Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

For the Love of Food, Beer & Wine — March 24th Celebrates the Fur Babies at Humane Society of West Michigan


Monday, March 24th
marks the second annual Paws, Claws & Corks event at the Steelcase Ballroom in DeVos Place. When you attend, you’ll not only help raise money for the Humane Society of West Michigan (HSWM), you’ll also help yourself to a mouthwatering array of fabulous cuisine, brews, and wine.

Oh, and the networking opportunities?

“We’re expecting 450 plus people to attend,” said Trudy Ender, Executive Director at HSWM. “We’d like to shoot that through the roof. Over 500 would be fantastic.”





Last year’s event raised over $84,000 for the Humane Society of West Michigan. With the support of local restaurants, businesses and individuals, this year’s event is primed to be an even bigger success.

“Whether you’re an animal owner, or you just want to support the animals in our area, we want you to come,” said Nicole Cook, Marketing & Events Coordinator for the Humane Society of West Michigan. “It’s a fun event. Whether you love food, beer, and wine — or you just want to come out and support our animals, there’s something for everyone.”

The Humane Society of West Michigan has been in our area since 1883, and relies entirely on local support to fund its programs.

“Because we’re 100% donor funded, we don’t receive any funding from the government or national animal welfare organizations,” said Cook. “So everything that we do comes directly from our community. We rely on events like this that provide the majority of our funding to care for all the animals that we have year round.”

Locally, Meijer continues to support the organization and plans to be present at the event

“Since 2004, Meijer has been a partner with the Humane Society,” said Stacie Behler, Group Vice President for Public Affairs at Meijer. “We realize the importance of rescuing and finding forever homes for pets in West Michigan. And so we love to support different events that the Humane Society puts on to raise awareness as well as raising capital. We got a lot of expenses here, caring for animals.”

The HSWM needs your support to run its 15+ critical programs. The largest program is animal adoptions.

“Currently, we have about 200 animals,” said Cook. “The majority of those are dogs and cats, but we also currently have bunnies, a couple of guinea pigs, and some hamsters.”



Another big program is Kibble Konnection.

“That’s our low income pet food bank,” explained Cook. “We believe strongly that if we can provide some supplemental services for people who are struggling a little bit that they can keep that pet in the home. The pet’s happier, the people are happier, and that’s one less animal in an already overcrowded shelter.”

Other programs include humane education, spay/neuter, and animal rehabilitation.


Come to nom-nom-nom, network, and bid on auction items. This year’s event will feature noshes and guzzles from the following restaurants:

The Catering Company

Cygnus 27


B.O.B.’s Brewery

San Chez Bistro

FOODesign by Chef Brech

One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom

Reds on the River

FireRock Grille

Reserve Wine & Food


Who you’ll meet: a small sampling

Kim Bode, Principal – 834 Design & Marketing

Paws, Claws, & Corks Co-Chair

“My involvement with HSWM and Paws, Claws & Corks stems from my love of animals, particularly dogs. I have 4 amazing large, loud and lovable dogs – Bentley, Apollo, Murphy and Jimmy. The joy they have brought into my life is immeasurable. Animals give so much of themselves to their human counterparts and the least we can do is support a great organization that is dedicated to finding them their forever homes.”



Stacie Behler

Group Vice President, Public Affairs, Meijer

“I’m not unlike thousands of Meijer customers who also have pets in their homes. Today, I was with my dog Jake. And he’s got two cat brothers that live at home with us, too. He had a sister that we had to say goodbye to in November. But we are an animal family, and lots of Meijer shoppers are animal families, too, so it’s a great fit for us to support the Humane Society.”


Tom Picardy, Certified Financial Planner – Fortune Financial Solutions, LLC

Humane Society of West Michigan Board Member

“My passion for animals and involvement with the HSWM started as a young child. As the current President of the Board of Directors, I continually try to find innovative ways to help the organization succeed in our wonderful community. ”


For tickets, please contact Tammy Hagedorn, Director of Development, at or 616-791-8138. You can also purchase tickets online.

WISE women: Joining together for support, friendship, advice on the road to business success



Branding expert Connie Sweet has some business advice for you, woman to woman.

Steer clear of those business card companies that offer pre-made designs anyone can choose.

“You don’t want the same business card someone else is using,” Sweet says. “You could attend an event and discover three people have the same business card design as you do — a yoga instructor, a hair stylist and a dog groomer.

“If you don’t recognize the importance of your business image, how can I feel confident you will provide the individualized service I would appreciate?”

That’s one kind of insider tip you’ll find at a gathering of WISE women.

Sweet co-founded WISE — Women in Successful Enterprises — in 2009 with friend and fellow business owner Floriza Genautis.

Both are successful entrepreneurs with impressive resumes. They decided to round up some other successful women to see if they could bolster each other.




“There are a lot of organizations that serve start-up companies and offer classes, but once you get past that start-up phase, you no longer get that level of help or collaboration,” Sweet says.

WISE is designed for women who already have their business feet wet — but who want to continue to succeed and grow. It’s a “bridge organization,” Sweet says, that helps women business owners gain certification, corporate connections, government contracts and networking.

The group has worked with the Center for Empowerment & Economic Development and introduces members to the Women’s Business Enterprise Council, an initiative of CEED that provides opportunities for nationally recognized certification of businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.

Women who own businesses have interests and needs that not all women share, Sweet says. “Women’s conversations often center around families and children,” Sweet says. “But for business owners, a good portion of our lives is about our businesses. When we meet people at PTA meetings, we’re often just not on the same page.”

WISE offers an opportunity for women in business to connect with each other.

“We can gain a lot of information from each other,” Sweet says. “We share resources, share tips. We gain so much from each other. That’s a powerful thing for women who often feel they’re out at sea, on their own.”

Maureen Fitzgerald Penn felt that way when she left her job as marketing and development director for Catholic Charities West Michigan in Muskegon to start her business, Penn & Ink Communications, in 2008.

“I thought, ‘How do I begin this? I’m hanging up my shingle but I don’t have any contacts in Grand Rapids,’” Penn says.

Joining WISE changed all that. Penn met other women business owners, made friends and acquired a few clients.

Now, years later, the group is still valuable, she says.

“Once you’ve been in business a few years, you need to grow,” Penn says. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and approach larger companies with bigger needs. WISE has helped me break down the barriers so I can do that.”

Penn is on the group’s advisory board — they call themselves “advocates” — and helps plan each year’s events.

“We decide on the speakers and events based on our own reality,” she says. “What are the issues we’re facing? What questions do we have? Then we find speakers to address those needs.”

Events set for this year:

  •  “Common Negotiation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” Speaker Penny Rosema, a professional buyer, shares negotiation tips March 12.
  •  “How to Get in with Community Media.” A panel of media experts shares tips at a gathering at the mlive hub May 7.
  •  “Building Success from Scratch,” a presentation by award-winning chef and restaurant owner Jenna Arcidiacono from Amore Trattoria Italiana Aug. 20.





Each year WISE also hosts an event designed to give back to the community.

This year they support the American Diabetes Association at a Nov. 5 event.

“We’re reminding other business women that a social conscience should be part of your business,” Penn says.

While there is a cost to attend WISE events (and non-members are welcome, too) it costs nothing to belong to WISE.

“We formed this group just as the Michigan economy was flailing,” Sweet says. “We decided we weren’t going to saddle people with an annual membership fee.”

Sweet and cofounder Genautis met through another organization, Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs.

Sweet is founder of Connection Graphics, LLC in Lansing. She creates distinctive brands that connect with her client’s philosophy and business strategy.

Her resume of graphic design jobs includes time at ad agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, publishing houses and governmental offices.

Genautis is the principal founder of Management Business Solutions, a professional staffing firm specializing in placing candidates in the areas of accounting, finance, human resource, information technology, sales and marketing and engineering.

The tips and resources WISE members share are valuable, Sweet says, but the laughter is pretty great, too.

“What I’ve gained most is friendships,” Sweet says. “This is an open, diverse and welcoming group. And I want women to know that having a successful business is within reach for all of us.”

For more about WISE, including upcoming events, visit


Veteran on a mission: Peter Meijer on advocacy and disaster relief in a post-war world



Peter Meijer stepped out of the command center at a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief site and immediately knew why he was there.

Another volunteer, a war veteran, came up to him, tears welling up in his eyes.

“He said, ‘Man, I’ve done three tours. But this past week, I made the most impact.’

“Ten minutes later, this older lady came up to me crying,” Meijer recalls. “I asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘Thank you. Until you came, I didn’t have any hope.’ Then she gave me a hug.”

Meijer’s quiet for a minute.

His time in the U.S. Army Reserves and embedded with the Iraqi Army as a combat advisor prepared him well for the physical rigors of disaster relief.

But the tears and hugs?

“I have no script for that,” Meijer says. “You realize, everybody’s winning. It’s 100 percent good, with a capital G.”

Meijer, 25, grandson of the late Frederik Meijer, grew up with plenty of lessons about making a difference in the world.

Now he’s doing his part through two organizations, both connected to his role as a military veteran.

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Meijer is a volunteer for Team Rubicon, a nonprofit disaster response and humanitarian aid organization that organizes military veterans to respond to crises.

And he’s on the board of directors for Student Veterans of America, an advocacy and support group that eases vets from combat life to college life.

A U.S. Army veteran, joined the Army in 2006 while in college at West Point. In 2010, while a student at Columbia University, he was deployed to Baghdad where he served as a combat adviser to the Iraqi military for a year.

When deadly Hurricane Sandy hit shore in New Jersey in October 2012, Meijer and other Team Rubicon volunteers jumped in to assist.

He prepared evacuation shelters, helped with search and rescue efforts and cleaned up debris in the battered Rockaway neighborhood in Queens.

The combination of military veterans and disaster relief makes perfect sense, Meijer says.

“When a vet comes back, he loses a sense of camaraderie,” says Meijer, who lives in Manhattan. “You have a profound emotional connection with the others you serve with. Suddenly, that’s gone, along with your sense of purpose.

“How can you find a new community to be part of that gives you a sense of purpose and community?”

Many find it through Team Rubicon.

“Your main mission is to help people — restore a sense of normalcy,” he says. “But there’s this beautiful silver lining. It also helps the vets, who often struggle with suicide, mental health issues, PTSD, issues of unemployment, how to integrate. All these difficult issues. When you try to work on them directly, you don’t make much progress. But when you’re working with other vets at a disaster, all those really difficult emotional bridges to get across fall away on their own.

“It’s the most gratifying thing.”

Meijer was in Moore, Oklahoma in May right after a deadly tornado struck, killing 23 people and injuring 377 others. Eight children died in the Plaza Towers Elementary School there.

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As he worked on cleanup, Meijer watched as one little girl collected loose roof shingles and drew rainbows on them with crayons. She gave them out to volunteers as thank yous.

Meijer found out later she had been pulled from the rubble earlier at the elementary school.

“That kind of thing,” he says, “sticks with you.”

Meijer grew up in East Grand Rapids as part of the Meijer family. His dad is Hank Meijer, co-chairman of the food retailer.

Growing up, Meijer says, “there was a very high bar.

“We learned it was good to want to do good, but that there’s a lot of goodwill out there that’s never translated into action,” he says. “What change can you actually affect?”

Some of his core beliefs come from his grandfather, Fred, he says.

“It doesn’t cost anything to care and to be a good person,” Meijer says. “And, life is too short not to have relationships with people and work together.”

There must be something to those Fred-isms, Meijer says, because he sure touched a lot of people. “The outpouring after he died was such a touching symbol of the impact you can have,” he says.

Jennifer Clipp has known Meijer since he was a freshman in high school. For 20 years she was the secretary in the guidance office at East Grand Rapids High School. The two remain good friends, and Meijer often checks in with Clipp, now retired, from his adventures.

Peter wasn’t a typical high school kid,” Clipp says. “Everybody liked him, but he wasn’t hanging out at the mall. Other things interested him. He’s an avid learner, and he wants to experience everything he’s interested in.”

And he was interested in the military.

“We had many conversations and disagreements about him going into the service,” Clipp says. “I didn’t want him to be in danger. I said, ‘Peter — why would you do this? You have your whole life to explore.’ He wanted to experience what it was about.

“Now, when you hear him speak about veterans, it’s truly heartfelt,” she says.

Meijer spelled his last name differently during high school, Clipp says, so as not to be recognized for his high profile family.

“He could easily be a very entitled young man, but he isn’t,” she says. “He’s never wanted anything given to him because of who he is. One of the reasons he chose to go to West Point was because he got in on his own, not because his father could afford to send him.

“I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

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Meanwhile, Meijer is a passionate spokesman for Student Veterans of America, a go-between, he explains, “between the college bureaucracy and the Veteran’s Administration bureaucracy.”

They help with paperwork, internships, employment opportunities and other nuts and bolts of transition.

“But there are social and emotional issues, too,” Meijer says. “These students are older than their peers, they’ve had different experiences.”

Peer support is huge, he says.

“Guys who have been there can show others what hurdles they’ve faced, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Meijer was a student at Columbia University when he was deployed to Baghdad. When he returned, “I should have been as well prepared as anyone to make the transition,” he says. “I had already been in school. Yet it was still really difficult to adjust.

“You don’t want to be that guy in class who says, ‘Let me tell you how the world works,’” he says. “You don’t want to play the veteran card. But the reality is there’s a deep divide between the military and college campus atmosphere.

“A kid who’s just out of high school is living away from home for the first time, learning how to do his own laundry,” he says. “I’ve been shot at.”

While Meijer’s most dramatic stories of aid come from his experiences hundreds or thousands of miles away, he still has a soft spot for his own back yard.

His family has a long relationship with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. His grandfather created a donor advised fund for his grandchildren to be part of, Meijer says, and he continues to have a say in the projects it funds.

It funds restoration of a WW II glider at the Greenville Military Museum, he says, as well as restoration of the veterans memorial in downtown Grand Rapids.

The veteran experience is part of him, he says.

“You know when you’re in a foreign country at a restaurant and you realize there’s somebody else there from the same place you are?” he says. “Even if you don’t know each other, you have this immediate camaraderie.”

Same thing with veterans, he says.

“You share a lot of things that you can’t explain.”




Captains and angels: How myTeam Triumph is changing the face of the marathon



When Matt Smith was 11 and hit the road for his first-ever marathon, all he cared about was going fast.

“That was the best,” he says.

But now that he’s almost 17, Matt, who has cerebral palsy, has a new wisdom that values more than speed.

“The people I meet — that’s the best part,” Matt says. “I have some great relationships. I still love the racing part. But it’s expanded into so much more.”

Matt is a veteran of myTeam Triumph, an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens and adults with disabilities who would normally not be able to take part in the challenge of a triathlon or a road race.






They sit in a sleek, sling-like chair on sport wheels while runners take turns pushing them through the race.

By the time he raced in the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon last Sunday, Matt had logged more than 20 races and become sort of a celebrity.

“He knows more people than my husband and I do,” says Matt’s mom, Anne Smith.

“We’re trying to change peoples’ lives, one step at a time,” says Terence Reuben, president and executive director of myTeam Triumph West Michigan.

“It’s providing them an opportunity to be part of events that we runners take for granted,” Reuben says. “So they can feel the buzz, the excitement, when they get up early to pick up their race packets. They’re treated like athletes, just like everybody else.”

Just like everybody else. That’s part of the appeal for Matt, who used to watch through his living room window while the neighborhood kids played outside.

“I was really searching for something to do — I was bored,” says Matt, a junior at Forest Hills Northern High School.

Now he participates in a few races each year, whizzing along in a road-hugging “stroller,” pushed by volunteer athletes.

“When Matt was first approached about doing this, the other boys his age were getting into sports, and he was having a hard time coming to terms with his cerebral palsy,” says Matt’s mom, Anne, who with husband Mike have four children. “Now, it’s a huge social thing for him. He used to love whoever could take him through the race the fastest. Now, he wants the race to last as long as possible so he can spend more time with the people pushing.”

An Ironman came up with the idea.


Reuben, 46, a physical therapist and director of sports medicine at Metro Health Sports Medicine, was training for an Ironman event in 2007 when the idea for myTeam Triumph first surfaced.

“I was 40, trying to show that I could still do this,” he says. “It was a self-centered goal.”

But once he was at the event, he saw people using it as a platform for good. Fundraising. Raising awareness. It hit him hard — this wasn’t all about him.

“I went home inspired,” Reuben says. What could he do in Grand Rapids to bring more heart to his races?

Reuben met with a few friends at a coffee shop and they talked of seeing the occasional runner pushing a family member with a disability in a stroller chair meant for racing.

“But not everybody in a wheelchair has a family member who’s an athlete,” he says.







myTeam Triumph started taking shape. They decided to call the person in the chair the “captain.”

“We wanted the race to be about them,” Reuben says. “They were in charge. We wanted them to feel like rock stars.”

They would call the runners who pushed the captains “angels.”

“They’re in the background,” he says, “but this couldn’t happen without them.”

They would match three angels to a captain, they decided, to lessen the fatigue and allow more people to be involved.

“They could take turns pushing,” Reuben says. “Maybe one person can’t run a 26 mile marathon. But as a team, you can.”

Their first year of four races went so well they decided to create a West Michigan chapter, in hopes the nonprofit would go national.

Today there are 25 chapters in 19 states and Canada.

“We’ve been in Runners World and on NBC,’” Reuben says proudly. “But a lot of people don’t realize it all started right here in Grand Rapids.”

The first year, the West Michigan group involved eight or 10 captains and a handful of angels. This year will involve close to 60 captains, Reuben says, and 200 angels.







When you think about it, he says, it’s not surprising the mission has caught on.

“It’s good for the captains, the angels, the other racers, the families,” Reuben says. “There’s this whole buzz surrounding all of them, a buzz of something less selfish.

“People get very caught up in themselves,” he says. “They’re often too busy to pay attention to the good around them. We want to influence the next generation. A lot of young athletes are just focused on winning races. We want them to aspire to more.”

Last year Reuben ran the entire Grand Rapids Marathon pushing Matt. He picked him up every Saturday morning and every Tuesday afternoon so they could train together.

“When I race as an individual, and cross the finish line, I say ‘I did it,’” Reuben says. “When I race as an angel, I say, ‘We made this happen. Captain Matt has completed the race.’

“If Captain Matt is in the chair, everybody’s yelling, ‘Go, Captain Matt!’ Nobody’s yelling ‘Go, Terence!’” Reuben says.

He loves that. So does Matt.

“This has changed me so much, the way I look at things,” Matt says. “I never say, ‘Poor me — I have this disability.’ I cheer on the people who are worse off than me.”

Ask Matt to describe the feeling of a race day and he says he can’t really put it into words.

But then he does. Perfectly.

“I get up early, and there’s definitely adrenaline going,” Matt says. “Once I hear the horn that starts the race, I think, ‘All right — it’s time to go.’ Then, it’s just amazing. I think, ‘I’m doing this!’ Yeah, I need some help to do it, from some really great people.

“But I’m doing it.”


For more information on myTeam Triumph West Michigan, including how to sign up as a captain or angel, visit Also, be sure to check them out on Facebook at:

In addition to captains and angels, the organization needs volunteers to help at events, donors to contribute financially and sponsors willing to support the mission with $5,000 or more. A goal for 2014: spreading the word about the organization to the African American and Latino communities.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Annual Donor Party



Each autumn, Grand Rapids Community Foundation celebrates its donor with a special party. This year it was held at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, which is a Community Foundation grantee. The highlight of the evening is the Chaille Award for Community Philanthropy which was given to Kate Wolters.

Wolters has become the sixteenth recipient of the Jack Chaille Community Philanthropy Award, given annually to donors who not only support the Community Foundation but also serve as volunteers or donors to other community efforts.











Kate is a tireless visionary and we honor her with equal enthusiasm,” said Community Foundation President Diana Sieger. “Her support of this community and our Community Foundation has been long-standing and outstanding. She has big ideas backed by a big heart, and we’re honored to recognize her as a leader in our donor family.”

The Community Foundation established the award in 1997 to commemorate the illustrious contributions of its namesake, William Jackson Chaille, who himself became the award’s first recipient. Since that time, the Community Foundation has honored 14 more leaders sharing his infectious spirit for giving and passion for people. Each recipient has demonstrated consistent financial support and a long-term commitment to the Community Foundation, as well as advocacy for its projects and leadership.

Wolters exemplifies all of these stellar qualities and then some. Among her contributions to the Community Foundation are creating the Kate Pew Wolters Fund, a dynamic donor advised fund; co-chairing the life-altering Challenge Scholars education campaign; and blazing the trail in the Metz Society for planned giving. These shining examples prove her commitment to community, and have inspired other philanthropists and volunteers to follow her compelling example.

Banned book, soon to be a film, inspires youth to read: see The Giver at the Civic



Imagine a world where everyone is universally polite and civil. All adults are gainfully employed in a position that suits their abilities and interests. The entire society is orderly and serene, and its people are free from pain and suffering.

Dreamy, right?

Or could this dream come at an uncomfortably high emotional price?

This is the world you’ll enter when you see The Giver at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. The production runs from October 18-27, 2013. I attended the Civic’s Inside Dish program on October 1 to learn more about this production.




Try to understand my mindset as I entered the theatre. If you recall, October 1, 2013 was something of a hot mess. The Federal Government shut down. People began exploring health insurance options online as the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act went live. People all around me participated in overwrought shrieking about these two historic circumstances almost all day.

To top it off, ArtPrize was still going down. As I walked from my car to the theatre, I saw hordes of phone-gazing adults stumble on the sidewalks and into the streets, ignoring traffic signals, their children, and other pedestrians.

“Welp, I’m living in the dystopian future I was promised as child,” I thought cheerfully as I broke through one phone-gazing herd only to narrowly avoid colliding with a lone phone-zombie careening through Veteran’s Park.

Given our chaotic social, economic, and political climate — how could you not want to escape into the tranquil and organized world of The Giver?

And how is it that this not a utopian play but a dystopian one? How can a world where everyone gets along so perfectly go so horribly wrong?






A 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver was often assigned reading for many middle school children in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Both cerebral and emotional, the story pressures you to explore how you feel about balancing individual desires with the needs of the community.

The subject matter is decidedly timely and relevant. What else might you need to know to enhance your experience of this dark play? As it turned out, I learned three key things at The Inside Dish that might make you love this production a little more.

One of the first shocking things I learned is that The Giver is often a banned book in many communities. This blew my already weary mind.

Sarah McCarville, the Branch and Youth Services Coordinator at the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL), was on the 1994 Newbery Medal Committee. She helped select the book for the prestigious annual award. In her Inside Dish presentation, McCarville told us that The Giver is currently number 23 on the list of frequently banned books.

The Giver was written specifically for young adults. At the Civic, it will star 16 year old Jake Goldberg as 12 year Jonas. Most of the cast are children. There’s absolutely no foul language. No nudity. No violence. No sex. What could possibly make anyone want to ban this story?

A 25 year old Civic volunteer told me her class had read the book when she was in middle school. She went to Calvin Christian. If they didn’t ban it there, I reasoned, why would anyone ban it anywhere?

“They always ban the best books,” I overheard someone at the theatre murmur. I grinned at this bit of truth. Forbidding something can make it even more delicious.

The second fascinating tidbit I learned is that the book actually has sequels. To me, this seemed unlikely. The story ends ambiguously, which is a huge part of its allure. The ending creates an internal “what happened?” dialog. Viewed as a play, I suspect that this internal dialog is likely to spring into a lively discussion among family and friends. Now knowing there are sequels, I’ll want to get my hands on these books before Hollywood makes popular films out of them. The Giver is already slated to become a film starring Jeff Bridges. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift have also signed on as cast members. If you move fast, you can probably get your hands on the sequels at your local library now, before the books become a craze.

This leads me to the third heartwarming fact I learned at Inside Dish: inspiring young people to read is a driving force behind this particular production. The Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Student Advancement Foundation are partnering with Pooh’s Corner, American Seating, and Mercantile Bank to collect new copies of The Giver (as well as new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells-Batman Smells, a Civic Theatre production slated for April 2014.)

“Our goal to is to have 150 new copies of The Giver to distribute to Grand Rapids Public School Middle and High School libraries. Students will be able to read the book, and attend a special viewing of the play,” stated Nancy Brozek, Civic Theatre Director of Community Relations. “We also want to have this book drive generate 1,200 new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells- Batman Smells, so all Grand Rapids Public School Second Grade students can receive a copy prior to their visit to the stage in April”.





The Bring a Book To Life Book Drive begins October 1, 2013 through March 21, 2014. You can drop off new book donations of The Giver at the Civic Theatre box office, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, American Seating, Pooh’s Corner, and Mercantile Bank. You can also make a direct donation or get more information by visiting:

A provocative banned book, poised to be a popular film, inspiring children to read: those are three factors beyond our current dystopian climate that make me feel even more excited to see The Giver at the Civic this October. You can get your tickets at the box office online or at

Iron House: strength and hope for men in recovery




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.




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.”


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.



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:

Take the time to find your ‘why’: Paul Doyle



Paul Doyle served on the Kentwood Public Schools Board of Education for eight years. He often talks to students in career and goal setting sessions.

Students might talk to Doyle about what they want to be. A basketball player. A nurse. A teacher.

Doyle, an organizational performance consultant and educator in the healthcare sector, would agree that positions like these are meaningful or valuable.

“But I would switch the discussion back to ‘All right, outside of all of that — what is it that you want your life to be able to provide for you? Let’s talk about that. What would it take to get to that kind of position in life? What would you like to experience? That’s more important than saying what you want to do.”

For Doyle, finding and nurturing your own personal “why” in almost any situation is key. Finding the ‘why’ continues to drive Doyle as he works as a consultant, educator, and community leader.

“What is your why? What is it all about? How are you going to get there? How are you going to do it?”

“If your ‘why’ isn’t strong enough, I’ll tell you, coming from Brooklyn to Michigan: if the why wasn’t strong enough…why bother?”


Doyle grew up in a Brooklyn, New York housing project. The youngest of five from a single parent household, he was the first to graduate from high school. After high school, he left Brooklyn to attend Ferris State University, and became the first in his family to graduate from college.

“I didn’t know exactly where I would end up, but there was something that kept telling me what I would need when I got there,” said Doyle. “And what I mean by that is that I knew I would need the ability to communicate and interact with a multitude of diverse people, whether that was small towns or big cities. I would need to be able to build intentional relationships. I basically dove into communication, speech, sociology, and psychology — just to learn more about behavior, more about what drives people and why we do what we do, not knowing that eventually I would be working specifically in health care, which is pretty much all about people.”

After graduating from Ferris, Doyle actually wanted to pursue his passion for learning and human behavior through teaching and coaching. However, he went back to New York and used his finance minor to land a job in a hospital finance department. After five years in patient accounts, Doyle moved back to Michigan and continued working in the healthcare arena.

Today, Paul heads Paul T. Doyle & Associates, LLC, which supports the organizational performance of healthcare systems through leadership development, community engagement, and strategic planning; as well as diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence. He teaches as an adjunct at the MSU College of Human Medicine in downtown Grand Rapids, focusing on culture and medicine. His work often involves addressing health disparities.



“I think there is a variance in our world. We have a lot of disparities and gaps,” said Doyle. “Certain people have privilege that others don’t.”

Doyle stresses that uncovering the motivating ‘why’ of a patient or client is essential.

“…it’s not what you know, it’s how you find out what you need to know or want to know about something that’s more important.”

“When I work with physicians, the first line that I teach them is ‘what is it that I need to know about you that’s going to help me provide the quality care that you deserve?’ That’s totally different than ‘I heard that all you people do it this way. Or I read about it in a book. Is that true?'”

“In other words, if I was going to ask you about things I want to know about you, I’m not going to inquire or try to obtain that in a way that devalues you or discounts you. I’m going to actually engage in a way that empowers you and gives you value. That edifies and complements you.”

“Every patient or person that has a health issue, what they’re often thinking about more than anything else is, ‘How can I get back or how can I keep my quality of life? Will I still be able to golf? Will I be able to certain things with my family? Is my family going to be OK?'”

“That’s their why. ‘Why I came to see you today at this appointment is because I want to golf next week. I want to get back to what I want to do.’ But you need to take more time in understanding their why.”

Doyle also serves on a variety of community boards, including the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, Hospice of Michigan, the March of Dimes, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. What’s his ‘why’ behind giving back to the community?

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As a youth in Brooklyn, Doyle participated in after school programs at community centers that were mainly supported by foundations. He participated in youth development, leadership, and music programs.

“I had support systems around my community that enabled me to be able to get on that track of getting out and going and launching my journey,” said Doyle. “I believe in the power of giving. I believe in the impact of being able to support working models that actually can produce measurable outcomes. And I believe foundations, especially community foundations, that’s key to their framework. That’s what they do.”

Without the youth programs at the Brooklyn community centers, Doyle doubts he would be where he is today. He credits these programs — and the unselfish people in his community — with helping to expand his world view and igniting his potential. They were but one key factor that helped him form a strong enough ‘why’.

“I knew why,” said Doyle. “I didn’t know how or what. I wanted to get to a place in life where I would have the ability to live a real quality life. And that’s important.”

Restaurant Week Confidential: Local chefs share savory thoughts on farm-to-table movement



Farm. Fresh. Local.

It just doesn’t get much simpler than that for local chefs preparing the freshest farm-to-table ingredients during Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2013 at more than 65 participating locations in the area.

The theme of this year’s event, spanning Aug. 14-24, is “savoring the summer harvest.”

And there is much to savor – produce, proteins and dairy products – from numerous farms throughout the region that help supply the very freshest items to some of the top dining establishments here.

At each of the restaurants, chefs are serving up unique three-course, farm-to-table experiences for $25, including some locations offering two-for-$25 meals. One dollar from every meal sold during Restaurant Week is donated to the
‘s student scholarship fund at Grand Rapids Community College.

Stellafly spoke exclusively to four local executive chefs and asked them to share their perspectives about locally sourced ingredients and why it’s so important for people to understand where their food comes from.



Forgie, 47, is the executive chef at Reds on the River in Rockford.

His establishment celebrated its seventh anniversary Aug. 11 and makes every effort to incorporate local farm-fresh ingredients into its dishes, including his signature scallops with mushroom risotto.

“Chefs have always been built that way,” he said of the farm-to-table movement, which continues to gain momentum with the public. “It’s just something people are becoming more aware of.”

He gets much of his inspiration from Ingraberg Farms in Rockford

“I get local first. I walk that farm every Tuesday. That’s where we get our specials from,” said Forgie, who graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Calif., at the age of 30. “You try to support it as much as you can. We tried to design a menu for Restaurant Week that’s our food.

“Now, just so good,” he said of the late-summer harvest.


8 E. Bridge St., Rockford, (616) 863-8181

11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Thu; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat



Wise, 35, is the executive chef at Grove Restaurant in East Hills.

The self-taught chef and partner in Essence Restaurant Group has made farm-to-table ingredients the primary focus of his cooking whether it’s the freshest produce or even locally sourced animals.

“It’s my passion to deal with local farms and seasonality,” Wise said. “We really embrace what West Michigan has to offer. I want to offer as many local ingredients as possible. I feel our local farms are best represented by all of the vegetables we can get our hands on and all of the proteins we can get our hands on.

“We will feature several dishes that include many of those components.’

Wise, a graduate of Grand Haven High School, studied at the New England Culinary Institute for “about a month” before deciding to return to the kitchen. He got his first job in a restaurant at age 14 and started cooking when he joined the staff at Bistro Bella Vita in downtown Grand Rapids at age 19.

Everything is literally farm-to-table fresh on Grove’s menu.

Wise rattles off a long list of area farms where his restaurant gets its ingredients. He also applauds Ingraberg Farms for starting the trend of connecting local farms to dining establishments in 1998.

“Dale and Helen are the people who got it all started here in West Michigan,” he said. “They really had the vision of bringing local farmers to restaurants 15 years ago. We work Ham Family Farm in Allendale, Creswick Farms in Ravenna, S&S Lamb in McBain, Fish Monger’s Wife in Muskegon and a lot of others.”

He said Grove is offering 12-14 different first, second and third courses as part of its Restaurant Week menu.

“You’re getting the whole gamut,” he promised. “I take Restaurant Week as a challenge to see what we can offer and use it as an opportunity to promote the West Michigan restaurant culture. I think it highlights those lifelong (farm-to-table) relationships.

“We try to show respect to all of these ingredients and where they came from.”


919 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, (616) 454-1000

5-9 p.m. Sun; 5-10 p.m. Tue-Thu; 5-11 p.m. Fri-Sat


Wabeke, 42, is the executive chef at Terra Handcrafted Foods in Eastown.

The former Trillium Haven Restaurant was rebranded in mid-July and refocussed on handcrafted farm-to-table fare – just in time to show off its newly inspired direction for Restaurant Week.

“You really had to go out and seek it out yourself in the past at farmers markets,” Wabeke explained of the public’s transformation from occasional organic shopping to demanding it more and more upon eating out. “Now, the farmers are seeing a lot of value in working with the local restaurants. The farms that have been willing to work with chefs and restaurants on the delivery of that have been very successful.”

Terra emphasizes fresh local ingredients in most of its dishes.

Wabeke, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., insisted the timing of Restaurant Week is perfect to take advantage of the bountiful late-summer harvest of produce items.

“We’re just starting to see the beginning of heirloom tomatoes. We’ve also got some nice sweet corn coming in now,” he said. “The summer squash and zucchinis are really good. There’s sweet and spicy red and green peppers. The peaches and stone fruits look really nice after such a tough year last year. The cabbages are really good. And the baby carrots right now are amazing. Nearly everything, it’s the perfect time for Restaurant Week.”

He couldn’t be prouder that more and more people are connecting to their food sources.

“I think people want to know where their food is coming from because there’s a lot of mistrust about the big companies, especially every time there’s an outbreak with contaminated produce items,” Wabeke said. “A huge focus of our is having more healthy options on our menu and treating vegetables carefully.

“We treat them like a lot of other people treat their proteins and meats.”


1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids , (616) 301-0998

Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon-Fri; Dinner 5-11 p.m. Mon-Sat and 4 p.m.-close Sun; Brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat-Sun



Absenger, 46, is chef de cuisine at Cygnus 27 in downtown Grand Rapids.

He and his staff are featuring a handful of dishes during Restaurant Week using the sous vide method – food sealed in airtight plastic pouches cooked in a water bath at a consistent temperature for a long period of time.

The sous vide preparations include: Shrimp Louis salad with shrimp poached for 90 minutes at 165 degrees; Ratatouille tortellini with vegetables poached for 90 minutes at 175 degrees and pasta poached for 20-25 minutes at 165 degrees; Korean-spiced beef short ribs, locally sourced from Sobie Meats in Walker, poached for 24 hours at 175 degrees; and Chicken Coq Au Vin with Amish chickens sourced from farms along the Indiana-Michigan border and just outside Chicago, meat taken off the bone, marinated in wine and paired with vegetables, mushrooms and potatoes, poached for four hours at 165 degrees.

His restaurant locally sources some of its finest ingredients.

It gets its pork chops and short ribs from Sobie Meats, its pasta from The Local Epicurean boutique in Grand Rapids and much of its vegetables from the expansive The Chef’s Garden in Ohio.

“We try to buy locally as much as we can,” Absenger said.

The late-summer crop of fresh produce, especially sweet corn and tomatoes, is beginning to show up on menus everywhere. It’s all part of the increasing trend of people wanting to know more and more about their food.

“I remember when I came to the States in 1988,” said Absenger, a native of Melk, Austria, who served a four-year apprenticeship at chef’s school in his homeland. “Nobody cared where there food was coming from. As time went on, maybe in the last six years, the ‘local movement’ has taken off tremendously.

“I think that’s pretty exciting.”


187 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, (616) 776-6425

5:30-10 p.m. Tue-Sat; 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun

Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2013 will take place from August 14 – 24 at over 70 restaurants. There are fifteen first time restaurants participating in Restaurant Week this year. There are more ethnic restaurants than ever before – fifteen ethnic restaurants – are participating in Restaurant Week.

Restaurant Week menus for all participating restaurants can be viewed online at The public is encouraged to make reservations and dine out often during Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, whose theme is “Savor Summer – Farm-to-Fork Fantastic”. Seven Grand Rapids hotels have restaurants participating in Restaurant Week Grand Rapids: JW Marriott, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, The Grand Rapids Riverfront Hotel, City Flats Hotel, Hilton Grand Rapids Airport Hotel, The Crowne Plaza. For booking hotels during Restaurant Week Grand Rapids see Maps showing all of the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2013 are now available at all Founders Bank & Trust branches and at Ferris Coffee and Nut located at 227 Winter Avenue, NW Grand Rapids – or visit