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HUNTINGTON — After nearly two years of planning, a wellness center tailored for Huntington’s police officers and firefighters will finally come to life on the fifth floor of the Huntington Police Department.

The center will be one of many resources available to the city’s first responders through the Compass Program, an initiative designed to combat compassion fatigue and burnout for those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.

“The Compass Wellness Center is a critical component of a much broader effort, and I’m proud to announce today that the first phase of construction is about to begin,” Mayor Steve Williams said Thursday during a news conference. “The construction is going to begin on the first phase of the wellness center — the exercise center — before Aug. 1.”

The first phase will cost $440,000, with $250,000 contributed from the city and the remaining $190,000 raised from grants and private donors.

The exercise space will differ from a typical gym — it will include specialized equipment, open exercise space and group areas, Compass physical fitness coach Amy Henshaw said.

“Functional training does not take place in one plane of movement,” she said. “So the open workout area of the wellness center will utilize plyometric equipment such as boxes, sandbags, kettlebells and power sleds.”

Henshaw will work with mental fitness coach Amy Jefferson to develop integral action plans for both body and mind wellness.

The initiative began in 2018 when Huntington was awarded $1 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge to begin the process of “helping the helpers” in the face of crisis, a pivotal moment for the community, Williams said.

“None of us ever imagined that two years later we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic, and full of national social and civil strife, with the police departments around the country right in the middle,” Williams said. “We are reforming public safety, because what we are doing with the Compass program, we’re providing an outlet for our first responders to be able to deal with the stresses that they deal with on a day-in, day-out basis.”

Williams said assisting first responders and their families is the first step in making a difference in the lives of residents and improving civilian interaction.

“It’s something that our residents deserve,” Williams said. “This is important for the residents in our neighborhoods to know that we are providing something that nobody else in the country is doing, so they can do their job in the way we know they are capable of doing.”

The model of merging mental and physical health can also be used for emergency room workers, schoolteachers or anyone facing ongoing occupational stress or burnout.

Fundraising will continue for the next three phases of the Wellness Center, which include office space, a nutrition center and new restrooms.

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.

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