Tag Archives: Guiding Light Mission

Community leader Don Tack to receive Guiding Light Mission’s inaugural Good Samaritan Award

BY: Sparkly Stellafly
PHOTOS: Dianne Carroll Burdick

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.  ~ Proverbs 19:17

It is often said that actions speak louder than words.

In 1991, a Pastor and college professor by the name of Don Tack became frustrated by the lack of emphasis on relationships with poor people in Grand Rapids.

He didn’t just talk about it, though. He took action.

And while Don Tack has never done anything for accolades, he will be recognized for his tremendous community efforts when he receives Guiding Light Mission’s inaugural Good Samaritan Award at their Annual Banquet on October 9, 2014 at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

One of his first actions was developing a training course for lay people, a combination of both classroom and field work that would teach them Biblical foundations for helping the poor. Tack offered the course for $45, and after a couple weeks of promoting it, registration was only at four people. With the help of Grand Rapids Press religion writer Ed Golder who wrote a compelling story about what Tack was attempting to do, registration quickly rose to 43 people for the first class in May of 1991.

At the end of the semester, Tack challenged members of the class to complete a weekend “field assignment” and spend a weekend on the street, living as if they were homeless. They could bear no evidence that they were not homeless, and would sleep in shelters, eat food at the missions and fully experience what the poor community was living on a daily basis. Tack’s class project turned into a front page story in the Grand Rapids Press and greatly helped elevate his cause in the community. This effort was the beginning of what is now known as Servants Center, an organization started by Tack as a result of his concern about the drift of churches away from having direct relationships with the poor.

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Servants Center Opens its Doors
During the time that Tack and his class spent in their field work, the class was split into two groups. One stayed at Mel Trotter and the other at Guiding Light Mission. Tack had heard talk of disparaging conditions at Guiding Light Mission and elected to stay there to see it firsthand. Sadly, the talk was true—from urine on the floor to violence between those staying there, to abusive treatment by the staff.

Witnessing this made him even more determined to help this population to be treated as humanely as possible. He wanted to make sure they had appropriate housing and people around them who made them feel loved. Don Tack officially opened Servants Center in 1993 for the purpose of enhancing the reputation of Christ among the poor and homeless by providing a high quality relationship-based street outreach to mentally ill poor and homeless in Grand Rapids.

With the help of a husband and wife who knew of Tack’s work, he was able to purchase the first rooming house for clients of Servants Center. The house, located on Coit NE, served as a model for churches to use in aiding the homeless. As Tack continued to expand his ministry, the media paid attention, with his work being included in papers from Detroit to Rotterdam, Holland.

In 1996 the Servant’s Center became a 501(c)3, and eventually partnered with Dwelling Place to handle the housing. The staff of Servants Center began to focus on taking people into Social Security to apply for benefits. Then, they took it one step further and began taking guardianship of these individuals, which gave them the ability to fill out their paperwork and help with applications for government benefits. Word spread of their work, and they began to receive more requests for guardians.

As Servants Center matured, the organization began to focus on one exclusive population, poor and homeless individuals suffering from neurological diseases such as schizophrenia. Some of these individuals had been living on the streets for 20 or more years without their medication. The work with this population was much more labor intensive and often resulted in less success, but Tack felt it was the most necessary for this vulnerable population.

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Servants Center Continues On
In 2000, Servants Center received a tremendous boost to their efforts when they were awarded a grant for $100,000. This allowed them to care for 75 people and hire staff including an account manager and a social worker. Clients were staying in adult foster care homes, some in their own apartments, and there was a small percentage that could not be placed because of their backgrounds. These individuals stayed at places including the YMCA, Heartside Manor, and the Morton House—all of which have ceased to exist. But this ministry continues their work and is continuing to find housing solutions in addition to finding employment, helping to manage bills and finances, and working with churches to guide them on helping this population. They host events including Sunday messages, training seminars, and consulting services.

Don Tack retired three years ago and Servants Center continues the work he began. The organization now has a staff of four who manage between 40-50 clients each, continuing their street patrols and receiving an average of one request per day for their services. Tack has continued his ministry through Poverty Ministry Consulting, which serves to help “teach and equip churches to develop Biblical outreach to poor people in any setting—urban, suburban and rural.”

We can all honor Don Tack’s efforts by taking a moment to reflect on the gifts we have been given and look at how we can reach out to help those who need it most. Let’s all follow his example by taking action when we see needs that are unmet.

Iron House: strength and hope for men in recovery

 

 

BY TERRI FINCH HAMILTON
PHOTOS BY T.J. HAMILTON

Four guys sit around Charlie Morse’s kitchen table talking about daily life stuff  — Charlie’s new job, the church down the street they might check out on Sunday.

Lynn Slyter, Jr. tells how he just learned his sister lives a stone’s throw from his new apartment.

That’s when it becomes clear there’s a different kind of story behind these four guys and their new digs.

Wouldn’t a guy know where his own sister lives?

“I’m just getting around to talking to my family again,” Slyter says.

“Is it good?” asks his friend, Brian Elve.

“Real good,” Slyter replies with a smile. “They’re really proud of me.”

These men live in Iron House, new transitional housing in Kentwood run by Guiding Light Mission. They lived at the downtown Grand Rapids mission for months, going through a substance abuse program designed to get them back on their feet, sober and in society.

But adjusting to life on your own again, clean and working and paying rent, is tough. A six-month stay here, in four apartments housing eight men, is designed to boost their chances of success.

Elve, 46, is a vocational coach at Guiding Light, paid to help the men there find work.

But, like them, he’s a recovering alcoholic. He’s been to a sort of hell and back more than once. Now he lives at Iron House as a mentor and facilitator.

And as a guy hoping to stay sober.

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Elve knows as well as anybody how hard it is not to relapse. He takes a sip of his coffee, and tells how a privileged East Grand Rapids kid ended up living at Guiding Light Mission.

After graduation he headed to Montana State University on a basketball scholarship. He pondered a career in law enforcement.

“I didn’t drink that much in college, because of athletics, but when I did, I drank to excess,” he says.

The drinking increased when Elve was in his 20s, working a sales job in Cincinnati. He was in hotels a lot, alone. Vodka was good company.

“Soon, my sales calls ended at 3 instead of 5,” he says.

He moved back to Grand Rapids and coached basketball at Calvin College while he took education classes at Grand Valley State University, planning to be a teacher.

He landed a job teaching high school history and government. His drinking got worse, but he still functioned, he says.

“I could still present myself well,” he says. “I wasn’t a rambunctious drunk. I wasn’t a fighter. I told people, ‘If you don’t see me for a while, don’t worry.’”

But there was reason to worry. If you didn’t see Elve for a while, chances are he was holed up in a hotel room, drinking a gallon of vodka a day.

“I’d have stints of sobriety, and things would go well for a while,” he says. He coached basketball at East Grand Rapids High School. But sometimes, he didn’t show up.

There were hospital visits. Detox trips to Pine Rest. Elve lost his teaching job. He lost his house.

“All my options were gone,” he says. “None of my family wanted to see me. That was tough. My Mom and I had been pretty close. I was a kid who had the good life in East Grand Rapids. Now, I’m a disappointment.”

He went to Guiding Light Mission, hoping for help. He was still drunk when they did his intake assessment.

“I used to drive by there and think it was for bums, for losers,” he says. “For people who didn’t want to work. There was some of that going on. But I also met guys who worked at GM. An architect. A guy with a master’s degree in business.

“These people weren’t stupid,” he says. “They weren’t working the system. This is just what happens when you make bad choices. The degree of difference between all of us there was very, very minimal.”

He went through Guiding Light’s three-month program, but not too long after he left, he was drinking again.

When he showed up at the mission door a second time, “They said they didn’t know if they could help me,” he recalls. “My life was a wreck.”

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Guiding Light did help Elve. The program had changed dramatically since the first time he was there.

Stuart Ray is the executive director now. When he took over four years ago, “it was the last place you’d send anybody,” Ray says. The board had decided to close the place, he says.

“Most programs last 28 days,” he says. “They’re mostly about detox — drying people out. But it takes a year for your brain to normalize. And five years before you have a real shot at abstinence.

“I look for ways to keep them here,” Ray says, “so we can get some real work done.”

Now the average man’s stay is 242 days. And the work happens through two different programs.

The Back to Work Program provides a short term stay for men who are employed or seeking full-time employment, allowing them time to save money while they look for permanent housing.

They use the computer lab for online job searching, e-mail, and resume preparation. They work with Elve, the job coach, to find employment.

The New Life in Christ program helps men suffering from chronic homelessness, substance abuse and other life challenges. They get counseling, work therapy, bible study and mentorship.

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And now, with the opening of Iron House Sober Living, men who qualify can get an extra boost of support while they transition back to society. They pay $350 a month for rent, and get $900 of it refunded after six months of sober and successful living.

Elve, who wrote the rules for the house, will be like a “big brother” for the guys there, Ray says.

Brian has relapsed enough, tumbled down the stairs often enough, that he knows what will work,” Ray says. “He’s a very hopeful person and men tend to gravitate toward him because of his hopefulness. He brings a sense of genuineness. I hope he finds himself again.”

Elve says he’s on his way.

“I’m not the man I was,” Elve says. “This will be a testing ground for me, too. In order to stay sober and healthy, I have to start giving back. People in AA say the magic starts to happen when you help other addicts, other alcoholics.

“This will be very real,” he says. “It’s my job to remind these guys, when they complain they don’t have cable, to remember where we all were a year ago.

“Gratitude is huge.”

Elve is quiet for a minute. Then he tells how he spent Labor Day weekend with his family at his parent’s place north of Grand Rapids. When the other adults had to leave early, his young nieces and nephews wanted to stay.

He could stay there with them, Elve offered, and drive the kids home later.

“A year ago, my sisters wouldn’t have even answered my phone calls,” he says. “But they didn’t hesitate. They said, ‘Sure.’”

Elve chokes up as he tells this, and he wipes away a couple tears.

“Hope,” he finally says. “If these guys can get a little taste of that…”

Elve takes a deep breath and tells of his hope for a small, positive community in his new apartment building in Kentwood.

“I want to be the neighbors who smile.”

Join Guiding Light this year for their Annual Banquet featuring Michael Seaton, author of Becoming a Good Samaritan, for a revealing look into the heart of the Good Samaritan Message. This multi-media program will include interviews with well-known Christian Authors, including: Mike Huckabee, Desmond Tutu, Chuck Colson, John Ortberg, Joni Eareckson Tada and many others. This will truly be a night you won’t want to miss. For more information: http://www.lifeonthestreet.org/content/2013-annual-banquet