Bringing Wellness to Those Who Help Others: Alongside in Richland, Mich.
By Dave Ramont
Alongside is a counseling ministry located in rural Michigan for pastors and missionaries who are in need of restoration. Alongside offers Renewal and Growth Retreats for these ministers, which are two- and three-week-long retreats designed to meet the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of pastors and missionaries who may be going through a difficult time in their lives or ministries. "We exist to come alongside of these leaders and help them get back on track to healthy, more balanced living through wellness seminars, group and individual counseling," said John DeKruyter, executive director of Alongside.
Alongside was born in 2000, moving from Pennsylvania to Michigan in 2002, leasing office space and client lodging from another ministry. In 2011, they obtained 125 acres of their own, constructing two guest houses containing five guest suites each, and a Retreat Center, which is where all the counseling and education takes place.
When the adults in a family are experiencing turmoil, the children often experience it as well. So Alongside developed a children's program based on the same material the parents cover in their seminars, adjusted to fit the age and needs of the children. But DeKruyter said it was challenging due to their limited space, so last year they built the Kids Barn, which houses a gym. "We have two classrooms attached to it as well as two family suites. We also have an exercise room. As you know, physical fitness is an important part of wellness. We have basketball, pickleball and volleyball courts lined on the floor. This gym has been so helpful to let kids be kids and to move," DeKruyter said.
For efficiency's sake, it was decided to put radiant heat under the gym floor. While it can be more expensive to put in, once your space reaches a desired temperature it takes very little to maintain that temperature, according to DeKruyter. But he added that it was then a challenge to choose a gym floor that would work well with the heating system. "A concern was to not build something that was too expensive to maintain. It's easier to raise money for capital than for operations." (Alongside is a 501c3).
So they turned to Mateflex, a modular flooring company based in Utica, N.Y. "This was a unique question for Mateflex," DeKruyter said. "It was not one that they had addressed before, so we had to work with them and the heating company to make sure it would work. So far it is working beautifully."
The gym at Alongside is used for structured activities connected to the kids program, but also as a place to simply blow off steam, according to DeKruyter. "Soon we'll be introducing more physical wellness activities. We'll have a trainer, nutritionist, and since so many of our clients come from great distances and have limited access to exercise equipment, we'll have classes on basic exercises they can do without equipment or even a lot of space."
DeKruyter said they desired the look of a wood floor without the upkeep of a wood floor, and their modular floor has been easy to care for thus far, while also proving to be a nice surface for their activities, including basketball and volleyball. "I wanted a floor that I did not have to think about or babysit. Our focus is not athletics, so we needed something that we could forget about. We've been very pleased so far."
Several volunteers helped install the Alongside floor, which DeKruyter said took about a day and a half. "It was a lot of fun to install. Mateflex sent two experts to supervise us. Then it took a while to get the lines painted and time to cure. In the end I guess it was about a week before we could use it."
Since there were no other Mateflex floors installed nearby to look at, DeKruyter was a little concerned, but said the rep they worked with was very patient and helpful. "He sent me several tiles and different colors as samples. I had several people that I could talk to who have used their flooring. We were impressed. The cost is fair, it looks and performs very well."
Missionaries and pastors have dedicated themselves to providing for and caring for others, frequently working with those at their lowest point, often in very challenging conditions. And while this certainly provides many rewards, a life in ministry can also be very difficult, with many in the profession experiencing burnout, depression and marriage or family difficulties. Yet 70 percent of clergy say they don't have someone whom they consider to be a close friend. So who offers them emotional and spiritual support, affirmation or just a sympathetic ear? Alongside is one place trying to fill that void, and if their new gym floor helps DeKruyter and his team stay focused on their mission, all the better.
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