Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

Freedom of space: Local organization changes lives with arts and tech



In 2002, Bill Strickland stood on the TED stage and gave a talk so powerful, it’s message can be found deep in the roots of the mission of the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT). Strickland is the President and CEO of the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC) based in Pittsburgh, which focuses on creating nurturing environments to help lift those living in poverty out of their circumstances and into a more enriching life. By constructing an “empowering atmosphere of art, light, music and a staff that strives to realize the genius in everyone, we enable our students to become productive society members.”

Shortly after Strickland gave his now-famous TED talk, Grand Rapids leaders, including Jim Hackett of Steelcase and Doug DeVos of Amway, made their way to Pittsburgh to learn and take notes from the success of MBC. A part of Strickland’s vision for MBC was to see organizations with a similar model be created all over the world. In 2005, WMCAT became one of the first replication site for the MBC model in the country.
Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

“When business leaders in the Grand Rapids community open WMCAT, they wanted to address was unemployment and high school graduation,” says Amy Knape, Development & Communications Manager with WMCAT. “What WMCAT really does is to provide a cultural of opportunity for people to make economic and social progress in their lives.”

One way WMCAT accomplishes this mission is through its Adult Career Training program. The program works with under- and/or un-employed adults in Kent County. All the adults/students are on public assistance when they enter the program because it a tuition-free program. This very different than labeling it a ‘free program.’

“We make this distinction because our students invest an incredible amount of time and energy in the programs,” says Knape.

Adult students may choose between medical coding, medical billing, or pharmacy technician as their focus through the career program.

“These are careers we chose because they’re careers that require a certification, but not necessarily a Bachelor’s degree; they’re careers that are growing and expanding in West Michigan because of our medical community; and they’re careers that provide living wages and, quite often, health benefits,” says Knape.

The students enroll a 9-month program, from September through June, and meet four days a week. During a student’s time with WMCAT’s career training program, students experience care and support for potential barriers beyond the classroom.

“Since we’re working with an economically vulnerable population, we’ve learned over the years that there several barriers that can become crisis that can take people off the track,” says Knape. “If we can address these barriers, like housing, transportation, childcare, before they become a crisis, then we can continue to empower and motivate these adult students to continue on.”

Another way WMCAT is impacting the community is through its teen program. Through a partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT’s school year program serves nearly 144 teen students from all the area high schools. The students are transported to WMCAT twice a week and are assigned a team to work with throughout the academic year. The students are challenged to use the design thinking process of using art and design to address a social issue that they’ve chosen. Students may use mediums like photography, illustration, audio/video production, video game design, fashion, or street art. Some of the social issues addressed include: violence in the media, bullying, and discrimination.

“The part of the school year, these students are working together to decide which social issue they would like to address,” says Knape. “From then on, the students work with community partners, like the Be Nice campaign, Dwelling Place, Grand Rapids Community Media Center, to serve as experts with a certain social issue and help guide the students through communication that issue through art.”

Unlike the adult program, the teen program at WMCAT is less concerned with training the students and more concerned with providing a healthy, engaging outlet to talk about important issues.

“The arts really give these students a vehicle to talk about the hard issues,” says Knape. “They do anything from designing a video game that addresses a topic, doing a creative photo essay, or create street art.”

In addition to being a creative space for Kent County’s young minds to play, WMCAT also hosts college tours/field trips and post-secondary education preparation. Representatives from Grand Rapids Community College, Ferris State University, and Grand Valley State University come to WMCAT to assist teen students and their families with college readiness, from filing out FAFSA to signing up for classes.

“One thing that we’ve found is that our kids love being here. It’s a great, inspiring space; it’s their space,” says Knape. “So if we can bring more opportunities to them here at WMCAT, we think we can have more success.”

WMCAT staff members and resources join forces to ignite the success of WMCAT’s adult and teen programs through mentorship, community support, and freedom of space. Through a partnership with the YMCA, every night, dinner is served for the teens at WMCAT.

“We serve the food on real plates, with real silverware,” says Knape. “It’s about building that sense of community; that feeling of ‘this is your place, too.’”

What started in 2005 as a way to help lift individuals out of poverty is now a force to be reckoned with the Grand Rapids community. By offering educational tools, those struggling can participate. By offering creative mediums, social issues are given communicated through a new voice. By offering freedom of space, anyone who walks through the rooms and doors of WMCAT can a part of the conversation and a part of the community.

Redefining ‘different’ through art and disability



From the moment he was born, Dr. Christopher Smit and his parents knew he was different, but not just because he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Smit is a go-getter, a conversation starter; the person to always ask why. Growing up, Smit’s parents didn’t let having a disability label his gifts and abilities as ‘special’ or ‘extraordinary’ given his condition.

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

“I was encouraged to do whatever I wanted to do,” says Smit, who serves as the Director of DisArt Festival and Director of Arts and Access at Kendall College of Art and Design. “Nothing held me back. I was ‘mainstreamed,’ meaning I just went to high school. I was just a typical kid.”

With encouragement and support to press him forward, Smit didn’t realize his physical disability until just 12 years ago.

“When I got married in the 90s to my wife, Lisa, and then went to graduate school, we began to realize that we were, and still are, a different sort of couple because of my wheelchair,” says Smit.

Not letting the heavy judgments of society burden him, Smit says he’s found peace and contentment with his disability.

“I’ve gotten to a point in my own faith life, for example, where I understand God has made me this way for a purpose. I am an intended creation. We’re all intended creations, designed to be exactly the way we are for a purpose,” says Smit.

Another person living purposefully is community organizer and DisArt Festival Developer, Jill Vyn. Vyn accepted the offer, honored that her purpose of bringing communities together would have a unique place to shine. As she began her new journey with the disabled community, Vyn knew there was growth to be done.

“While I came into this knowing about disability, I never thought about it as its own culture,” says Vyn. “So this experience has been really eye-opening because I realized it doesn’t matter if I am connecting with people in the Hispanic community, with an immigrant population or with people with disabilities. It’s a culture. And I wanted to know how can we all feel included so that we learn to take the time to listen to each other’s stories?”

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

Why DisArt? Grand Rapidians are fortunate enough to live, work and play in a community that celebrates new and progressive thoughts and ideas.

“Grand Rapids needs [DisArt] because it’s the next step in the progression,” says Smit. “We’re in a unique place in the world where people think of ideas, and they get together and grab them. People support them and we send them off and do amazing things. Grand Rapids is a city that always wants to be better. We are not docile.”

DisArt Festival will take place over 15 days, as a celebration seeking to change perceptions about disabilities through art. The festival will begin downtown Grand Rapids on Friday, April 10, and will showcase the work of artists with disabilities through performance pieces, fashion, discussions and art.

“There are over 20,000 disabled individuals in Grand Rapids that want to be a part of what this city does and not just be a patron or a client of it. They want be involved in its space,” says Smit.

DisArt Festival strives to put Grand Rapids on the map in the world of disability arts. The premiere of the international exhibit, “Art of the Lived Experiment,” will mark the first time an international disability art display of this magnitude has traveled anywhere in the United States. Along with the family-friendly activities, free festival attendance, and curated shows in the city’s well-known spaces, DisArt seeks to engage its guests in a deeper conversation.

“Through this work that we’re doing with [DisArt], we’re seeing organizations work together in ways they may not have done in the past, and finding how we can all fit together,” says Vyn.

As Grand Rapids opens its streets and spaces to a new way of coming together, there is just one requirement its asks of its guests: check words like ‘different’ at the door.

Finding purpose in the cadence



Purpose. It’s what makes us feel important. It gives our lives meaning. For some its getting up early to start the coffee maker so the others can have their morning cup, or paying for the person waiting behind them in line. For others, it’s serving people, be it within the walls of a local chiropractic office or by being an empowerment to those around them.

Two Priority Healthy Champions show us how running cannot only improve your health, but help uncover purpose in the cadence.

Courtney Warsen has made it her personal mission to enrich the lives of others by focusing on health.

“Thinking about the population of people who don’t have homes because of health issues is what keeps me going,” says Warsen.

When she graduated from Aquinas College in May 2014, Warsen focused herself on the homeless population by interning with Dégagé Ministries in Grand Rapids.

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

“I fell in love with serving and helping people,” says Warsen. “Many of the individuals I served come bad circumstances. Most of them have lost hope. I want to help them discover a new vision and purpose for life.”

After spending some time impacting lives on South Division, Warsen found herself accepting a position with Rivertown Family Chiropractic in Grandville as a chiropractic assistant. Warsen works with clients who suffer from anything from minor aches to throbbing pain.

“People who come in have been feeling sick for so long being able to change their life in this way and get them healthy again is encouraging and very rewarding,” she says.

In addition to healing physical pain, Warsen heals emotional pain through The Grand Rapids Dream Center. The Dream Center began in Los Angeles by Matthew Barnett and Tommy Barnett, who gave it its mission to connect with others but not by focusing on taking people out of their local environment. According to Matthew and Tommy Barnett, the mission of The Dream Center is “reach people from within.” Through her involvement with The Dream Center, Warsen says she’s been gifted the opportunity to continue the work she was doing with Dégagé.

“We work alongside those who’ve lost their way or struggle with addictions. We help reconnect with their dream and their life,” says Warsen.
Helping others discover their purpose has helped Warsen discover hers. As a cross-country runner in high school, Warsen lapped the fields and did the races, but never thought to impact others through the sport. In January 2014, Warsen ran her first marathon and the light turned on. She began using her love for running as a way to support people and causes she cared about.

“I like running for a cause,” says Warsen. “Being able to fundraise and give back in this capacity makes me feel better about racing.”

Today, Warsen runs for a variety of causes, including Gran Fondo, My Team Triumph, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Using the gift of kindness and the sport of running, Warsen discovered not only her passion, but what she says is her “purpose.”

Sometimes our purpose in life isn’t as obvious. In fact, it can a little selfish. Until Jamie Peltier discovered that in order to better care for those around us, she needed to take care of herself first. Peltier has struggled with her weight for most of her life.

“I was on a track time in high school,” says Peltier, “but only because my friends were.”

She left the sport after shortly after high school. Peltier reunited with running a couple years ago, only to be left rejected.

“I felt like I was going to die. I absolutely hated it,” she says.

In June 2014, her husband, Kevin, encouraged her to try the Couch to 5K training app and to give running another chance. He said, “Just give the eight weeks of the program and see how it goes.”

Eight weeks came and she never looked back. Peltier is now a 5K veteran and she has even run her first 10K.

“When I came home [from running] that day, I was really emotional about it,” says Peltier. “This was a big deal for me; to recognize the big difference between me from a year ago and who I am today.”

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

Running has not only helped Peltier’s physical health but her mental health as well. Having struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life, Peltier says she owes her newfound confidence and peace of mind to her mileage.

“Running gives me time to just be me. I don’t have to think about anything I don’t want to. I think about whatever I want or nothing at all,” says Peltier. “It’s my own little world.”

Because running awards Peltier the time she desires to be alone, she now finds herself getting closer with her husband and three kids. Her husband, Kevin, who is also a runner, will race alongside Peltier.

“He usually finishes first,” she says. “But having him encourage me and seeing him at the finish line means the world.”

Peltier has also seen her relationship with her 10-year-old son take on a new course.

“As my son gets older, it’s harder to find ways to connect,” she says. “But going out on a run with him has been awesome. We have time to talk. We’re active together. And watching him push himself has been encouraging.”

Now on the other side of the hill, Peltier finds purpose in empowering others to do the same.

“I want to encourage [women] to believe in themselves,” she says. “To let them know that they’re worth it. Whatever they do to make the changes, if it’s running or something else. They’re worth it and they’ll be amazed at what they can do.”

By caring for herself, Peltier has found new hope in darkness.

Finding our purpose in life isn’t always what they show us in the movies. Most times there isn’t a big flash of light or a vertigo-like feeling that overcomes us, leaving us wiser and with all the right ideas. It comes from setting ourselves aside and helping those around us, like Courtney Warsen. It’s about overcoming something we never thought we could do, like Jamie Peltier. Finding purpose sparks from the moments we take to slow down just a few extra beats, lend the other hand, or simply just keep going.

After all, life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Join Courtney and Jamie at the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K, held April 19, 2015. Click here for more information and to register.

Encore: Starting A Community Conversation About Life After Retirement


Man, retirement sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Sleeping in, golfing all day, lazing around the pool.

That sound you hear is Tom Rademacher and Nancy O’Brien saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

If you haven’t had a conversation with these two about life after retirement, don’t worry — you will.

The dynamic duo will have a conversation with the entire Grand Rapids community in the coming year, as the two new Encore Fellows at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Their mission: spread the word that there’s a whole new way to share your talent, skills and time after age 60 or so.

They’re working with, building a movement to make it easier for millions of people to pursue  “encore careers” – jobs that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact in the second half of life.

Visit for more about the philosophy, and to see examples of men and women doing extraordinary things in their “encore years.”

Massachusetts tech executive David Campbell, 72, used his management savvy to build a nimble, effective nonprofit that has dispatched 28,000 volunteers to 45 global disaster zones.

Texas telecom veteran Charles Fletcher, 76, used his ranch to launch a global network of 91 therapeutic riding centers serving 5,000 children with disabilities – free of charge.

New York child psychiatrist Dr. Pamela Cantor, 66, leads an organization that helps schools counter the effects of poverty on student learning, reaching tens of thousands of teachers and children in low-performing public schools.

And the list goes on.

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

“It used to be you turned 65 and that was it — you disappeared,” says Rademacher, 60, a longtime columnist at The Grand Rapids Press. “Encore is changing the rules about how we retire.” He took early retirement in 2009 to pursue other writing endeavors but continues to write his award-winning column for The Press and as part of his freelance writing career.

“Encore teaches people how to reconfigure that free time they’ve earned,” Rademacher says. “What gifts do you have? And how can you use them to help the rest of us?”

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

O’Brien, 54, an experienced public relations professional, opted for early retirement from Grand Rapids Community College in 2010 after spending 10 years there as executive director of communications. Before that she was a public relations consultant with clients all over town, from The Grand Rapids Ballet to the Amway Hotel Corp. to Wedgwood Christian Services.

Through their Encore fellowships hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, they’ll work as a team to get the word out about Encore.

Rademacher will gather and tell the stories of area people and organizations that exemplify the Encore philosophy. Then O’Brien will use her PR skills to get those stories out in the community, through print, radio, television and social media.

“We want to capture the stories that embody the spirit of Encore, and set the table for conversation,” says Kate Luckert Schmid, program director at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, which has long supported the Encore movement. “We want to give it a voice.”

The conversation about how to spend your “second life” is already simmering, Schmid says.

“These conversations are happening at coffee houses and at brew pubs,” she says. “Everybody who’s approaching retirement age is asking about what’s next.  But there’s no label, no name for it.

“At the Foundation, we see the potential of engaging experienced adults in critical community issues,” Schmid says. “The wealth of knowledge and expertise out there is just incredible. If we can engage them in our community’s issues, we’ll be better off.”

Rademacher has spent his career telling the community’s stories. He’s looking for people doing great things in their later years in the same places he’s searched for subjects for his many popular columns. Everywhere.

“Wherever I go,” Rademacher says, “I have this question in my back pocket: ‘I understand you just retired. What’s next?’”

He can’t wait to hear the answers.

“As people age, and collect wisdom, they become less and less afraid of the next step,” he says.  “They’re not afraid of the new, of reinventing, they’re not afraid of what people think of them, they’re not affected by peer pressure.

Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly


Photos by Bryan Esler for stellafly

“They’ve dealt with death and sacrifice and tragedy. They seem unstoppable. They breed optimism in others. I’ll be looking for those kinds of people. And they’re everywhere.”

O’Brien sees her Encore Fellowship as a professional and personal mission.

“I’m walking through the journey myself,” she says. “I’m looking for a second act, a way to utilize my expertise.

“For my parents’ generation, you retire, you go to Florida, you play golf,” she says.

That’s what her parents did, at first.

“They retired to Marco Island, Florida, and they soon said, ‘We’re bored,’” O’Brien says. “My dad said, ‘It feels like we’re just playing golf and waiting to die.’”

So they moved to a small town in North Carolina and started shaking things up, doing outreach for an area prison and a local church.

“Suddenly, they felt vital,” O’Brien says. “They felt involved.”

That’s what everybody wants, she says.

“Never has there been such a huge generation moving into this 60-plus age,” O’Brien says. “We’re all so vibrant and have something to offer.

“It’s not the end of our purpose — we want something else.”

Want to hear more? Stay tuned.

“We’ll be blogging, posting on Facebook, sharing these stories on TV, radio, magazines, newspapers,” O’Brien says.

“The community is going to start hearing some great stories.”

Do you have a great “encore career” story? Contact Rademacher or O’Brien:

Spoonlickers Stands Apart from FroYo Crowd with its Unique Made-from-Scratch Toppings


GRAND RAPIDS – You walk into any frozen yogurt or ice cream shop anywhere and the toppings are all the same: prepackaged, processed, canned or bulk-purchased items full of additives and preservatives.

Spoonlickers Handcrafted Frozen Yogurt dares to be different.

At each of their three locations, co-owners and co-founders Dianna and David Darling insist upon fresh-baked, scratch-made and locally sourced toppings that customers won’t find anywhere else. It’s all part of the farm-to-table – or, perhaps, kitchen-to-spoon – concept the Darlings have brought to frozen desserts.

“It goes right from here to there – kitchen to spoon,” baker Alecia Fanning said of the Spoonlickers’ uncompromising approach to scratch-made toppings using the freshest ingredients. “A lot of people are a lot more conscious of it. I think people are more willing to pay a little extra for that if it’s homemade stuff, rather than if it was made in a factory or mass produced or came from a machine.

“I think the love goes into it,” she added. “They can tell it’s a much better product.”




It’s all about quality at Spoonlickers, with its signature chocolate ganache, butterscotch, homemade granola, scratch-made brownies, cookies, pumpkin pie, whoopie pies, cinnamon streusel crumble and marshmallow squares. It grinds the peanuts for its peanut-butter sauce. It toasts its own coconut.

No one in the industry comes close to that sort of freshness.

“A lot of people don’t do it, so, for us, it’s especially unique, just knowing a lot of what us bakers make is from scratch,” said Grace Tuttle, a junior supervisor at Spoonlickers who preceded Fanning as baker. “I think it is important to a lot of people. There is a difference in quality a lot of the time.

“It’s just about knowing that you’re eating something homemade or local products, it’s just different than getting it from wherever,” she said. “I’ve been to several of the frozen yogurt stores. I think when you go around and sample them, you can really tell the difference. I can immediately tell when I try other places that it’s a dry powder mixed with water.

“It’s a lot better here.”


The proof is in the pantry and refrigerator at Spoonlickers’ flagship Eastown store at 1551 Wealthy St. in Grand Rapids. Top-shelf ingredients, such as couverture chocolate and Nielsen Massey vanilla, go into making ganache and buttercream, respectively. Farm-fresh eggs, King flour milled in Lowell and Meijer brown sugar are examples of locally sourced items Spoonlickers’ baking staff uses.

All of the milk and cream used in production of its soft-serve frozen yogurt and baked goods comes from southwestern Michigan dairy farms, which results in a freshness its customers truly can taste.

No compromises. No cutting corners. Period.

“Everything we can buy locally, we do,” David Darling said. “All of the milk, all of the dairy for our yogurts and gelatos, it comes from southwest Michigan. People love the fact that we toast our own coconut.

“We have never wavered. The reason we do this is, because if we don’t, nobody else will,” he said. “It makes us different. It’s so much better because we control what’s going in (these toppings).”

For example, Spoonlickers uses only couverture chocolate for its ganache.

It has a higher percentage of cocoa butter than regular chocolate. Sure, it costs more, but the difference is quality is worth it.

“It’s the reason our ganache is as good as it is. We don’t cut any costs when it comes to the quality of ingredients,” David Darling insisted.

The objective is using the fewest ingredients of the highest quality to achieve unprecedented results.

It requires keeping a close watch on inventory, since many of the ingredients have a shorter shelf life than other packaged and processed FroYo and ice cream toppings at national chain stores.

The staff gets its fresh fruits, whenever possible, from Grand Rapids Downtown Market or Fulton Street Farmers Market.

“Sixty-five percent of what’s kept on the shelf is raw ingredient,” David Darling estimated.

The commitment to using the freshest and highest-quality ingredients is a reflection of what’s happening in the farm-to-table dining movement, as well as the craft beer and independently distilled spirits industries.

Earlier this year, the Darlings posted an item on the company website at that challenged the status quo when it comes to sacrificing freshness and quality for inferior mass-produced toppings. It sparked a profound dialogue and more than a thousand responses.

“I’m not sure all of our customers understand what we do and why we do it, but a lot of them do,” David Darling said. “It’s why they tell us, ‘You have to do our wedding, our children’s birthday parties and other events.’

“It really matters to people.”

It is a constant source of pride for the Spoonlickers’ kitchen staff.

Fanning, 27, a recent graduate of the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College, uses her own hands to make and bake everything from puppy chow to pie crusts.

“It definitely adds a lot more enjoyment to what you do, especially because they don’t cut any corners here. They’re using real ingredients, like real butter, not shortening. That makes it a lot more enjoyable,” she said.

“You just make sure it’s made right.”

Tuttle, 21, of Kentwood, said the same commitment goes into making larger cakes, which can be ordered for special occasions or purchased from the freezers located in all three Spoonlickers’ stores.




“I don’t know of any other frozen yogurt places that make homemade cakes. We make the batter, we freeze the yogurt, mold it all together, make our own frosting, make our own chocolate ganache for it, and decorate it all by hand,” said Tuttle, who’s pursuing a degree in food and beverage management at Grand Valley State University. ‘That takes a lot of time. There are a lot of local homemade products going into that cake.

“I think that’s pretty unique. I don’t know of other ice cream places that bake their own homemade cookies or homemade brownies,” she added. “I don’t know of anyone else that quite does that.”

David Darling refers to Fanning and Tuttle as the “rock stars” of the operation.

Both says they’re delighted to be part of a local business that does things the right way for the right reasons.

“I think it’s something we should talk about a lot more,” Tuttle said. “People hear ‘homemade’ and think that’s cool, but a lot of them don’t realize that what we’re actually making … they’re eating. That’s something really unique. I don’t know of any other frozen yogurt places or ice cream places that do that.”

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.




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.


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.

Hungerford Nichols Announces Two New Shareholders


Photos Bryan Esler

Last week, we joined our friends, Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors, at the Blue Water Grill to celebrate the election of Adriane Schrauben and Doug Schmitt to the position of Shareholder.


Both Adriane Schrauben and Doug Schmitt began their accounting careers with Hungerford Nichols and have advanced within the firm. “The addition of Adriane and Doug aligns well with our mission, vision and values and we are excited to have them as part of the leadership team.” says Rick Chrisman, CPA, MST, Managing Shareholder of the firm. “Our firm continues to grow as a result of our constant focus on preparing our next generation of leaders for the future. We believe that growth creates opportunities for all and this is reflected within our succession plan.”






Adriane specializes in the area of School District Auditing as well as heading up the Estate and Trust group within the firm. With over fourteen years in public accounting, she provides her clients with services including audit of financial statements, preparation of individual and trust tax returns and tax planning. Adriane is the third female Shareholder in the firm.


Shareholder Jerry Nichols shares, “Although her technical expertise is one of her strong suits, Adriane is successful in her ability to build long-term relationships with the people she serves. She is able to develop these relationships by focusing on solutions to the problems clients have.”

Adriane earned both her Bachelor and Master of Business Administration degrees at Grand Valley State University and is a national presenter of technical topics for the Association of School Business Officials International conference. She has also authored articles on estate planning.


Doug specializes in servicing closely-held businesses in the manufacturing, petroleum and retail industries.  He has twenty four years of experience in business accounting and tax services, including audit, review and compilation of financial statements, tax return preparation and tax planning strategies. Doug works out of both the Grand Rapids and Greenville offices and manages the Greenville office operations.

Doug has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to quality. His leadership, hard work and attention to detail have contributed significantly to our continued growth and success. We look forward to his continued success in his new role.” says Tom Prince, CPA, MBA, Shareholder.

Doug earned his Bachelor of Business Administration at Grand Valley State University.


Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors is a full-service CPA firm with offices in Grand Rapids and Greenville, MI. The firm provides accounting, business advisory, tax return preparation, tax planning, auditing, financial planning and IT advisory services with an emphasis on closely-held and family-owned businesses. The firm also services Governmental entities, Not-for-Profit Organizations and Employee Benefit Plans.  Hungerford Nichols has grown to become one of the largest locally-owned, independent CPA firms in West Michigan.  Visit their website at and join them on Facebook


Everybody, meet Noah: Roberta King’s new memoir, “He Plays a Harp,” is a family love story



Beans for tacos are simmering in a crock pot on the counter as Roberta King and her husband Mike Miesch sit at the kitchen table talking about Noah.

They do this a lot.

Their son Noah died eight years ago at the age of 17 from pneumonia, a complication of a life with cerebral palsy.

But the essence of Noah is all over the place in their pink and white beach house in Muskegon.

His photo is on the refrigerator. His shoes are lined up in his bedroom closet. A couple of his favorite books are still on his bed.

Noah comes to life, in a way, every time his parents talk and laugh about him.

Now, everybody can get to know this kid who had curly blonde hair, a love of Jimmy Buffet and a mischievous streak that once compelled him to pull the school fire alarm.

Consider King’s new memoir, He Plays a Harp,” your introduction.

Everybody, meet Noah.


He once splashed in the Gulf of Mexico with dolphins. He owned one of Jimmy Buffet’s guitar picks. He loved SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons. He appreciated a good hunt for the perfect Halloween pumpkin.

King’s book, published by Principia Media, is mostly a story about how Noah lived.

But it starts out with how he died.

You’ll likely be crying by page 22, when King tenderly, but matter-of-factly, writes how she and Mike gently told their boy goodbye as he died:

“Don’t be afraid, Noah. It’ll be good in heaven, love. You’ll be able to breathe again,” I told him. I thought he might like to know that because his labored breathing and coughing bothered him.

“We’re here with you right now, and we’ll be with you always. Don’t be scared.”

… As Noah journeyed forward to his death, Mike and I held tightly onto each other and to him. Finally, as he drew his last troubled breath, we let the most amazing kid we’d ever known go where he wanted to go. Home.



It’s the most private of moments. Sad, but somehow beautiful. But King would rather laugh with you than cry with you, and much of the book captures the funny family moments that she and Miesch hold dear.

As King and Miesch savor wine and tacos, a bouquet of cheerful daffodils on the kitchen table, there’s lots of laughter.

Remember how Noah would ask what’s for dinner? He’d keep asking, repeatedly, ignoring his mom’s answers until she finally named his favorite — spaghetti.

Remember that time Noah took a huge dump in the airplane bathroom? Miesch carried him from their seats in coach to the bathroom in first class, because it was closer. The stink, his parents tell between fits of laughter, would make your eyes water.

“It was a first-class poop,” Miesch quips with a grin.

“I like talking about Noah,” says King, vice president of public relations and marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “It keeps my memories fresh. It keeps him alive.”

“We bring him back,” Miesch says, “with our memories.”

While King’s account of Noah’s final moments brings her readers to tears, the stories of Noah’s life were hardest for her to write.

“His life stories made me cry more than anything else,” she says. “Those were the tender times I spent with him.”

She knows some people might shy away from a book they know deals with the death of a child.

“We have a societal discomfort with death,” King says. “People don’t want to read about it.

“But death is pretty short,” she says. “Life — even if it was short, like Noah’s — is filled with experiences. For it to be a complete book, death has to be part of it. But not all of it.

“I told the things I thought would help people get to know him. To understand why he’s so beloved.”

She pauses, and smiles.

“He was so cute,” she says.




He was also severely disabled. Noah was never able to stand, walk or run. He used a wheelchair since kindergarten. His clenched and shaky hands made it difficult and awkward for him to feed himself.

“Not only does death make people uncomfortable, but disabilities freak people out, too,” King says. In her first draft of the book, she “sugarcoated” Noah’s severe disability, she says.

“Then one of my test readers said, ‘You wouldn’t know that Noah was disabled,’” she says.

So she included more stories about the struggle to get Noah ready to leave the house. The complications of family vacations. The challenge Noah had making good friends.

As she wrote, she felt closer to her son.

“One thing the writing did was help me remember things I had long ago tucked away,” King says. “Then, suddenly, all this good stuff came out. I’m grateful for that gift of greater memory.

“I feel like we were really close all of our lives,” she says, “but I feel even more connected to Noah now than any time since his death.”

Miesch, maintenance manager at Pioneer Resources in Muskegon, says the book is a gift to him, too, preserving his son’s story.

Noah’s bedroom is a place of comfort for Miesch. It remains just the way it was when Noah went to bed there each night.



Miesch walks down the hallway and shows how Noah’s sailboat comforter is still on the bed, and his SpongeBob pillows. Noah’s copies of “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Jungle Book” rest on the bed. His shoes are neatly lined up in the closet.

“His shoes never wore out, because he never walked in them,” Miesch says. “I haven’t wanted to change his room. Once something is gone, it’s gone forever.”

He’s quiet for a minute.

“It’s a way I try to hold on,” he says. “When I go in there, I think about Noah.”

Miesch created the cover art for “He Plays a Harp” years ago, when he and King were dating.

“It represents something like a bigger universe,” he says, walking into the living room to get the original oil pastel art, in a carved black frame.

“When we die, we go somewhere,” he says. “It speaks of that bigger picture.”

The book’s title came from King’s struggle to answer the question she often gets asked: Do you have any children?

Sometimes, to avoid the discomfort that can follow “My son died,” she fibs, and pretends Noah is still alive.

When a woman once started asking about Noah and his interests, King blurted out, “He plays a harp.” No idea where that came from, she says.

She wonders why there isn’t a special word for parents who have lost a child.

King keeps a plastic bag of Noah’s clothes in her dresser drawer.

“Every so often, I’ll open up the bag, just to smell it,” she says. Then she closes it fast, so the air can’t dilute the scent.

Noah had a good smell,” she says.

One more thing to know about Noah.

“Through the book, people are getting to know Noah, who he was,” King says. “Maybe people will read it and be less fearful of people with disabilities, when they realize they live a normal family life.

“It’s kind of a love story,” King muses. “A good family story, about how families cope, that situations like ours are real.

“But mostly,” she says, “I wrote it for myself. I wanted a record of his life. I didn’t want him to pass from this world forgotten.”

For more information and a schedule of book signings and events, visit

King’s debut reading will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Scolnik Center for Healing, part of Muskegon’s Art of Loss and Hope event.

She’ll also read from and sign copies of her book at a launch party at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4 at the Richard App Gallery, 910 Cherry Street SE in Grand Rapids.

SEVA — Selfless service.


Seva means ‘selfless service.’ And the teachers, the support staff, and students really embrace that,” said Melissa Tungl.

Melissa and her husband Tobi own and operate SEVA Yoga at 2237 Wealthy Street SE, Suite 120 in the Gaslight Village business district of East Grand Rapids. The studio, now in its eighth year, is well-known in the area. The Tungls took over operations just last year.

But why is Seva Yoga different than a yoga class that you may find online, on video, or even take at your local gym?

“We do a lot of community classes where we take all the funds that we collect and donate it to different parts of need in the community. We’ve donated to Kid’s Food Basket, God’s Kitchen, and Humane Society of West Michigan,” said Melissa.

And that’s just for starters.





At Seva, they support the notion that Yoga should be accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation. If the pricing structure at Seva is beyond your financial means, please come enjoy the classes simply by making a donation to the studio. Donation meaning “the act of giving”, please simply give what you can afford. 

Melissa Tungl glows when she talks about yoga and her commitment to community. She strongly feels that everyone can find something to love about practicing yoga.

“I have always been interested in yoga and wellness,” she said. “It’s been a path that’s always called to me. It’s a joy and honor to share my enthusiasm with my students. When they’re here, I can see it. And I can feel it. I know that it’s making a difference.”

It was while first living in Caledonia, that Melissa visited many different yoga studios. When she found Seva, she says she finally “found her yoga home”.

“I enjoyed the practice style and the good community here,” she said. “Moving forward, I decided to become a yoga teacher. I took my training here at Seva. I was a teacher here at Seva. And then we bought the studio.”

Beyond the style of practice and the community, Melissa felt assured by the studio’s reputation for excellence. Seva not only holds a State of Michigan propriety school license, but it also offers a rigorous training program to become a Yoga Alliance 200RYT certified Yoga instructor.

“The teachers are really known in the area,” she said. “People who have their certificate from Seva are some of the best.”

The Seva Yoga studio offers a variety of different classes, with different styles, instructors and pacing: something for every body type.

“We offer anything from really gentle yoga, which would be really good for someone who’s got a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, depression,” said Melissa. “It would be good for people recovering from injury. Gentle yoga is really therapeutic and one of our slower classes. And then we offer everything from that base level all the way up to your really high, Vinyasa, cardio-based hot yoga class for those people who want to really move and really sweat.”





But what about a person who is ‘yoga curious’ but feels too intimidated to drop in for a class?

Melissa sympathizes. She’s been there.

“Oh, man, it’s so hard to get on your mat for the first time,” she said. “It can be really intimidating. You see all these pictures in magazines of these beautiful women just like pretzels, totally, totally unrealistic. And you realize that’s just the marketing of yoga. That’s not really what yoga is.”

So what is yoga? Melissa smiles and offers this suggestion:

“Sit at home. Just sit down. Close your eyes. Take ten deep breathes. Feel that awareness,” she said.

“And that,” said Melissa, “is yoga. Yoga is not the picture on the magazine. It is not the woman with the leg behind her head.”

“It’s that awareness and really deep connection, which is what everyone is looking for. Everyone. And I think that’s why yoga is so popular now.”

The studio also offers drop-in, student, and senior rates; as well as unlimited monthly packages. Weekend training for 200RYT Yoga Alliance certified Yoga instructors begins in September 2014. Visit the Seva Yoga website for more details.