Seventeen years after Friends Together first was established in Alpena, the support agency for those touched by cancer has moved into new headquarters. Located at 105 Prentiss in the former Northern Foot & Ankle Center, the freshly remodeled building offers expanded meeting space and better options for confidentiality.
"Basically, there were two reasons for moving," said Friends Together Administrator Bill Morford. "We had a need for more space to serve our guests. Some of our groups have been getting larger, and the meeting space at our previous location was limited. There also was a need for more space to provide confidentiality."
Morford explained that sometimes when a support group was in session at the old headquarters and someone stopped by needing to talk one-on-one, staff would have to take that person into an adjacent State Farm Insurance office for privacy's sake.
Founder Judy Burns, the former owner of the State Farm Insurance agency on US-23-S, started Friends Together in the wake of her daughter Dawn's death from cancer. While the two of them were coping with the cancer diagnosis and resulting journey, they found the Northeast Michigan area sorely lacking in cancer support services.
Burns made a vow to her daughter before her death that she would see to it that others would not have to bear the burden alone like they did. True to her word, Burns ultimately began Friends Together about a year after her daughter passed. She converted space at her insurance agency building into an area for Friends Together.
According to Morford, it had long been a dream of Burns to find a larger space to accommodate the expanded agency that offers a variety of helpful programs and services in partnership with the Alpena Cancer Center. Her other daughter, Melissa Burns, who also works at Friends Together as communication specialist, said they spent about two years looking for the right location.
"It was two years of looking," Melissa Burns said. "There were three other building we considered seriously before settling on this one."
Both Morford and Melissa Burns said the new location is just the right size not too large or small.
"It's got a good location," said Morford. "It's visible so people can easily see who we are and what we do. It is also easy to direct people from here to the Cancer Center."
Friends Together was able to take out a long-term lease on the building thanks to a matching grant from the Besser Foundation. Dr. Craig Pilichowski, owner of the Northern Foot & Ankle Center, also helped with the renovations and many other individuals or businesses donated money, services or goods toward the project. Additionally, Friends Together conducted fundraisers in an effort to make the move possible.
"We received a lot of help. Alpena Furniture helped us move the heavy stuff with their truck. They volunteered their services. All of the painting and clean-up was done by volunteers," said Melissa Burns, adding that since the move more people seem to be popping in, due in part easier visibility of the agency and its sign.
"It's all been positive so far," said Morford. "It is warm and friendly and inviting."
Kenyon Construction served as general contractor for the remodeling project. All the money for the project was raised locally and spent locally, Morford said.
The new space features two large meeting rooms, a smaller meeting room, three offices, adequate storage and several small areas that can be used for a variety of different needs. Future plans call for sprucing up the exterior of the building and updating the landscaping.
Since the building is located so close to the waterfront, Morford said Friends Together likely will start a walking group once the weather turns warmer to encourage good health and friendship among participants.
The staff has been in the new facility since Feb. 15 and are planning a public open house for April 10 from 5 to 9 p.m.
"This was a dream to have a home for Friends Together, and hopefully a home for anyone in the community dealing with cancer," Morford said. "Our intention is offer more and more services."