GREENVILLE — Families with young children of the greater Greenville area have a resource to help fill the gaps when their budget doesn’t stretch far enough.
Alpha Family Services has been that service for 23 years.
Karen Marsman is executive director of Alpha Family Services and she has been with the organization in some capacity for at least 20 of those 23 years. Serving as a volunteer, the center director, assisting her husband when he served on the board and now as executive director, Marsman has seen the organization grow and meet the needs of many families in Greenville and beyond.
Marsman’s involvement can be easily be described as passionate, and it started with a personal experience at a young age.
“I have a story,” she said. “I was 18, unmarried and pregnant and as far as I knew, there wasn’t anything like this available — that’s why I am so passionate about it.”
Marsman is passionate about helping families succeed and to be healthy. Alpha Family Services, located at 705 N. Hillcrest St. in Greenville, offers a variety of products and services, including providing formula, diapers, clothing, car seats, and cribs. The most important component of what Alpha has to offer, according to Marsman, is educational opportunities provided to help create better parents.
“We have the opportunity to offer parent classes to educate them (clients),” Marsman said. “This allows them to be the best parents they can be so they don’t feel alone in this journey. Even in good, stable relationships, you can feel lonely if you cannot make ends meet.”
Another component that allows Alpha to assist families is the established partnerships with other non-profit organizations. On Thursdays, the site serves as a clinic for Women Infants and Children (WIC). Marsman expressed her enthusiasm to work with WIC, noting that they often refer clients to one another.
Megan Schulz, who is the WIC supervisor, echoed Marsman’s appreciation for the partnership.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” Schulz said. “Our clients and our staff love going to that clinic. A lot of our clients have transportation issues so being there, a lot of them can walk or take the Transit.”
Alpha Family Services has been awarded grants through United Way to purchase car seats and cribs for clients to purchase with their “Alpha Bucks.” Alpha Bucks are points earned by clients through the completion of courses, attending all prenatal appointments and other educational opportunities offered through the center. They also work with the Greenville Department of Public Safety to ensure car seats are installed correctly.
In the past year, Christian Health Centers in Grand Rapids reached out to Marsman and recently finalized a new program, Healthy Tomorrows, that will provide a nurse practitioner to see clients in Greenville. This will allow for well-women and well-children visits at no cost to clients of Alpha and no cost to the center.
Marsman is excited for the next chapters in the organization’s future. The addition of healthcare services locally will help fill the gaps for families who are active clients of Alpha who do not qualify for Medicaid but also do not have health insurance through an employer. Marsman knows first-hand those families exist and she looks forward to providing one less concern for them.
During the discussion phase, Marsman reached out to both Spectrum Health and Cherry Health and explained what was in the works for Alpha Family Services with the Healthy Tomorrows pilot program. She said both are looking forward to having another healthcare option to help enhance services to residents.
“It really is a win-win for our community,” Marsman said.
Everything Alpha Family Services offers the community is provided by donations, fundraising events and grants. Marsman recently secured grant funding that will purchase two computers that will be available for clients’ use. Another project that will receive funding is the Successful Beginnings birthing classes that will be offered quarterly in 2020. Additionally, the center will be able to purchase new chairs for the waiting area and to more easily facilitate classes that are offered.
As with many non-profit organizations, Alpha Family Services relies on volunteers to provide services. Marsman is the only full-time staff member and she has a part-time staff of four.
Alpha is open Monday through Wednesday with the WIC clinic on Thursdays. There are no hours on Fridays due to a lack of volunteers. Marsman said they are always open to adding more volunteers to their ranks and anyone interested in doing so can contact her at (616) 225-2265.