At McLaughlin Community Fellowship, connecting neighbors and tearing down barriers

When Anna EldenBrady opened the McLaughlin Community Fellowship [MCF] at 1198 Spring St. about one year ago, it was a space of big dreams. She imagined a place where neighbors could connect, where people from all walks of life could support one another.

Those dreams have started to become reality. Now, the fellowship is a space synonymous with breaking down the barriers that can separate people, where people can tap into creativity, build community and try new things—like yoga, art or even a different kind of economy (the fellowship offers a free market during which individuals can bring goods they no longer need, or take anything they want).

“We are looking to create a space and events so our neighbors in Muskegon can best thrive wholly,” said EldenBrady, who lives in Muskegon’s McLaughlin neighborhood. “The idea behind it is to create a space where we can all be our best selves, whatever that means. It may be to have an [Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous] circle here—having it in the heart of the neighborhood would be very valuable. I’d like to see it grow into a space where we find needs and we do our best to find creative ways to fill those needs that are in people’s souls and hearts.”

Over the past year, the volunteer-run fellowship has started hosting a number of free programs that are open to anyone who wants to attend. Every fourth Saturday of the month, the MCF offers a “Really Really Free Market,” during which individuals may come and drop off items they no longer need or pick up goods they’d like to bring home. There’s a free beginner’s yoga class every Wednesday, and minimally priced arts and crafts workshops are available for adults and children. For example, there’s a $1 kids crafts’ class, for which children pay $1 to make a variety of art projects, including Halloween items, magnets, and more.

However, all of these programs are temporarily on hiatus because recent heavy rain caused two holes to develop in the fellowship’s roof. The holes are in a portion of the building unused by the fellowship, but organization leaders made the decision to halt the programming out of concerns regarding water issues and mold. To tackle these issues, the MCF launched a Go Fund Me campaign with the goal of raising $1,000 to tear down the unused building addition where the roof holes are located, as well as upgrade the lighting system and replace a portion of the main building’s ceiling.

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Once that work is done, EldenBrady and Sabryna Benmark, a fellowship program developer, said they’ll be able to continue growing the center that’s meant to be a grassroots space run by, and for, people in the community.

“I’m modeling it on the idea of how a church fellowship works,” said EldenBrady, who works at the Michigan State University Extension of Muskegon County. “You come together, find out where you are on your path, figure out what each other needs, and be there for each other.”

With the center focused on being a grassroots organization, EldenBrady said anyone is welcome to contact MCF about volunteering and leading classes at the center (or, of course, regarding anything else having to do with the fellowship). To connect with the fellowship, people may message MCF on Facebook.

“We are a community together; let’s build our gathering space together,” EldenBrady said.

Over the past year, that gathering space has been welcomed with open arms by neighbors and center educators.

“The ‘Really Really Free Market,’ that’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in my life,” said Benmark, who also works at the Child Abuse Council of Muskegon County. “People bring things they don’t need and take things they do need—clothes, working electronics, books. Everything is free; you don’t have to bring anything to exchange.”

Thanks to Benmark’s job at the Child Abuse Council, she has brought a variety of literature to the fellowship that aims to connect residents with resources they may need, including information about domestic violence, human trafficking in Muskegon, and more.

“This place is awesome,” Benmark said of the MCF and added they’re hoping to soon add a personal hygiene pantry to their roster of programming.

“There’s a lot of places you can go for food pantries, but there aren’t many places to get things like toilet paper and toothpaste,” she said.

And, really, ideas for the space are seemingly unlimited: it’s a center filled with promise, a place that’s always growing and evolving. It’s a place much like ourselves: a space with holes we’re trying to address, a space of joy and rough edges and cathartic conversation and laughter and tears. It’s a place to be human.

To learn more about the McLaughlin Community Fellowship, you can visit its Facebook page by clicking here. For those who would like to donate to MCF’s fundraising campaign, you can do so by going to its Go Fund Me page here.

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram.

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