HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Police officers and firefighters in the City of Huntington and their families now have access to an integrated center focused on wellness.
The first phase of construction for The Compass Center, a $440,000 project, was officially unveiled during a Monday ceremony at its location on the 5th floor of Huntington’s Jean Dean Public Safety Building.
“Being a first responder is wonderfully rewarding for a career, but there’s a price to pay for being a hero and our first responders are our heroes, day in and day out,” Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said.
The prices paid have been especially high for police officers and firefighters who have answered emergency calls in high-stress situations during the worst days of the opioid crisis in past years in Huntington.
“We came to understand, with the challenges that our community was facing, we had to also do something, not just to help those who were stricken with addiction, but we also had to do everything necessary to help those who are trying to help others,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.
That help has already taken the form of Compass coaches embedded within the departments, Amy Hanshaw and Amy Jefferson.
“They’re here to help our officers maintain, not only their physical fitness, but their mental and emotional fitness, so they can survive the journey here and make it out the other end of their time here with our police department, whole and intact with their family,” said Huntington Police Chief Ray Cornwell.
The opening of the The Compass Center was the next step in a larger process.
The Compass program came out of the 2018 U.S. Mayors Challenge from Bloomberg Philanthropies when nine cities were chosen for awards of $1 million each to implement innovative ideas designed to change communities.
Huntington had proposed an effort to address compassion fatigue in first responders as an extension of existing training with a focus on wellness.
“With Compass we are providing that much-needed training and so much more because we are reaching out to families as well,” Chief Rader said.
“Once again, the City of Huntington is embarking on a one-of-a-kind program that can be replicated throughout the country.”
Mayor Williams said there could be all kinds of applications.
“What we’re attempting to do is to set a standard that others not only will seek to follow, but we’re also trying to set evidence-based solutions so that others in other disciplines would be able to utilize this in school systems, in hospitals, in churches, in neighborhoods.”
Such training and support could be especially useful during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Williams said.
Once grant funding ends, plans call for the Huntington to take over Compass program funding through the city’s general fund.
For The Compass Center itself, the city provided $250,000 for the first phase of construction.
The rest of the funding was raised through private donations.
Additional supporters included AT&T, AEP Foundation, Pallottine Foundation of Huntington, Huntington Foundation, CSX Foundation, Tri-State Foundation, Prichard Foundation, the Weisberg Family, United Way of the River Cities and Huntington City Council.
The Compass Center housed exercise equipment, group exercise space, a kitchen, academic and media center and office space for the coaches.
Future construction phases will include a nutrition center, renovated bathrooms and locker room space.