KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Whether it's due to long winter days or pressures of the pandemic, mental health struggles are still at the forefront as we begin 2022.
Kent County Commissioner Monica Sparks has created a solution that may help many in West Michigan: an old bus converted into a wellness-and-relaxation station.
"This is the Mobile Happy Lights Relaxation Station, and I call it Matilda," explained Sparks. "Inside is your own private heaven of solace, relaxation and many different lighting therapies that are FDA cleared and approved."
Sparks is passionate about addressing mental health challenges, as the founder of Community of Hearts.
The nonprofit advocates for, and also provides mental health resources to, the community.
"Looking at the number of people who live with a mental health illness, [it's] one in four individuals," she told FOX 17 News. "We know right now Michigan, it's really tight for a lot of people because we have less sunlight. Knowing that the FDA has cleared and approved lighting therapies, we thought that it would be an amazing opportunity to have lighting therapies aboard a mobile bus so that we can take the therapies to the people."
It took about a month and nearly $40,000 dollars to convert the bus into a mobile relaxation station, complete with various light therapies and halotherapy.
"Studies in science show us that 20 minutes — like the power nap — 20 minutes can help boost your mood, improve productivity, and help your overall well-being," Sparks said. "Each person sits in their own individual area, and they just relax. It's quiet, it's serene, it's peaceful."
Sparks said five people are able to be on board at a time, and assured it is COVID safe.
Her hope is to one day have a whole fleet of mobile relaxation stations.
"Our main goal is to have a workplace wellness tour where we actually go to workplaces," she explained. "Right now, productivity is down; employee retention is down. And it's tough out there. People are overworked and they are tired, but they're not getting the relaxation that they need. So we're hoping to bring these therapies all across Michigan... it's been a labor of love. And I hope the community really enjoys it because it's for them."
Thanks to sponsors, Sparks said Mobile Happy Lights will be available for the community to check out for free at Calder Plaza from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 13 and 20.
The relaxation station will also be at Grand Rapids Community College on Jan. 27.
To learn more about Mobile Happy Lights and Community of Hearts, click here.