Posted by & filed under General, News, Programs / Services.

Guest Blogger: Jane W. – Youth Caseworker

I am sitting at my desk on a Monday morning, and thinking back over the past couple of weeks. I realize that we have been exceptionally busy.  A new class of GED students, a new cohort of the Culinary Leadership Academy (CLA), and a new paid externship for one student at the Community Media Center.  Starting always requires extra effort: enrollment paperwork needs to be filled out, documents need to be copied, schedules outlined, and relationships built. So starting all of them means we were juggling a lot more balls than normal.

Once a month, Steepletown welcomes new GED students. We have what is considered continuous enrollment, which is unique in the GED world; however, it offers students the chance to re-start when they are ready and when they need to.  Everyone coming to Steepletown’s GED Program has met some kind of road block in regards to their education: traditional or alternative high schools haven’t worked; family or personal crises have blown their worlds apart; culture or language add a layer of difficulty their capability to learn; a family’s lack of emotional or mental resources let them down; and the types of coping strategies chosen by young adults have a cause and effect that is unforeseen by them.  Regardless of why and how they have arrived at this roadblock, they need a re-start. They deserve a re-start.  Most likely they will need several re-starts, which is the beauty of continuous enrollment.  They have the opportunity to re-start without having to wait, because waiting is just one more roadblock.

At least three times a year, a new CLA cohort forms.  Whenever a student who has met program and educational goals and shows a spark of interest in something – anything – that could become a career, we work to set up externships.  Why? Because for young adults, a road block in their education means a road block to a job or a career, which is road block to the rest of their lives.  So when young adults are studying for their GED, we want to hook them into career exploration and job training.  That is why Steepletown keeps building partnerships to provide sector specific training (see SECTOR SPECIFIC TRAININGS blog). It is also why Steepletown provides opportunities such as the Elevating Voices workshop (see ELEVATING VOICES blog).  We want to preempt another roadblock.

So, I guess I’m hoping for more busy weeks.  So, check back here to keep updated on what is happening.  Maybe follow our tweets, or come to the Five Star Fish Fry and become a partner in this work!

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Today another group of underemployed and unemployed adults begin a five-week industrial sewing training here at the Steepletown Center.   This initiative is largely the brain-child and passion of Camille Metzger, owner of Blue Marble Threads.  Camille moved her business into the Steepletown Center about four years ago.  Over the past couple years she has been telling me about the need for a trained workforce in this industry, so I connected her with GRCC’s Director of Workforce Training at the Tassell M-TEC.  That conversation and some initial grant funding led to the launch of the industrial sewing training last October.  And it has received tremendous reviews ever since!  Read the article featuring Camille from M-Live

One of Steepletown’s GED students was part of the initial group that was trained in the fall.  While her current focus is on completing the GED, she plans on pursuing a career in the fashion business and also plans on using the training she received to attain employment and further her skills.  With literally thousands of young adults in Kent County who have not completed high school, this strategy to integrate GED completion with sector specific training is greatly needed.

A similar initiative is the Culinary Leadership Academy at Steepletown.  Working under the guidance and instruction of Kitchen Sage’s Chef Tommy FitzGerald and Chef Justin Stermin, those in the CLA have the opportunity to earn their ServSafe certification, earn a stipend while in the training, and finish with an externship at a local restaurant, leading to full-time employment.  While the young adult may not end up as the head chef at one of Greg Gilmore’s establishments, the skills, confidence, and social network that will be gained are invaluable to what lies ahead.  The CLA is currently accepting applications for the next cohort; check out the Culinary Leadership Academy for more information.

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Guest Blogger – Erika Purcell-Williams

The rent is due. Another bill comes in the mail. Your phone won’t stop ringing with calls from bill collectors. On top of all that, you still need to fill up your gas tank while prices are low. What’s next?  Although balancing utility bills and rent can be a bit overwhelming at times, there are different methods you could use to help you manage all your bills each month. Check out a few simple tips below that will help you balance your bills…and help you maintain your sanity:

  1. Prepare early: Collect all of your bills from the past month and add up the total amount you owe (that’s right, find your bills from DTE, Consumers Energy, Comcast, your phone service provider- everyone that sends you a bill on a monthly basis.) Add all those bills together. Make sure that you set aside that total amount of money by the end of each month. This will ensure you that you will have enough money to make payments towards all of your bills for the upcoming month.
  2. Apply for assistance programs. There are many programs available, but in order to learn about them, you have to start by applying for assistance. The first stop? The Department of Human Services, known as DHS. You can apply for various assistance programs online using the “MI BRIDGES” application.  Check out this link for further information:
  3. Enroll into payment plans with your utility provider. Many utility companies offer payment plans for low-income customers; you may want to call their Customer Service hotlines to ask about this option and learn whether or not you could quality for a cost reduction.
  4. Don’t wait to ask for help! There are a number of assistance programs available throughout Kent County; some are public (anyone living in Kent County can access them) and some are private (you have to meet special criteria in order to receive the help). However, timing is the most important factor! Don’t wait until you receive a shut-off notice, a week before a bill’s due date, or days before rent is due to ask for help. Start applying for assistance programs as soon as you learn about them. Remember, many programs receive HUNDREDS of applications throughout the year; make sure you give yourself a chance to receive assistance by applying as soon as you can.

While these steps are simple and straightforward, following through with these steps by making calls and asking about assistance programs as early as possible may lead to great financial savings, reduce your stress, and could make managing your monthly bills much easier. Any questions? Stop by the First Floor Front Office at Steepletown Neighborhood Services and talk with Sarah, Shirley or Dennis to learn about assistance programs in your area.  You can also dial 2-1-1 on your phone for other assistance information.

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Guest Blogger – Jane Wolterstorff

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day can be a conundrum for the HOY program.  The natural inclination of our students is to follow the school schedules that take two weeks off from studying during the holiday season.  Since the GED prep program at Steepletown is not a traditional school, we know learning can take place every day and we are committed to providing as many learning opportunities as possible.  So, the Youth Advocates and the Educational Coordinator put their heads together and decided to run some special events.

A Holiday Open House in the GED Lab was set for Monday December 29, during regular lab hours:  9:00 am to Noon and 4:00 – 6:00 pm.  The students were invited and encouraged to bring their families with them to decorate and eat cookies along with apple juice or hot chocolate.  Many students and their families had received Thanksgiving and Christmas Gift Baskets from The Parish of the Holy Spirit, so thank you cards were made from construction paper, glue, stickers, and markers.  It was amazing to see the students’ drawings along with the delightful scribbles of their little ones. If all that wasn’t fun enough, out came Apples to Apples, a game described as “hilarious, surprising and outrageous comparisons from a wide range of people, places, things and events.”  Although playing the game was fun, loud, and competitive, it also provided a wonderful opportunity to see the students’ personalities and senses of humor on display due to the relaxed atmosphere.  Because the game is filled with nouns, verbs, vocabulary, and synonyms a whole lot of fun learning was taking place without their realizing it.

Tuesday December 30th during lab hours, the students created their very own Roadmap to Success by drawing or using Microsoft Office to set goals for studying and completing the four tests that lead to earning their GED Certificate. Does that sound a little bit like a New Year’s Resolution?

All in all, the two days of special events turned out to keep many students engaged in learning in a fun, relaxed manner as well as deepening the relationships among all of us.

15-12 GED Blog-2 15-12 GED Blog-3 15-12 GED Blog-4 15-12 GED Blog-1

Posted by & filed under General, HOY News, News.

Guest Blogger – Melanie

Unique Film Opportunities

The Community Media Center (CMC) and Steepletown Neighborhood Services partnered together to implement a project called Elevating Voices. Jen VanderHeide, Elevating Voices Project Coordinator, and some of Steepletown’s staff member’s organized a week long opportunity for the Honoring Our Youth (HOY) participants. The events were scheduled for Mon. Dec. 8 – Thurs. Dec. 11 to meet for 2 hours each day. Also that week, we welcomed our December group of new HOY participants; coincidence or not? The decision to merge the two groups, and have our new participants launch into a project right away, yielded a great outcome!

On Monday, our new participants were prompted by, “What’s your story?” to generate some brainstorming about a message they wanted to share with the community. Then, they were briefed on the current Hollywood industry. Students were taught “Techniques of Interviewing” in preparation for the following day when the interviews took place. Tuesday, the students learned to use the tripod and the video camera and began directing their stories on film with some technical assistance provided by Gretchen Vinnedge from the CMC. Wednesday and Thursday were exciting days as the students crafted their masterpieces using editing software, Final Cut Pro, on MacBooks brought in by the CMC.

This project was a unique opportunity for our participants. Steepletown has had a video published in the past that shares our students’ stories,  but these four videos were written, directed, edited, and produced by pairs of participants new to Steepletown. Not only did our participants enjoy the project but it gave the staff an opportunity to see the creativeness and personalities of each individual. That’s not always something we get to experience the first week of working with new participants. To see the finished product of the four students click on their name

Barbara                      Jacob                      Jessica                      Nubia

The students were also connected with an opportunity outside of Steepletown. Gretchen invited each of our participants to join the Youth Channel of Grand Rapids and several have expressed interest in meeting with this group every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month. We look forward to these participants joining their community in sharing information that is important to them. A great big thank you is extended to the Elevating Voices through the CMC; Jen VanderHeide and Gretchen Vonnedge especially!


14-12 Elevating-Voices-WEB

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On Christmas morning I’m in the kitchen washing the dishes and the radio played Amy Grant’s Song, “Grown-Up Christmas List”.  The words really hit home as I was thinking about the situation of a long-time Steepletown employee whose son was killed by gunfire just a few days before Christmas.  Another senseless loss of a young life who had so much wisdom and love to share with others.

”No more lives torn apart,
And wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.”

This thought was juxtaposed with the recent memory of Jerry the Flower Guy’s memorial celebration which took place at Fifth Street last week Monday, December 22nd.  He died quite suddenly a couple weeks ago of cancer. His life was heralded as redefining what it means to be a street-wise entrepreneur.  I was struck by the very simple yet extra-ordinary journey of his life, as he was known to be quite a “dumpster diver” in search of flowers that still had joy to bring to others.  And with his five-gallon bucket in hand he would journey into area West Side businesses to bring laughter, a smile, and simple friendship.

“And every one would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end.”

As we put away the Christmas decorations and find ourselves flipping the calendar to 2015 there might be a tendency to think about those things we didn’t get for Christmas this year. Yet its true meaning lives on in our lives every day, in actions that bring about healing, hope and friendship. This is Steepletown’s Grownup Christmas List.

Holiday Cover

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As we are celebrating the Advent & Holiday season and looking forward to Christmas, we should also start to get ready for the Tax Season.  Now, don’t go “Bah, Humbug!”  Organize the information and you’ll find it’s easier to get things around.  Use “MONEY IN” and “MONEY OUT” to help you get organized and then review the “NEEDED DOCUMENTS”.  Take these and any other documents you get (though they may not listed here), with you when you get your taxes prepared.  Your Tax Preparation Person will be happy you were organized.



Like it sounds – money you get in throughout the year.  Here are a few for examples:  W-2’s, 1099’s, Interest Statements from Bank Accounts, Dividends, Retirement Income, Social Security, Disability Income, Gambling Winnings, Unemployment Income, State & FIA Payments and so on…



Again, like it sounds – money you spend that goes towards taxes throughout the year.  Here are a few for example: Heating Gas Paid for Year (for Home Heating Credit), Rent Paid for Year (for Property Tax Credit – know all addresses, landlord names & phone #’s, amount you paid and dates), Property Taxes Paid (for Property Tax Credit), Health Insurance Payments for the year (the amount that you actually paid), Student Loan Interest, College Tuition Paid, Medicare Payments for Parts C & D and so on…


NEEDED DOCUMENTS for your 2014 Tax Return – Be sure to bring the following:

Picture ID (DL, State ID Card, Passport)

Social Security Card for you and your dependents

2013 Tax Return (Last Year’s)

December Gas Bill

Summer & Winter Tax Bill (Homeowners)

All W-2’s

All 1099’s

If you are filing with your spouse, make sure you both are there at the appointment to sign the electronic filing authorization.

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There are many reasons to give thanks this time of year, one being the amazing generosity of those who make sure the needs of others are met during this time of year. The parishioners of Holy Spirit Catholic Church once again provided 50 food baskets and gift certificates for families of Steepletown’s preschool and GED program. These were handed out on Monday to many grateful families. Over the past couple days, Tommy and Justin at Kitchen Sage “cooked up” an amazing act of kindness and generosity as well. They invited the summer graduates and current students of the Culinary Leadership Academy to join them at Kitchen Sage to prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner to take home and be enjoyed by their own families on Thanksgiving Day. Tommy introduced these up-and-coming chefs on how to prepare his grandmother’s famous stuffing among other traditional recipes. What a great way to express a life filled with gratitude!


Past & Current Culinary Arts Students Cooking Away

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Had a great experience this weekend with a bunch of nerds accelerating our website to being easy to use!

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History Blog

Guest Blogger – Kate

On October 13th five employees from Chemical Bank joined Steepletown as part of their annual Community Cares Day.  The day began with a powerful message from the President of Chemical Bank who spoke on the bank’s core value of community immersion.   As he stated, service is ingrained within the culture of the bank and its employees.   Steepletown would offer a resounding “AMEN!” to this message, as I continue to be amazed and grateful for the willingness of our local Chemical Bank friends to get involved in the efforts of Steepletown.  This year Kathy, Dave, Christine, Cynthia and Sofia helped out over at Steepletown’s Preschool.  In the morning they hung-out in the two classrooms, reading to the kids, assisting during “play-time”, and generally finding that the kids have far more energy then them (accept for perhaps Kathy!).   In the afternoon they put together the storage cubbies in which the children place their items during the day.   A BIG thanks to our friends at Chemical Bank.

Employees from Chemical Bank helping out at Preschool