. “Being able to be their advocate or resource conduit.”
Bell said it’s important to him that his role is used to help lay the foundation for the future of the programs.
“I can’t even explain how wonderful it is to work in an environment with passionate people working together to make services the best they can be as well as creating futuristic services and laying the groundwork to build on as we expand and grow,” Bell said.
Through all of these programs and services offered to the community it is the hope of the volunteers and those holding positions that Affirmations means something to those who walk through its doors.
Services include advocacy, behavioral health support, inclusion training, health services including COVID-19 vaccines, gender marker and name change clinics, youth programs, and a myriad of support groups including AA, Coming Out, LGBTQ+ Parent and Caregiver Support, Disability and Discussion, People of Color, Senior Koffee Klatch, Healing from Religious or Spiritual Damage and more.
There is also a room that’s used for Metropolitan Community Church on Sundays, and performances from The Ringwald Theatre other days.The Center often hosts events, and the Pittman-Puckett Art Gallery is there to greet visitors.
“I think Affirmations is a really, really positive, all encompassing word that works for anything, you know,” Alphonsus said. “It’s affirming that you’re worthy. It’s affirming that you belong. It’s affirming that you are you are deserving of a safe and authentic life.”
Affirmations is located at 290 W. 9 Mile Road in Downtown Ferndale. Learn more at https://goaffirmations.org.