People talk. That's probably the moral of the story of FernCare, Ferndale's Free Clinic.
"Talk about your projects, talk about your passions, you never know who is listening," Ann Heler said Monday during a "hardhat" tour of FernCare's new permanent home in Ferndale.
Elected officials from Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak, the state of Michigan and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) were on hand for the tour.
Levin was invited because he had a hand in getting FernCare up and running. And it was because people were talking.
As the story goes, a board member of FernCare spoke to a staffer for U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township). Peters doesn't represent Ferndale, so that staff member then spoke to a Michigan-based staff member for Levin. That staff member then spoke with a federal staff member who then spoke with Levin. Levin liked the idea and discussed getting some appropriations for the free clinic.
"I remember the date we got (the federal grant)," Heler said. "It was Dec. 9, 2009. (Levin) called and said that we had been granted appropriations."
The appropriation was worth $148,000, and it allowed FernCare to move forward on building renovation and clinic planning.
With that, plus donations and fundraising events and help from volunteers, FernCare is about to open its permanent location at 459 E. Nine Mile Rd.
The building is owned by Credit Union One, and FernCare has an "extremely generous lease" that allows the clinic to operate the building with low overhead, Heler said.
FernCare began serving patients a year ago, operating out of the Gerry Kulick Community Center every other Saturday. In between, the clinic stored its equipment in garages and basements. It was organized, led, set up, executed and broken down by volunteers.
A permanent location allows them to save time, which they hope will lead to expanded hours, Heler said.
The new clinic is expected to open in September but will keep the same schedule it has now: 9 a.m.-noon on the first and third Saturdays of every month.
The clinic has served 170 patients more than 600 times, Heler said. It is the goal of the clinic to expand its hours and services as much as it can.
"There are two things we have to do to expand: Put out a call for those who can work more than Saturday and, at the same time, intense, intense fundraisers," Heler said. "We need both, and lots of it, to extend our services."
Heler said renovations at the new location will cost between $200,00-$230,000. But thanks to volunteer hours and generous donations, the cost to FernCare will be about $30,000, she said.
"FernCare is a testament to the vision and dream of how one person can make a difference," Levin said Monday, referring to Heler.