March 29, 2018, marked a pivotal turning point in the life of Callie Mescher-Fitzgerald.
It was the day her longtime partner, Tom Howe, took his life, leaving behind Mescher-Fitzgerald and their daughter, Ruby, who was only a few months old.
The Cascade, Iowa, native was living in Denver at the time, having studied music at Clarke University in Dubuque and graduating in 2007. She later ventured to Boston and Fort Collins, Colo., to study music therapy.
Following Howe’s death, Mescher-Fitzgerald returned to Cascade with Ruby, now 6, to be closer to family. Since then, the 38-year-old has found a way to turn her tragedy into an opportunity for positive transformation.
She is the mastermind and founder behind Centrally Rooted, an organization that aims to “build positive mental health via creative expression,” according to its mission statement.
Mescher-Fitzgerald opened the doors at 2230 Central Ave. in 2021, re-establishing it as a nonprofit organization in 2022.
With that move, Centrally Rooted has grown exponentially in the past year, attracting grant support that has helped to expand programming and boost its scholarship fund, becoming an AmeriCorps Vista site for internship opportunities, adding to its roster of teachers and increasing its student base.
It also has built partnerships with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dubuque, Young-Uns Preschool and Childcare Center, Key West Early Childhood Center, Dubuque Montessori School and Hills & Dales, as well as expanding its programming to Cascade and Epworth elementary schools.
“The growth of the organization has all been very intentional, but it also has been very unexpected,” she said. “It feels very much like life’s circumstances led me to this mission and that it is continuing to come to fruition as it is intended.”
Among Centrally Rooted’s offerings are private music lessons in voice, piano, guitar, ukulele, saxophone, flute and percussion, as well as one-on-one and group music therapy sessions.
At the heart of its curriculum is Mindful Musicians, an eight-week interactive class for parents/caregivers and children with a focus on the development of musical competence, as well as self-confidence.
Accompanying Mindful Musicians classes are original songs that help kids understand and regulate their emotions, also available on three CDs.
The organization also offers workshops in art, dance, theater, yoga and an Empowered Girls series.
“I see Centrally Rooted as a place of unlocking one’s self and of discovering what motivates you,” Mescher-Fitzgerald said. “The creative arts is a great vehicle for that, and we strive to be a safe and diverse space for our littlest youths, all the way up through adults to be able to do that.”
Last summer, Centrally Rooted launched its first fundraiser, Pianos on Parade, which placed 11 upright pianos sponsored by local businesses throughout the community. It netted $32,000. The pianos recently were collected, tuned and gifted to selected Centrally Rooted families.
Proceeds from the fundraiser benefited Centrally Rooted’s scholarship fund.
The location also recently opened a free Exploration Lab on its second floor, including electronic pianos and drums, as well as a coloring space, with supplies fully stocked.
Additionally, Mescher-Fitzgerald participated in the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Dancing with the Stars — Dubuque Style, raising the third highest amount in the competition, benefiting Centrally Rooted.
Longtime friend and colleague Jill Klinebriel, who serves as the president of the Board of Directors for Centrally Rooted, said it has been Mescher-Fitzgerald’s dedication to the mission of the organization that has helped it expand as it has in less than two years.
Klinebriel also credited her with building and inspiring a strong team through example.
“Callie is an effective, empathetic and strong leader,” Klinebriel said. “She exemplifies the work ethic she expects from others, while also seeing each team member as a human being who experiences challenges, as well as triumphs. Callie holds weekly team meetings to check in with the team, not only with relation to the business, but to check in with them personally. Callie is a great delegator who easily assigns meaningful work to every team member, giving them a sense of autonomy and achievement. She is passionate about the goals of Centrally Rooted and, in her enthusiasm, she draws people to the organization and creates the same sense of passion within them.”
Now married to Kyle Fitzgerald — who Mescher-Fitzgerald credited with not only supporting but spurring on her vision, along with Klinebriel, her “work wife” — Mescher-Fitzgerald said in the years to come, she hopes to continue Centrally Rooted’s outreach, all with a focus of mental and emotional well-being in mind.
“There are a lot of people out there that are impacting the shift of how we view and experience brain health,” she said. “I want to applaud all of the women and men that are having vulnerable and brave conversations about the internal struggles that come up with this process of life. Collective healing occurs when the courage to be transparent is met with the courage to hold space in acceptance.”