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New firm aims to aid those who fall through the cracks

News Photo by Julie Riddle Katie Witkowski and Kathy Robson, co-founders of a new Alpena company designed to help people who can’t get help elsewhere, spend a few moments with bearded dragon Aladdin, one of the non-human residents of their company.

ALPENA — People were falling through cracks, and that wasn’t OK with them, the founders of a new business in town said.

The two women — who, between them, have two lifetimes of experience helping people past mental and physical challenges — created A1 Case Management to combat the technicalities and restrictions that often keep people from having access to help.

Officially swinging into action next week, the fledgling company will offer case management, outpatient therapy, parent training, and programming for autistic children, all in an effort to fill gaps its founders saw in the care already offered by a bevy of agencies in Alpena.

Case managers connect people struggling with physical or mental challenges with the resources they need but may not know how to find, founder Katie Witkowski explained.

A number of other agencies already exist in the community to do just that, Witkowski said, but not all people qualify for their services.

Michigan Community Mental Health, for example — which the women say provides superior service for its clients — can only help people covered by Medicaid who are struggling with severe and persistent mental health issues.

People with lower-level mental health issues can get help from independent counselors, but many of those don’t take Medicaid, Witkowski said.

Those who don’t fit in either category are the people the new company wants to help, she explained.

Other agencies, such as Catholic Human Services and the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, also provide powerful services for many people, but nobody can cover everything, and that’s why the community needs A1, Witkowski said.

Housed in a sparsely furnished storefront in downtown Alpena, the new company also offers counseling for people with any kind of insurance.

There are many other counselors in Alpena, and they do a good job, Witkowski said, but most are not able to take clients with Medicaid, leaving those folks with no place to turn when they need someone to talk to to get them through a tough time.

Alpena children with autism and who are covered by private insurance don’t have a good place to go to learn basic life skills, according to Witkowski. An autism specialist through A1 will work with children through 6 years old on social and communication skills and teach their caretakers how to help their young charges thrive.

Witkowski and her co-founder, Kathy Robson, also hope to begin a training group for parents of children with significant behavioral problems. She hopes to see parents learning skills to help their children and gaining support and insight from other parents facing the same difficulties.

There’s nothing like that in Alpena, Witkowski said.

Robson noticed people missing out on opportunities for help when she started a separate conservator and public guardian company in 2012.

She and Witkowski, in their separate positions, would sometimes try to meet different needs for the same client, Robson said. Over coffee, the women would talk about the people not sick enough or without the right insurance to qualify for help.

“I thought, let’s do better,” Witkowski said.

The fledgling company is also home to an assortment of small creatures, from a pair of adorable baby turtles to a bearded dragon named Aladdin who watches fish-themed screensavers for hours and has his own iPad — a nicer one than hers, Witkowski said wryly — in his tank.

A1’s founders want their business to be a happy place, where people laugh and tease and feel comfortable and safe.

If a client comes to them and would be better off getting help elsewhere, they’ll point them in the right direction. Otherwise, their services will be covered by insurance and free to the client. If anyone is uninsured, employees will help them get signed up, Witkowski said.

The venture is an ambitious one, designed to help a wide range of people through a wide range of life struggles.

The founders are optimistic that they can make a go of it, however.

“We’re going to do it all,” Witkowski said. “Whoever needs help and can’t find it, that’s our area.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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