In seeking to make an investment in the physical and mental, as well as spiritual, wellbeing of Northland residents, a consortium of Catholic churches in the area has settled upon the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic as the best recipient for between $40,000 and $50,000 in each of the next three years.

In seeking to make an investment in the physical and mental, as well as spiritual, wellbeing of Northland residents, a consortium of Catholic churches in the area has settled upon the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic as the best recipient for between $40,000 and $50,000 in each of the next three years.

The infusion of cash from the Northland Deanery of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus will enable the clinic to expand upon the "wellness" aspect of its name, according to executive director Joyce Bourgault.

"What we're going to be doing is more social services as well as counseling," she said.

"We basically settled on the Helping Hands clinic because no matter what happens with the health care issue with the federal government there's going to be a need for people without health insurance to get health care," said the Rev. Charles Clinger of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Westerville, one of seven parishes in the deanery. "We thought that this was a great program that was already in place and that this would be something that was filling a very big need in our neighborhood, broadly defined 'neighborhood.' "

Members of the Ascension Lutheran Church voted to sign a contract with the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center board last week to permit use of the Haimerl Center on Morse Road on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, according to Bourgault.

This will enable clinic volunteers, she said, to provide additional hours of service, as well as expand the services offered to include things like job training and even some mental health counseling for those dealing with depression or anxiety - often outgrowths of being poor and without health insurance.

Those participating in the clinic's expanded offerings don't have to be current patients, the executive director pointed out, but must meet the same threshold of being within 200 percent of poverty guidelines and lacking health insurance.

The clinic, which begin operations just under four years ago, was founded by members of Ascension Lutheran and a few other Northland-area chur-ches.

As many as 40 churches from different denominations have come on board since.

Add to that the Northland Deanery, which includes St. Anthony, St. Elizabeth, St. James the Less and St. Matthias in Columbus, St. John Neumann in Sunbury, Church of the Resurrection in New Albany and St. Paul in Westerville.

"This really is an ecumenical venture," Rev. Clinger said.

"They came to us; we didn't go seeking them out," Bourgault said. "They came to us and said 'We like what you're doing, we'd really like to help you out.' "

The pledge of funding that will permit the Helping Hands Health and Wellness expansion of hours and services results from talks that began several years ago within the Northland Deanery, according to Clinger.

"We started discussing how we might make on impact on the area to do some good, some Christian charity in the area," he said.

After exploring the idea of having the Catholic churches start their own operation, Clinger said that a committee formed to come up with suggestions for helping the hurting within the Northland Deanery settled upon the existing free clinic as the proper vehicle.

"It was a very fruitful process that we went through that helped us to see that what was already there was something we wanted to enhance and put our prestige behind as a Catholic community," Clinger said.

"We're encompassing a lot of different areas for people's emotional, physical and spiritual health," Bourgault said. "We've wanted to do this from the very beginning.

"God has provided wonderful things. It's just incredible how people have come to us offering things to help."

In addition to the financial investment over the next three calendar years, Clinger said that members of the parishes within the Northland Deanery will be encouraged to volunteer at the free clinic.

"That's part of what we're going to do as part of our commitment," he said. "We also are going to be encouraging our people to help out with their time and talent."

"It's all part of God's plan," Bourgault said. "All I can say is the miracles that are happening over and over again, it's all from people praying about it and God just blessing us."

Details of when job training assistance and mental health counselors will be available are being worked out, the clinic executive director said.

She offered heartfelt thanks to members of Ascension Lutheran Church for making the Haimerl Center available more often and added that new hours and expanded services will mean a need for additional volunteers.

More information is available by calling 262-5094 or visiting the clinic's website at http://helpinghandsfreeclinic.wetpaint.com/.