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!