Tuesday, June 21, 2022
MEET THE MEN OF HIGH MEADOW MEN'S HOME
By Brandon Folkert, Associate Director
The doors to GHH’s newest home—the High Meadow Men’s Home—opened a little over two years ago, giving six new residents a place to call home. Just a short time after the home opened, the Covid-19 pandemic closed everything down, giving the residents plenty of time to get to know their new digs, and each other.
I recently had the opportunity to share a meal with the residents of this home—Jesse, Adam, JB, Jeremy, Stacy, and Rob. They spoke excitedly about their favorite activities to do together, like going to thrift stores and the library, exercising at the YMCA, and going to the beach in the summer. Over the holidays, they loved going to Christmas parties and seeing the lights at the ballpark together.
The first two years of living together gave the residents ample time to really get to know each other well. I asked them to describe each other with only a word or two, and here’s what I learned about each:
Adam: athletic, caring, and strong
Stacy: loves NASCAR, fun, a good man, and soft-spoken
JB: Crazy, “fire”, awesome, and hard-worker
Jeremy: helpful, a tech-guru, and cool
Rob: laid-back, knowledgeable, and crazy
Jesse: funny, kind, and lovable
They also shared what the staff of the home mean to them—notably, how helpful and supportive they are as they learn new things. “I appreciate everything she does for me,” said JB, and when asked what that meant, he shared it’s truly everything, from helping him get up in the morning to re-loading his phone minutes. They also note that staff help keep their schedules on track, get them their meds, and cook some great meals (they also noted a burned meal or two but that’s a story for another day!).
Reflecting on the two years they have spent in their new home, it’s clear these men have found a new kind of family in their time together. I asked each of them about something they’ve learned since moving in, and their answers ranged from amusing to heartfelt. Rob has learned how to ride his bike around the block, and has gotten to know his new neighbors across the street. Jeremy, Jesse, and Stacy all feel they have learned how to better get along with others, since living with five other guys can be challenging at times. JB has learned how to have a better daily routine, but knows that’s still a work in progress. Meanwhile, Adam simply says he’s, “better at getting up on time!”
Thursday, May 19, 2022
PARTING THOUGHTS FROM ART
As most of you know, at the end of May, Art Opperwall is retiring from his position as Executive Director at GHH after close to 4 years serving in that post. We asked him to share some of his thoughts about his time at GHH, and about what is next for him.
What changes have you seen in the nearly 4 years you have been here?
I first want to say that I can take very little credit for the many positive things that have happened in recent years. Nearly every piece of progress has been the result of God’s grace, along with amazing teamwork—and hard work!—among board members and staff, and with the generous support of the community.
When I started, GHH was on the verge of a huge growth spurt. Groundbreaking for our 3rd home occurred a few days before I started. Clearly a lot of work had gone into our growth already, but there was so much yet to be done before our new homes would be ready to take residents.
Here are a few examples of what has occurred during my tenure:
- We’ve gone from 2 beautiful and functional homes to 4 homes
- Rather than providing “a place to call home” to 12 residents, we now serve 24
- We’ve more than doubled our staff, to about 40 currently
- Our budget in 2018 was about $400,000; in 2022 it is about $950,000
- Our fundraising events have grown tremendously
- The number of local churches supporting us and partnering with us has doubled
- COVID was a huge challenge for more than half of my tenure, but through God’s grace and protection, we have survived thus far and look forward with much hope!
- Our staff hiring and training protocols have developed tremendously
- All the board teams are operating like well-oiled machines!
What are some of your best memories of your time at GHH?
There was so much excitement around the opening of the 2 new homes. It was very cool to see the happy faces of new residents and their families as the move-ins were anticipated and then actually happened.
We have an amazing group of staff, and it has been very gratifying to see how much they care for the residents day in and day out.
Our fundraising events have always been a fun highlight for me, especially the golf outings where I got to stay on one hole and meet all our great supporters that day. (It happened to be the hole where prime rib was being served, but somebody had to do it!)
But by far my greatest joy was in seeing the happy faces of our residents, knowing that they were being well cared for, along with being challenged and encouraged to be all that God intended them to be.
What challenges do you see for the organization, and what are your hopes for it?
I’m pleased that the board and staff have been working on a strategic planning process, and I’m a bit sad that I won’t see that come to fruition. There are many challenges—staffing, finances, higher-need residents, etc.—but also many opportunities to grow both internally and in the community. I’m confident GHH will always be a great organization as it continues to pursue its mission.
What are you going to be doing after retiring?
Well, I have a long list of things I hope to have more time and energy for. From house and yard projects, to volunteering more with some other important organizations, to nurturing relationships with other important people in my life. But I also believe that “only God knows.” Last time I thought I had retired, He threw me a curveball that turned out to be a remarkable 4 years at GHH. Either way, I trust that He continues to have a good plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11), as He does for all my friends who are part of the GHH family.
Thursday, March 24, 2022
WHY I GIVE TO GHH
By Sybil Veldhoff, Administrative Assistant
Recently, Tammy and I drove down the street from the office to Sunset Senior Communities to visit with Gerry Post, a delightful 94 year old woman with a beautiful laugh and smile. Gerry is a joyful supporter of GHH and we had asked if she would be willing to talk with us. We also asked her if she would be willing to let us post what she said onto the GHH blog. Gerry agreed, saying “if it makes people think, if Gerry can do it, then I can do it too!”, meaning if she can be a supporter of GHH, then anyone can!
Gerry (named Geraldine after a relative named Gerrit) is originally from West Olive, MI but moved to Byron Center when she was very young. She grew up there on the family farm on 10 acres of muck during The Great Depression. After she married her husband, who served in the army, they both raised their children in the Wyoming/Jenison area. Later, Gerry enjoyed many years of working and serving at the Jenison High School as a “lunch lady”.
During GHH’s capital campaign to build and staff two additional homes, Gerry was approached by someone who was passionate about GHH to see if she would be willing to give to the campaign, and she has been a faithful giver ever since. When asked why she supports GHH, Gerry has several reasons. She has a soft spot for those with special needs and knows that the residents’ government assistance only covers about half of the rent. Gerry also loves to support local ministries (she is also involved with Crossroads Prison Ministries in Kentwood) and those smaller organizations that don’t get as much big publicity. She appreciates that GHH has low overhead and is a good steward of the gifts received.
Gerry is thankful that she is in a position to help GHH financially, and knows any gift – big or small – has an impact on a small organization like GHH. She encourages others to support local ministries and does a great job of getting GHH brochures into people’s hands.
Tammy and I had a wonderful, encouraging visit with Gerry, who ended the visit by saying, “I want to do some good while I’m here.” What a wonderful outlook on life!
2021 YEAR IN REVIEW / VIDEO
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
This year has been a great year for Georgetown Harmony Homes! The year started in January with continued Covid restrictions, but transformed into a year of going back to jobs, programming, outings, and more normal activities for our residents and staff. Along with any kind of change, there can be challenges, but our residents have risen to the challenge – as seen in the video – filling the year with “fun”, “new skills”, “growth”, and “joy”.
Of course, we could not have a great year without all of the support of those who love GHH and our residents. Our fundraising events of the modified Spring it Forward Luncheon, our first ever 5K Run/Walk-a-thon, our always popular Golf Outing, and our residents’ favorite Bowl-a-thon together raised over $127,000 to support GHH and our mission. We also could not do what we do without other donations of time, money and gifts.
We feel blessed by all of you and we continue to be amazed at how God provides for GHH. Please watch our 2021 Year in Review video, created by our High Meadow Men’s Home Manager, Alicia Overlander, to see and hear how our residents feel about this 2021!
Monday, September 20, 2021
2021 GOLF OUTING FROM THE EYES OF A GHH NEWBIE
by Sybil Veldhoff, GHH Administrative Assistant
I have worked at GHH for about 6 months and part of my job is to be involved in the fundraising events. I was told from the beginning that the golf outing was “the big one.” That was exciting to hear, but at the same time, I thought, “I know nothing about golf!” Brandon did his best to explain what a “scramble” is, but I didn’t really grasp it. Even so, I am going to share some things that I DID learn about GHH’s Charity Golf Classic 2021 at GlenEagle Golf Course in Hudsonville.
Golfers love our residents and our residents love the golfers!
Those that came out to the course that day did not come only to play golf. They were there to support our residents, and in turn, our residents came out to support the golfers. At various holes, residents chatted with, and cheered on those swinging the clubs, which provided the chance to interact with the residents – a favorite part of the day.
Golfers love to golf even in hot weather!
Even though it was very hot and humid – I believe the heat index was at least 100 degrees – the golfers were smiling and excited to get onto the course. That spirit continued throughout the day.
Golfers love to eat!
There were donuts provided while golfers arrived, there were three food stations on the course provided by Distinctive Catering, and there were cookies, cupcakes and ice cream as the golfers finished. I was helping at the auction table and was near the hot dog station. I like hot dogs, but the golfers’ descriptions of the prime rib and the “fall off the stick” chicken kabobs did make me a little envious of those volunteering near those food stations! I also learned that golfers eat chili dogs at 9am!
Golfers are generous!
GHH received donations from many sponsors and individuals throughout the community before the outing, but many golfers donated during the outing as well. Auction and raffle items that included things ranging from $10 gift cards to large gas grills, were fun items for the golfers to try to win. The most popular auction items were the golf packages because, as I learned, golfers like to play even more golf!
I also learned that it takes a lot of work and supporters of GHH to put on a successful golf outing. It was fun to meet so many of those people on that day. And I was told correctly, the golf outing is “the big one,” raising over $60,000 to help the ministry of GHH!
Oh – and one last thing – I learned that Stir It Up bakery, who hires special needs individuals, makes the BEST monster cookies!
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
MEET THE WOMEN OF OUR HIGH MEADOW HOME
If you hear squeals of laughter and see dancing on the front lawn, you’ll know you’ve arrived at the right place.
The High Meadow women’s home certainly is a special residence. Nestled in a quiet suburban neighborhood, across the street from the High Meadow Men’s Home, this is one of GHH’s newest homes. And like all our homes, it was quickly filled with extraordinary people.
Home manager Amanda serves as house mom to Becky, Angele, Annie, Sara, Kylie, and Karlie. As a small sign on their front-room table proclaims, this family welcomes you to their beautiful chaos.
“Laughter is the word for this house,” Amanda shares. “This is a big home filled with big, loving hearts.”
The women here love to stay active. Whether they’re working on crafts in the craft room, playing games, or racing each other on Mario Kart, they love spending time together.
Karlie smiles and says, “My friends here care about me. We play games and watch movies. We have a great life here together.”
The women share in life’s greatest triumphs together and support each other through the difficult times. “They have a built-in support system,” Amanda says. “They help each other and know when someone is having a bad day and needs extra encouragement.”
Sara appreciates that the women, especially Amanda and Annie, help keep her calm and reassure her when nerves or anxiety kick in.
When asked what the women love about their home manager Amanda, they shout, “We love you!” It’s easy to see that their relationships are truly one-of-a-kind.
“She’s amazing and she’s a great friend,” Annie shares. “We even have a special handshake. Kylie calls Amanda her sidekick, and they all agree she’s caring, comforting, and supportive.
When COVID-19 forced the women to stay at home and limited contact with others, Amanda got creative. From baking green pancakes on St. Patrick’s Day, to scheduling beach days, to making tutus for each of the women to wear during a car parade, she found ways to keep their spirits up.
This sisterhood of women are there for each other, lift each other up, and genuinely have fun. When asked to describe each other, here’s what they say:
- Becky: the house giggle-box and a hugger
- Annie: loves telling jokes and is a fish mom
- Kylie: always the entertainer, she loves singing and dancing
- Karlie: is flexible, caring, and always smiling
- Angele: loves crafting with beads, and is adventurous
- Sara: is great at baking and loves video games
- Amanda: is the best house mom!
Friday, May 28, 2021
A note from the GHH Advancement Team
This past year has been one of adjustments. The West Michigan community—and the world at large—adjusted to shutdowns, working from home, virtual schooling, and limited, if any, time with friends and loved ones.
Our GHH community struggled to adjust too. Residents living in our four homes felt isolated at times, volunteer opportunities were limited, and we were forced to get creative with our annual fundraisers. Life felt and looked different.
Breaking through the fog of COVID-19
But as the fog of COVID lifts, and we return to a feeling of normalcy, those of us on the Advancement Team are grateful. We’re grateful our residents and team members are healthy. We’re grateful to our donors, supporters, and families who gave generously. We’re grateful for how we still engaged supporters through a pop can drive, a backyard resident bowl-a-thon, and spring luncheon.
By the Grace of God, we are weathering the COVID-19 storm. And while we celebrate that, we recognize our resources were impacted. Understandably, our annual events didn’t result in the same level of funding as they have in previous years.
Additionally, while we feel blessed that our two new resident homes are fully operational, the added blessing comes with increased needs.
“We rely on the generosity of our families, donors, and community to support GHH, and they have never let us down,” says GHH executive director Art Opperwall. “It was remarkable how they came through for us in the last year, but we are still in a period of recovery.”
Just as we exhibited flexibility during the pandemic, the Advancement Team is continuing to find new ways to creatively engage the community in support of GHH.
Upcoming fundraising opportunities
“This year, we’re excited to add a 5K run/walk on June 5 at Heritage Christian School,” Advancement Team chair Tammy Schnyders shares. “We hope this event attracts a new category of supporters who GHH hasn’t had the pleasure of connecting with before.”
Tammy says it’s amazing how supportive people and organizations are when they hear about the mission of GHH. “It’s revitalizing to experience the love people have for our residents. When we take that leap and reach out, God provides for us. He’s shown this over and over.”
This year, GHH is also celebrating its 20th anniversary! The Advancement Team hopes this celebratory season creates additional opportunities for the community to give of their time and resources. There’s never been a better moment to support GHH and our mission to provide loving, Christ-like homes for men and women with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The Advancement Team also welcomes new suggestions from the community. “It’s incredibly heartwarming when organizations come to us with ideas,” says Tammy. “If your organization, Bible study, or group is looking for a cause to support, we encourage you to consider GHH. That support can be in the form of volunteers, a mini-fundraiser, or a donation. We wholeheartedly appreciate any effort that helps spread the good news of GHH and our mission.”
Following the June 5th 5K run/walk, we’re looking forward to another exciting Charity Golf Classic on August 20. For those interested in sponsorships, we invite you to visit our website for opportunities.
GHH wouldn’t be the thriving community it is without our supporters. We also know none of our fundraising events would be possible without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers. We are truly thankful for all you do.
Our entire team and our residents can’t wait for the day when we can show you our appreciation face to face. Until then, blessings and love from the entire Advancement Team!
Advancement Team Members
WHY WE WORK AT GHH: RESIDENT LIVING ASSISTANTS
Saturday, May 1, 2021
There’s no question that our residents are talented, genuine, and compassionate individuals. They exude kindness and remind us to find joy in life’s simple moments. But we feel the exact same way about our resident living assistants (RLAs) too!
Our RLAs are remarkable individuals whose selflessness and generosity have immeasurable value at GHH.
WHAT IS A RESIDENT LIVING ASSISTANT (RLA)?
RLAs serve full-time or part-time in our residential homes. They have duties like helping cook meals, cleaning, transporting residents, and administering medications. But ask the RLAs and they’ll tell you the “work” is anything but work.
“I feel like I’m hanging out with friends,” Laurel explains. “I love the residents so much, and now I can’t imagine life without them.”
During a typical shift, the RLAs help facilitate the family-like atmosphere GHH is known for. They also help the residents problem solve, complete their chores, and have a great time!
“Sometimes the residents are in their rooms and I’m just hanging out,” says Matt. “Other times we’re all being rowdy, playing games, or watching TV together.”
“Occasionally you have to act as a referee,” Maddie jokes. “The residents are like siblings and sometimes they’ll bicker like siblings do. But just like a family, they love each other.”
In the warmer months RLAs spend time with residents outside and make campfires. Sometimes the homes gather together for special events and holidays.
THE JOYS OF RLA LIFE
Each of our RLAs will tell you they derive so much joy from their work. Not just because their job involves hanging out and having fun, but because of how the residents impact their lives.
“The men I serve are truly helpful, giving, and selfless,” Matt shares. “They care about each other, and they care about us too.”
Matt has been working as an RLA for 13 years. “There are other jobs I’ve had where I knew when it was time to move on, but I’ve never felt that at GHH. It’s because of the men, the other staff members, and the organization itself.”
RLAs say the residents are incredibly intuitive, and if you’re having a bad day coming into the home, you certainly won’t feel that way when you leave.
“By the end of my weekend shift I’m always smiling,” Laurel says. “I don’t know what it is about them, but they infuse joy in your heart.”
“They are all such kind, supportive, and helpful individuals,” Maddie adds. “They are able to turn your day around without even trying.”
Jillian is an RLA and an occupational therapy student at GVSU. She cherishes the time she spends with the residents.
“I am able to experience life right alongside the residents,” she says. “We get to experience new things together.”
As an RLA, you also have the privilege of being a listening ear. “I can help the men manage their relationships with their family, church, and friends,” Matt shares. “I’m able to validate their feelings and give them practical advice about how to handle different situations.”
A MESSAGE TO FUTURE GHH RLA’S
Currently, GHH has openings for full-time and part-time RLAs. While the work may involve sacrificing some evenings and weekends, RLAs say it’s absolutely worth it.
“You have so much fun and can use your strengths to teach the residents new things,” says Matt. “Some people do things like that for fun and as an RLA you get paid to do it!”
New RLAs will find they leave each day with more love in their heart than when they came in. “Your heart will be opened more than you ever thought possible,” says Maddie. “You’ll gain new perspectives, learn to appreciate the simple things, and the work will change your life for the better.”
Jillian adds, “If you’re looking for a job that doesn’t feel like work, this is where you want to be. I never feel like I don’t want to go into work. I look forward to it.”
GHH CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY: A LOOK BACK AT HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Monday, March 29, 2021
This year GHH celebrates its 20th anniversary. What an incredible milestone! It was 20 years ago that Phil and Sheila Roach had the idea to build something wonderful for adults experiencing disabilities. Inspired by their daughter Julie—who became GHH’s first resident—they took a leap of faith, and it paid off.
“We never envisioned that GHH would grow to what it is now,” Sheila says. “We just wanted a home for Julie that we were proud of and was safe. What a blessing it is that GHH has become that safe place for so many others like Julie.”
In the beginning
As Phil and Sheila reflect back on the start of GHH, they admit, it was absolutely terrifying. “We knew nothing about building an organization,” Phil shares with a laugh. “We had to apply for a non-profit license and had no idea what we were getting into. We had to create a business plan with estimated costs and salaries. We were pulling numbers out of thin air! But by the grace of God, the numbers worked, and our submission went through.”
Sheila recalls the difficult decisions they had to make and the resources they needed, and how none of that would have been possible without the generosity of others.
“So many people helped us along the way,” she says. “One man from the State of Michigan was incredibly helpful as we filled out critical paperwork. Pastor Joe Vugteveen gave us support and encouragement when we doubted. Churches we reached out to reached back with open arms. So many others provided advice, a listening ear, funds, and donations. GHH wouldn’t be here without them.”
And, of course, Julie was right there beside them too. She assisted with fundraising efforts, spoke to donors, provided input during the building process, and was there to celebrate the grand opening of the first women’s home.
Looking back on 20 years of service
Phil and Sheila say they are amazed at how far GHH has come in the last 20 years. “We feel so blessed, thankful, humble, and ecstatic,” says Phil. “It’s also been wonderful for us to step back and let others use their gifts and share in the success of GHH.”
The couple feels so proud to have created something that’s been a lifeline for so many. GHH is the safe, supportive home they always wanted it to be.
“The residents are a family, and they take care of each other. That’s so rewarding to see,” says Sheila. “Parents can feel secure knowing their loved one has the support of a community that will be there even when they’re not.”
Sheila remembers when Phil had a heart attack years ago, and what a relief it was that Julie had her GHH family during that time. “They wrapped their arms around her and helped her through that difficult time. Because of GHH, I didn’t have to choose whether to be with Julie or Phil. I could be with my husband and know Julie was taken care of. What a tremendous blessing that was.”
A future of possibilities
Even though Phil and Sheila say they never anticipated growing to four homes, they now see the potential to build even more.
“GHH has become the gold standard of group homes,” Phil says proudly. “I pray that we continue to be that beacon for families in the future. We’ve been blessed with so many fantastic people on the board, past presidents, staff, and home managers. I hope we continue to bring in the same dedicated and honorable people in the years to come.”
With continued growth on the horizon, the couple prays GHH stays true to its mission of creating homes versus institutions. What makes GHH so unique is that the homes are integrated into neighborhoods and feel like homes.
“We’re called Georgetown Harmony Homes because our homes are in harmony with the houses around them. Our residents are in harmony with their neighbors. That’s what makes it so special, and we hope to preserve that,” Phil says.
Phil and Sheila want to thank the GHH staff for their contributions to making the organization what it is today. “The staff is absolutely wonderful. They go above and beyond for the residents and continually do more than what’s asked of them. We are so appreciative!”
Gratitude and thankfulness rush over the couple as they reflect on what GHH has become and what it will continue to be. With tears in his eyes, Phil concludes, “I can die with a smile on my face knowing that we’ve made a positive impact not only on Julie’s life but on so many others. That really means something.”
Meet the men of our Sagerose Men's Home
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
It doesn’t take long for the laughs and strong sense of humor to emerge when talking to the men in our Sagerose men’s home. Whether they’re talking about their love for the ladies, passion for sports teams, or favorite pets, their kindness and warmth are evident within minutes. This is a group of men who truly enjoy each other’s company and appreciate the lighthearted and fun moments in life.
We’d like to introduce you to the exceptional Sagerose men’s home residents: Jason, John, Ken, Michael, Ross, and Todd, along with their home manager Jodi.
Strong sense of family
Some of the men who live here have been a part of GHH since the very beginning. That means, for more than a decade, GHH has been their home. It’s a place where they spend time together as a family, learn life skills, explore their faith, and live independently.
“The care that this group of guys has for each other is so real,” says GHH assistant director—and former Sagerose men’s home manager—Brandon Folkert. “When I served as the home manager here, they were my second family. And that’s what they continue to be for each other.”
Jodi DeLange is the group’s new home manager and already feels like part of the family. The daily routine of waking up and enjoying breakfast together, then hanging out in the evenings, is special. The men say what they love most about Jodi is her caring spirit.
“She’s the coolest,” Ross shares.
This group of guys also enjoys a clean, well-maintained home. Todd takes pride in shoveling the driveway this time of year, and he enjoys it. He also loves organization and putting things where they belong. Ross strives to keep his room and the rest of the home clean, and always volunteers to help.
The men all have full, rich lives outside of the home as well. They volunteer, go to work, spend time with their families, and participate in activities. “I love going to sporting events like Griffins, Whitecaps, and high school/college games,” John says.
Believe it or not, this isn’t a house divided when it comes to college athletics. In a community that’s typically split between Michigan State and University of Michigan fans, all six men cheer on the Michigan Wolverines!
In a series of rapid-fire questions, we asked the men to tell us a little bit more about themselves.
Q: Who is the funniest?
Q: Who has the best laugh?
Q: Who is the best cook?
A: Ken (he makes great cinnamon rolls)
Q: Who gives the best hugs?
Q: Who always makes you feel special and loved?
Q: Who is the most organized?
A: It’s a tie between Ross and Todd
Each of the six men at the Sagerose home have their unique set of gifts, talents, and qualities. They are valued and loved members of the GHH community, who remind us every day how precious and beautiful life is.
Home Manager Feature: Brandon Folkert
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Brandon Folkert, who has served as home manager at the Sagerose men’s home since 2014, has a very unique perspective on his seven years. That’s because he was just named Associate Director of GHH and will take over that role in January, bringing his time at Sagerose to an end. We congratulate him!
“GHH is such a good place for me to work, and I am thankful I can continue to serve the organization in this new role,” Brandon says.
But before he officially makes the transition, Brandon shared with us his thoughts and memories of his time as a home manager. It’s a career he never envisioned himself stepping into, but it has become his life’s calling.
“I was actually on the path to becoming a youth pastor,” Brandon shares. “When I graduated from Hope College I took a job at a group home in Holland. Then, when I saw the job posting for a home manager at GHH, I felt like God was leading me into that job. Seven years later, I’m still here! And God has continued to open doors for me at GHH.”
Brandon’s commitment to GHH goes far beyond his work. In 2015, he married the love of his life and they started that life together at the Sagerose men’s home. Home managers live at the homes in attached apartments, so Brandon and his wife quickly gained six new family members.
“The guys really do become your family,” he says. “They are our housemates, and we’ve gotten to know them so well. It’s a very unique experience for a married couple to go through together, and we wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
Daily life at the men’s home has been a source of joy for Brandon. Seeing the men learn new skills and expand their impact in the community makes him feel proud.
“The men are learning to cook and bake, and it makes them so happy to share the fruits of their labor. Being a small part of teaching them these skills is incredibly rewarding.”
Brandon says the men have a strong desire to serve the community whether at their jobs or through volunteering. They are excited to contribute to the community around them, and GHH is committed to helping them do that.
Walking alongside the men to foster spiritual growth is another highlight of Brandon’s work at GHH. “They are living out their faith everyday with each other,” Brandon says. “They have this deep caring and love for one another and it’s inspiring.”
The men of Sagerose have taught Brandon so much in his time as a home manger. They’ve taught him to appreciate the small things and slowdown in life.
“The outside world moves so fast, but these guys teach me to stop and smell the roses—to use a tired cliché. But it’s true. I’ve learned to take things one day at a time and to enjoy life’s simple joys. Most importantly, these men remind us to always treat people with respect and dignity no matter where they are in life.”
As Brandon prepares to move out of the men’s home, he prays the men continue to grow in love and faith with their new home manager.
“I hope as a group they continue to get along, serve together, and build an inclusive community. I pray they become more independent as individuals and less reliant on the staff. They have that potential, and I know they’re capable of realizing it.”
Brandon’s not going far, and he’s grateful he can continue to serve GHH. “I’ve been praying that God would lead me to the right place to work, and He certainly did that. I can’t wait to continue fulfilling the mission God has for GHH in serving these remarkable residents.”
Donor Feature: Roger Vanderheide
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
One of the beautiful things we’ve noticed about GHH volunteers, donors, and supporters is that once they get involved, they stay involved for many years. Our residents and their families immediately capture people’s hearts and build lifelong connections.
Roger Vanderheide is one of those people. He has been a supporter of GHH since the beginning, and we are grateful for his continued commitment to our mission. Roger is the CEO of Lumbermen’s, a national building material distributor and manufacturer of a wide variety of construction products. Lumbermen’s is headquartered in Grand Rapids and employs approximately 500 people in our community and across the Midwest.
“From a very young age, I developed strong compassion for people with developmental disabilities,” Roger shares. “From grade school and on into adulthood, I’ve remained close with many people with cognitive and physical challenges, and these relationships are very meaningful to me.”
One such friendship brought Roger to GHH when we sought to build our first home in 2005. “Lumbermen’s was able to connect GHH with resources they needed to equip the first men’s home,” Roger recalls. “We also supplied products like kitchen cabinets and decking, which allowed the organization to allocate funds toward other necessities. Since then, we’ve continued to assist GHH with the construction of their homes.”
Additionally, Roger, his family, and Lumbermen’s employees have participated in many GHH fundraisers over the years. “We’ve attended bowl-a-thons, golf outings, and luncheons. And we count it as a privilege and a blessing to be involved with GHH.”
It’s Lumbermen’s mission to give a percentage of income to non-profit and community organizations. It’s something the company and its employees value and feel passionate about.
“Organizations like GHH fulfill a critical need in our community. The staff, volunteers, and families go above and beyond to care for the residents,” Roger says. “Everyone at GHH has such a strong commitment, and we are honored to walk alongside them in support.”
Roger says he could tell a million stories about GHH residents, the impact they’ve had on him, and the fun times they’ve shared. “I remember one open-house event where a resident came up to me and gave me a big hug. These men and women are so genuine, caring, and loving. They’re so thankful for their homes and the second families they’ve built within them. GHH is an organization I would encourage both businesses and individuals alike to support.”
Meet the women of our 10th Avenue home
Monday, November 23, 2020
Built in 2005, the 10th Avenue women’s home was Georgetown Harmony Homes inaugural adult group home. Located in a safe, quiet residential neighborhood in Georgetown Township, this building is home to six exceptional women and beloved house manager Cara.
In this article, we’re giving you an inside look at the lives of our 10th Ave. women’s home residents and the fellowship they share.
A second family
“We’re like a family. I don’t have any sisters in my immediate family, but in this home, I have five sisters,” says Abby, one of the residents in the women’s home.
Home manager Cara says she’s grateful for what each of the women has brought into her life. “These women are my family, and they teach me so much. What I get in return is so much more than what I am able to contribute.”
You can feel the camaraderie and connections immediately at the 10th Ave. home. These women take care of each other, support each other, and work together for the good of the group.
While each woman has her own bedroom and half-bath, they share living spaces, a laundry facility, and a kitchen. Together, they split up daily chores to keep the home clean and picked up, and to ensure everyone is fed.
“All of us chip in together and everyone is willing and helpful,” Cara shares. “We operate just like any family.”
Operating like a family means that even when there are disagreements, they still respect each other. “We always fix the problem, say we’re sorry, and offer forgiveness.”
A sense of togetherness and individuality
There is a true feeling of togetherness among the women here. They are individuals with unique talents, gifts, and personalities, but as a group there is so much love, compassion, and friendship. The women all eat together for supper, they volunteer together, gather outside for bonfires and games, and visit with the residents of the three other homes.
“We all get along and it’s fun to hang out here,” Becky, a resident, comments.
“One of the most impactful activities we do together is devotions,” says Cara. “We’re able to come together and talk openly and honestly as a family.”
Another activity the women love is going to the nearby Dollar Tree where they love hunting for good deals. Cara laughs and says the visits are a good lesson in buying what you need versus what you want.
On their own, the women enjoy watching TV, playing music, exercising, being creative, and relaxing in their rooms.
Adjusting to a new normal
Just as every person around the world has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our residents have felt it too. Jobs have been affected, volunteer opportunities can be difficult to find, and many in-person events have been canceled.
These adjustments have been difficult for residents, but they’ve remained resilient. They’ve learned how important community really is during this time. “When you can’t be around people, you’re more thankful for the times when you can,” Abby shares.
Because family members and friends aren’t allowed in the homes at this time, residents and GHH staff have had to get creative and think outside the box. Some volunteer opportunities now happen within the home instead of outside of it. Annual fundraising events have happened in isolation instead of in large groups. Everyone is doing her part to stay healthy and protect each other from the virus.
GHH has so much to be thankful for during this time. Donors and community members have stepped up to provide critical support and funds, and residents have graciously adjusted routines and plans. As the holiday season approaches, the women are considering what they are most thankful for. Their list includes family, friends, GHH staff and board members, each other, and residents in the other homes.
Board Member Feature: Lois Knooihuizen
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
At GHH we are so grateful for the enduring support of our board members. They give of their time, resources and skills and are committed to the well-being of each one of our residents. We’re taking the opportunity to highlight one of our board members, Lois Knooihuizen. She shares with us why she’s made the GHH board her home for the last four years.
Like every single staff member, volunteer and board member with GHH, I have a heart for those living with disabilities. Before retiring, I was a special education teacher for many years, and I have a family member with a cognitive disability. So, upon my retirement, the director of GHH—whom I had worked with professionally—approached me and asked if I was interested in joining the board. It was a natural transition, and I saw this work as an opportunity to use my gifts and talents to advance God’s Kingdom.
My four-year tenure on the board has been an extraordinary adventure. We initiated and completed a capital campaign, built and furnished two new homes and doubled the size of our organization. The fact that all of this was accomplished in that short amount of time is incredible. A tremendous amount of hours, prayer and coordination went into making this happen, and I’m deeply thankful for the contributions of so many.
While accomplishments, like the building of new homes, are rewarding, I am passionate about this organization because of its unrelenting commitment to its residents. GHH is unique in that we don’t exist to force care on our residents, we instead nurture independence and provide them with enriching experiences. Our residents don’t just live in the Georgetown Township community, they participate in it. They volunteer with non-profits and work in local businesses. Their life and experiences extend well beyond the walls of our homes.
What makes GHH truly unique is that it’s built on a solid Christian foundation. We are all created in God’s image, we’re part of the family of God and we have valuable gifts to give. We recognize those gifts in our residents. We know when they are able to use those gifts, it not only benefits them, it brings honor to God. Each of us has something special to contribute to the Kingdom of God, and that’s what GHH tries to uncover in the lives of its residents.
I am very excited for what’s to come at GHH! I look forward to reimagining how we provide direction and leadership for an organization that has doubled in size. What started as a dream to serve a few families has developed into a thriving community. While we’re still catching our breath from the last few years, we’re hopeful for what God calls us to next. We know there is an urgent need in the community for more homes for adults with disabilities, and we’re considering our role in addressing that need.
If you are looking for an organization to get involved with, we would love to welcome you into GHH. Consider volunteering, donating, applying for one of our available positions or joining me on the GHH board.
2020 Charity Golf Classic
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Thank you to everyone who made our 2020 Charity Golf Classic a tremendous success! It took a lot of planning, hard work and prayer, but we raised more than $50,000. What a blessing!
We are truly thankful for all of our sponsors, volunteers, residents and golfers who supported GHH, especially during this very challenging year. “We went into the Charity Golf Classic thinking it was going to be a slow year,” says event co-chair Tammy Schnyders. “We said we would do our best, but we didn’t set high expectations. In the end, we were blown away! 144 golfers, 36 full teams and 83 sponsors joined us.”
Even though efforts were made to encourage social distancing and no enclosed indoor spaces were used, we couldn’t have been happier with how it all worked out. The uniqueness of serving lunch and desserts out on the golf course was met with overwhelming positivity.
The Charity Golf Classic is our biggest fundraiser every year, and this year’s event even more so. To protect our residents and community from the spread of COVID-19, we were unable to hold our Spring it Forward Luncheon, and some upcoming 2020 events are still in question. While we received generous support through our first ever virtual Walk-a-Thon in April and a pop can drive, we prayed the community would really rally around the Golf Classic. And they did!
As we reflect on God’s faithfulness through the 2020 Charity Golf Classic, we’d like to share with the community how this event came to be. In May of 2014, right after the Spring It Forward Luncheon, we started discussing the expansion of GHH’s ability to serve and house residents in Ottawa County. Joanne Jesnek, now GHH’s Charity Golf Classic co-chair, says, “I shared my vision with GHH’s director at the time, and that vision was to build more homes. A fire burned deep inside me to find a way to raise money.”
From there, the idea of a golf outing blossomed and the inaugural Charity Golf Classic kicked off in August of 2014. “We started the planning for this fundraiser with a hope and lots of prayer,” Jesnek admits. “But I knew it would be the beginning of something wonderful. That first year we had 54 golfers and raised around $8,000. We were thrilled! In 2015, our golf outing grew to 100 golfers, and by 2016 we hit a full course outing with 144 golfers. We raised over $30,000 that year.”
Since then, the Charity Golf Classic has received support and resources from dozens of local businesses, community organizations and individuals, and has raised more than $200,000. “So many people are involved every year in making this event come to life,” Schnyders says. “We couldn’t do this without their generosity, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”
GHH board vice president shares son’s inspiring story
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
There is nothing we cherish more than the smiling faces of our residents. Their physical, spiritual, social and emotional needs are our number one priorities, and each of our homes is designed with those priorities in mind. If we could, we’d shower love upon every adult living with developmental disabilities in West Michigan and provide each of them a safe home at Georgetown Harmony Homes. Even though that’s not possible now, we know that God is working through each individual in remarkable ways wherever they are.
According to the CDC, 6 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability. Nearly 7% struggle with living independently. It’s our goal at GHH to meet this urgent need, and because of the high demand for developmentally disabled adult homes, we are at capacity. GHH receives an average of one request per week from families hoping to place a loved one in a home. We have families who have had a loved one on our waiting list for three years or more.
In fact, most area adult residential facilities like GHH have waiting lists. It’s very challenging for families. Those who are very proactive start applying to homes when their child is still in his or her early teens, and the minimum age for admission is 18. Because of long wait lists, we are not looking for additional residents, instead we want to raise awareness of how important it is for the community to support the critical work happening here.
When our first home opened in 2005, GHH made a commitment to raise funds in order to keep the homes affordable for families. Most residents are eligible for some government benefits (most commonly SSI), which go to GHH as rent. Our total budget divided by the number of residents is about $2,500 per month, per resident. However, the government benefits only average about $900-$1,200 per month. So, we must make up the difference of more than 50% of our operating costs.
I am the mother of an adult who lives at GHH, and I am also vice president of the GHH board. Years ago, there weren’t options for adult community living like there are now. You simply kept your child in the home until you couldn’t anymore. But once these men and women reach their 20s, they want independence. They see siblings and friends going off to college and working, and they want that life too. That’s how my son felt. Organizations like GHH and others in communities across the nation are key to providing that independence.
Most of the adults who live at GHH are high-functioning individuals. They do their own laundry, cook and help with the cleaning. Many also have jobs or regularly volunteer. My son loves his life at GHH! He has his independence, and I have peace knowing his life is being enriched and that he’s thriving. It’s very important for residents to feel like they have control of their own life and can make their own decisions.
I invited you to watch this video to learn more about the abundant life residents, like my son, have at GHH.
If our story touches your heart and inspires you, there are a number of ways you can support our residents at GHH. We have wish list items, mentor opportunities, volunteer openings and other ways to share your time, resources and talents. See how you can get involved today!