Tag Archives: Calvin College

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: http://www.lifeonthestreet.org/content/2013-annual-banquet



The Cook Auditorium at the Grand Rapids Art Museum was filled with a little over a hundred guests on Friday night who were interested in hearing what some of the city’s most innovative and entrepreneurial creative had to say about design. This was the third annual interview/lecture event hosted by Design/Educate/Connect (DEC), a nonprofit started in 2010 by Benjamin Edgar, Josh Beebe, and Evan Daniels.

The evening’s format was a 1-1 interview, with each interviewee given the opportunity to choose their interviewer for a 12-minute conversation. First up was Cliff Wegener of Mighty in the Midwest, a mobile and web design firm located above Hopcat, who was interviewed by his close friend and mentor, Tom Crimp. Wegener had three keys to long-term success for technology design firms such as his: realize that process and technology are constantly changing; trust what you know works; and experiment with new technology, using what works for you. He described Grand Rapids as inspiring and a hotbed for technology and design, and he loves that his peers are right in his neighborhood.






Jill DeVries was interviewed by her good friend Marissa Kulha. As she talked about her passion for capturing beauty through her camera lens, it was easy to see how much she truly loves what she does. Growing up she had thoughts of being an architect and had a great love of “beautiful spaces and good design.” DeVries told the audience that in her opinion, good design is “knowing what is necessary and what is not,” and she applies that philosophy to her portraits. To her, beauty is everywhere. It is “not about the camera, it’s about the vision.”

Shoe designer Tyler Way’s career began in his freshman dorm room with a Sharpie marker. Way was interviewed by Adrienne Rehm, his girlfriend of 4 ½ years. In their lighthearted and completely endearing interview, the audience learned that Tyler got his big break by “trespassing” his way into several Detroit Pistons games by using his ID badge from his internship the previous summer. He got the attention of Tayshaun Prince, who had Way design a pair of shoes for him, and his business skyrocketed from there. After years of creating custom footwear, Way is now designing shoes for Sebago, a brand under the Wolverine Worldwide umbrella, and volunteers his time as Creative Director for Fashion Has Heart, which pairs wounded veterans with artists to create custom t-shirts.

Derek Coppess, Founder and Managing Director of 616 Development, was interviewed by Monica Clark, Director of Community Development at 616 Development. Coppess’ father was a high school drafting teacher, and he learned a lot from his father about design. He is not an architect, not an interior designer, but his experience with design comes in the form of relationships with people. He is most inspired by the human emotions that go into their projects and designing their communities. He also designs the team—616 Development is always evaluating their “tribe” and when they determine there is a gap, they make sure to fill the gap with the right person.



Then came Laura Caprara, founder of Stellafly Social Media, interviewed by Eric Kuhn of Site:Lab. Caprara graduated from Calvin College and then drove to Oregon to begin a job as a Graphic Designer, which turned into a job teaching an “old school art director” how to integrate technology into his work. She returned to Grand Rapids and eventually launched the Grand Rapids Social Diary in 2009—she would send photographers to document events around town, post the photos on Facebook, and guests at the event would tag themselves. This idea took off, and in 2010 she saw an opportunity to monetize her business and began charging for event coverage. In 2011, the business was rebranded as Stellafly in an effort to expand the efforts outside of Grand Rapids and even outside the state. Today, Stellafly does the day-to-day online messaging for organizations such as Grand Rapids Public Schools and TEDx Grand Rapids. They are also covering events that range from art openings to concerts to black tie galas.

The evening ended with Christian Saylor, Creative Director and Joe Johnston, Director of User Experience and Director of R & D for Universal Mind, interviewing each other. When asked what inspires him, Johnston answered that he loves “watching people interact with things.” He grew up on a farm so when he could, he would go to the mall and watch people do just that—interact with things. Saylor is inspired by storytelling. He told of car rides with his father who would tell him and his siblings captivating stories, and talked about the walks he takes with his wife, where they discuss the books they are reading and his favorite question to ask her is, “What’s the story?” Saylor and Johnston like to look at their projects through the lens of a great story, looking at who they are designing for and what the end product will be, based on their story.





Grand Rapids is overflowing with creativity and design, and the interviewees at tonight’s Design/Educate/Connect event were an incredible representation of this city’s talent, and it truly showed the wide variety of ways that design can be viewed. What is your definition of “design?”

LIKE Design/Educate/Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedecproject



The Van Dykes remain committed to creating spaces that are positive for everyone involved, from business owners to the residents.


While an undergraduate at Calvin College, Jackson Van Dyke’s route to class took him past an unoccupied storefront in Eastown, an eyesore in an otherwise thriving area. Little did he know, years later he and his two siblings would transform the former liquor store into a hip addition to Grand Rapids’ blossoming brewing culture.

Though it wasn’t easy.

“It was miserable,” Jackson admitted of the process of turning the long-empty Little Jack’s Corner into Harmony Brewing Company. Heather, Jackson’s sister and one-third of Bear Manor Properties, the property management company the pair along with brother Barry, nodded in agreement while the duo sat in a booth inside the brew-pub.

“It feels awesome sitting in the finished space. It’s so gratifying. I remember the first time when we opened hearing people laughing and talking instead of me cursing,” Jackson joked reflecting on the February opening.

As the eatery and brewery – now known for its wood-fired pizzas and unique craft beers—opened for lunch, the brother and sister described the process of renovating the space and bringing a dream to life.

Jackson explained initially they were going to develop the property in the same vein they had with other properties Electric Cheetah and The Meanwhile Bar in the Wealthy Street Business District, but decided if they could secure financing they would make it their first solo venture.

“We were always a little sad to step back from projects,” Heather added describing how they felt after tenants took occupancy of the spaces they’d spent time redeveloping. “And Jackson and Barry had been home-brewing for ten years, we decided to give it a shot.”

The siblings were used to doing their own renovation work, in fact it was how Bear Manor got its start. Barry, the siblings’ father, approached the two sons about residential renovations while the two were working as painters. “We began with a house in Heritage Hill, a fixer upper,” Jackson explained.

After restoring the home, the men refinanced it, rented it out, and rolled the profits into the next project. The men formed Bear Manor Properties LLC, and while both of the brothers had no previous business experience – Barry had a philosophy degree and Jackson a degree in biblical studies – they moved forward with a vision for transformation.

Jackson said he was working on a three-unit property near Wealthy Street when the opportunity presented itself to become part of the area’s revitalization. He explained he had heard rumors of a few residential units being for sale, and when he approached the owners he was offered the option of a commercial property instead.

The property was 1017-1019 Wealthy Street, owned by Community Rebuilders, a non-profit agency dedicated to ending homelessness and creating safe affordable housing opportunities in Kent County. “It worked out really well because we bought it and immediately leased it back to the owners,” Jackson said.

Then the dominoes began to fall. “We’d seen how Wealthy Street Bakery and Art of the Table had found homes on the Wealthy, and Wealthy Theatre was also making moves further east. We wanted to try and help fill the gap in between,” Jackson said.

During the same period, the Van Dykes bought and renovated two other commercial spaces on the block, creating homes for The Meanwhile and Electric Cheetah. The 1017-1019 property is now home to Brick Road Pizza and the block is popular hang-out for college students and young professionals.

“It was a borderline ghost town when we started. It’s the broken window theory, if you keep up on an area and make it beautiful it has a positive impact on the way people view their surroundings and their lives,” Jackson said.

Heather agreed. “It was awesome to be able to be at the beginning of the new wave of reinvestment. You can see the impact of the things that we were able to do and that other people were able to do, and the impact for business owners that had been there for 30 years and stuck it out.”

Through it all, the Van Dykes remained committed to creating spaces that were positive for everyone involved, from business owners to the residents. “We knew we wanted to find tentants that would be right for the spaces and right for the neighborhood, and we worked really hard in figuring that out,” Heather explained.

Heather’s background included a stint in New York working for an organization that worked with migrant farm workers. Her job was working with the children of the farm workers living in rural areas and helping them get access to resources that may not be readily available.

As property manager and community liaison, Heather’s role includes serving on neighborhood boards and ensuring the company’s connection with the community remains strong. “You can make a positive and a negative impact on a neighborhood based on real estate choices,” she said. “We, of course, want to be positive.”

The team said they’re proud of the work that’s been done in the area. “There are people out at 10 at night. There are women jogging by themselves. That never happened before,” Jackson said.

He also stressed that the changes in the area haven’t happened solely because of good development work. “You can put a really nice building in, but if the residential is falling apart or vacant, it’s not going to have the same impact,” he said.

Currently, the team has a number of residential units occupied by students living in intentional communities. “They’re more than roommates. They want to be intentional about making a community amongst themselves – eating together, really forming relationships, doing things together within the wider community,” Heather explained.

The siblings have also carried this emphasis on community into the work they’ve done with Harmony. Though Harmony is a brewing company, the Van Dykes strive to create a family-friendly atmosphere. “We want people to bring their kids here,” Jackson said.

Additionally, although the own unique fleet of beers are created in the basement taproom, Harmony is also open to featuring guest brews by other home brewers. “We want to have a place where home brewers feel at home,” Heather said.

Having the guest taps also adds to the feeling of surprise that comes with the pub’s ever-changing beer offerings. “We try and have a range of styles on tap. Every time someone comes, it’s going to be different,” Jackson explained.

Part of this is also due to the tempermental nature and artisanal approach of home brewing, Jackson explained. “Beer is a living organism, and if it’s not done and takes an extra two weeks, you can’t do anything about it.”

Jackson and Barry’s passion for beer combined with the trio’s emphasis on community in unique way under the guise of a new lecture series Black Squirrel University, hosted at Harmony every Tuesday night.

In a moment of frustration, Jackson and Barry left their office, cracked open a few of their home brews and began reflecting on times past. Jackson said, “We were saying ‘I kind of miss college. I miss sitting in a room with an expert, and wouldn’t it be more fun to drink a beer at the same time?”

Heather added, “You don’t realize what a great opportunity it is to sit in a room and listen to an expert in a field.” With Black Squirrel University, she said they aim to feature topics ranging from scholarly to practical. “We want to be a part of the fabric of what’s happening in the city.”

A city that the three siblings from Chicago agree has been the perfect place to flourish, especially for young people. “This is a really entrepreneurial town,” said Heather.

“People are proud to be a part of Grand Rapids. Although the economy is tough, especially in Michigan, everybody feels hopeful and is really excited because they see the things that can happen. People have a vision about what they want this state to be and they’re going out and doing it.”

As the first customers begin filing into the eatery, Jackson and Heather take turns greeting guests and directing them to sit wherever they like. “It took us a little bit to get used to,” Heather said of overseeing daily operations. “But our staff is fantastic.”

And as for sibling squabbles? The two exchange grins and say with a humbled confidence, “Of course. We’ve been doing this for a while.”

This Saturday, August 25, Harmony will have an IPA take over. They exclusively house IPAs on tap all day, including Fiddle Stix IPACross Roads Rye PAAle-ian Abduction Black IPABattle Cat White IPAGrote Pier Double IPAFalconer Belgian IPA, and Grapefruit Moon IPA Shandy. They will also have hop food, hop desserts, hop treats, hop scotch, and a sock hop atmosphere. Beer drinking starts early, 10 a.m., to accommodate all of their everlasting awesomeness!

Check out the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/133043046837477/

Harmony Brewing Company on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Harmony-Brewing-Company