Tag Archives: East Grand Rapids

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

GR to NYC: A Designer’s Journey




At Thursday night’s Couture for a Cure, which benefited the Van Andel Institute, guests were treated to the premiere of New York designer Daniel Vosovic’s Spring and Summer 2013 collection. The Sparkly Stellafly had an opportunity to sit down with Vosovic on the eve of the show and talk to him about his journey from Grand Rapids to New York.

Daniel spent most of his childhood living in East Grand Rapids, where he biked to Breton Village Mall whenever he could. His family later moved to Lowell, and he excelled as a competitive gymnast until he retired at 18 years old. He went to college to study architecture but found the program to be much too structured and too long for his taste. So, on a whim he decided to take a sewing course. As he learned to take a piece of fabric and turn it into an article of clothing, he began to think that fashion could be a career. However, he knew that he would have to make the move from Lowell to NYC to make this happen.

So Vosovic went to New York after talking with a cousin who lived there and was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). As Daniel began his time at FIT, he found it refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. He was accepted into an Italian exchange program and moved to Florence, where his entire outlook on design and fashion was changed with just one design lesson. They were given one piece of fabric cut into a specific shape and asked to design a dress, top, skirt, or whatever they chose with just that one piece of fabric. This forced him to think outside the box and challenge the traditional “rules” of clothing design.

Daniel returned to NYC and completed the 2-year program at FIT in just one year, and four days after graduating he was auditioning for Project Runway’s second season. This was his big break. He was 24-years old and his “first job” was showing his work in front of an audience of 3 ½-4 million people who were watching the show, and the judges on the show who were very influential in the fashion industry. He was selected as first-runner-up that season, and his first runway show during New York Fashion Week was attended by Vogue, Barney’s, and Bergdorf Goodman (just to name a few). His career had gone from 0 to 60 in just a matter of what seemed like minutes, a rarity for the fashion industry.

However, when Vosovic began to think about it, he realized that he was actually becoming more famous than his clothing. He stepped back and before pushing forward and creating another new line, Daniel decided he needed to go back and work for someone, get the nitty-gritty experience he had missed by going on the reality show. So, he began working in large companies as a third assistant and smaller companies as a creative director.

All of those experiences have made him what he is today—a hard-working, in-the-trenches, leader. As I watched him backstage on Thursday evening, I saw his nervousness turn to excitement as he saw the models lined up in his designs. It was evident that he has found his true calling in life and is a real-life example of what happens when you find your passion and pursue it.

When I asked him what his goals were now, he said he would like to be the next Ralph Lauren. He wants to create an experience with his fashion, and would love fashion to lead him to other things such as film and home design. I have no doubt that he will do all of that and more, and look forward to seeing what the future brings his way.

To learn more about Daniel Vosovic, visit his website: http://www.danielvosovicny.com
Daniel Vosovic on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Daniel-Vosovic/

“Starry Night” — Painting Class at Brush Studio

July 13, 2012


I consider myself a fairly crafty (as in arts and crafts) person, so I was pretty excited when I first heard about Brush Studio, in Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids. Brush is a new concept to West Michigan, offering painting classes in a social setting. You can take a class on your own, make it a girls or a couple’s night out, a family affair, or a team-building event for the office.

Brush is the brainchild of Lisa Jabara and Heather Callahan. The two met when Callahan began working at Hot Mama, another business owned by Jabara, and also located in Gaslight Village. They have known each other for five years and have been working on this venture for the past year. The idea came from Callahan after she and her husband had visited friends in Colorado and saw a similar concept called Canvas and Cocktails. She saw an opportunity for this in West Michigan and approached Lisa on the idea. Heather is a former 2nd Grade teacher with a creative arts minor in college, and Lisa has a business background, which made the perfect combination for starting Brush Studio.

One of the most popular offerings of Brush is their private parties. They work one of three ways—a group can reserve the entire studio for themselves, they can come and paint during a regularly scheduled class, or Brush will come to the group. Parties can be for kids or adults, and this is an excellent family activity.

For every class, Brush provides all materials—a 16×20 canvas, paints, brushes, and an apron. If your group would like to reserve the entire studio, you can select the painting they would like to create or Brush Studio artists will create a custom painting just for your event. Brush has partnered with Ramona’s Table in Gaslight Village to offer catering, and also offers beer and wine. If there is a specific type of beer or wine your group wants to have that night, Brush will make sure it is available to you. This can be a great way to celebrate a special occasion or even a team-building activity for the office. For this type of private party, the cost to have it Sunday-Thursday is a $200 fee plus a $35 painting charge for each individual, and on a Friday or Saturday, the cost is a flat fee of $2,500. Those prices do not include the catering.

Groups can also join a scheduled class for just the cost per painter (which varies from $30-$50 depending on the painting), and pre-order food from Ramona’s so it is there when they arrive. The staff at Brush makes sure your group is seated together and works hard to ensure everyone is having a wonderful time.

Lastly, Brush Studio offers “Brush To-Go,” an option that brings the paint studio to you. This could be a great way to add a little something extra to a dinner party at your home or have a fun team-building event at the office. This option is offered for a $200 travel/set-up fee plus $50 per painter.

On Friday night the Sparkly Stellafly and a few of her friends signed up for the “Starry Night” class, so they could re-create the famous work by Van Gogh. It was a fantastic experience. From the moment you walk through the door, the staff is highly attentive and extremely helpful in getting you set up with your palette, brushes, apron, and paint. Seating is already assigned when you arrive (so be sure and let them know if you are coming with friends and want to sit together) and there is a little bit of social time before the class starts.

As you get set up at your station, you also have an opportunity to order food from Ramona’s Table off of a custom menu they put together for Brush Studio, or purchase beer or wine from the bar.

Once the class begins, the instructor introduces the painting and the brushes that the class will be using. (Jabara and Callahan found local artists mostly through word of mouth and through some postings at Kendall College) Then you are taken step-by-step in creating the painting, and the rest is up to you. It was interesting to observe each painter’s style and interpretation of “Starry Night” and I was amazed at the fact that mine actually somewhat-resembled Van Gogh’s masterpiece.

During the class, the Brush Studio staff is walking around, offering to refill your glass, get you more paint, and answer any questions you may have. Our class last night included a private party and they had a very fun night. They had arranged for food from Ramona’s Table and pre-ordered their favorite wine, and it was all waiting for them when they arrived. When the class was over, there was still time to socialize and shop in the retail section offered in the front of the studio. All of the products are made by artists with some connection to West Michigan. On the night of your class, you receive 10% off all retail purchases.

All in all, this was a really fun way to spend a Friday night, and I highly recommend this for anyone—no matter if you consider yourself creative or not, it’s a fun way to get together with friends. If you are interested in trying it out, go to their website or check out their Facebook page for a schedule of classes and to register online. Or give them a call at 616.805.5099—tell them Stellafly sent you.

Be sure to check out Brush Studio online: http://www.brushgr.com/
and on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/BrushStudioGR