Street Talk: Fear of failure? Not for these people


Six storytellers took to the Wealthy Street Theatre stage recently and poured their hearts out to 400 people during the first-ever Failure-Lab.

The brain child of a group of West Michigan professionals looking to create a safe space to talk about mistakes, Failure-Lab was sponsored by The Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University. The 90-minute event devoted to eliminating the fear of failure and encouraging intelligent risk-taking also featured five musical guests and a dancer.

“These brave souls are sharing their worst so that we, the audience, can find our best — you have to give them credit,” said Jordan O’Neil, director of community relations for Cornerstone University. “We didn’t want to create just another speaker series. The storytellers shared their worst mistakes — it was humbling, personal, touching, at times humorous and above all powerful.”

There were one-minute silent intervals between storytellers and no formal summations. Lessons learned were instead crowd-sourced from the audience via writing or mobile device. Those without tickets were encouraged to participate via Twitter at #FailureLab. A compilation of the lessons learned and videos of the storytellers will be posted at

The storytellers came from a wide range of backgrounds and professions:

  • The Graffiti Artist: Antonio “Shades” Agee, a native of Detroit who was decorating his hometown streets before graffiti became a household word. A former trash hauler who was homeless at one point, his work now appears on custom canvasses for clients such as Chrysler, Ford, Universal Studios and Quicken Loans.
  • The Teacher: Katie Caralis, who works at the nonprofit Creative Youth Center, graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English before trying Teach for America. She found out quickly there’s more to leading a classroom than showing up and taking attendance.
  • The Mother: Ellie Rogers, who works for furniture maker Herman Miller. She has an 8-year-old daughter, Campbell, and has found personal struggles to be at times overwhelming.
  • The Protector: Andy Soper, who works with the Manasseh Project developing programs to address the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. After graduating from Bowling Green State University and without a job, he joined the Army — an experience that did not end well.
  • The Artist: Rick Beerhorst, who lives on an urban farm in downtown Grand Rapids with his wife and six children. A move to New York earlier in his life proved to be an expensive lesson in humility.
  • The Musician: Brian Vander Ark, lead singer and songwriter for The Verve Pipe, who now travels the country bringing his music straight to the people. Before his hit song “The Freshman,” there were plenty that never made it out of the studio.

“Failure-Lab hopes to cultivate a community that can share their struggles, challenge their perspectives and move forward confidently from mistakes,” O’Neil said.

Celebrating Saint’s

A special memoir, “On the Wings of Angels”(Arbutus Press, 2013, $30),highlights 12 local community leaders, physicians and members of the clergy, both bishops and nuns, who have contributed to the growth and success of Saint Mary’s Health Care.

The 184-page book is written by Phil McCorkle, the longest-serving president and CEO of Saint Mary’s Health Care (now named Mercy Health Saint Mary’s). McCorkle devotes a chapter to each person, family, or couple, all of whom contributed in significant ways to Saint Mary’s during McCorkle’s 13-year tenure, which ended late last year. McCorkle weaves his own memories with anecdotes about their personal histories and influence. He brings the inside story of the lives of those whose names are on buildings, hospital wings and plaques at Saint Mary’s and around Grand Rapids, as well as lesser known individuals who have had an impact on the hospital.

“So many people have contributed to Saint Mary’s success in my 13 years here, but some deserve special recognition and thanks,” said McCorkle, reflecting on his reason for producing the memoir. “I wanted it to be permanent. It’s my thank you to them and to Saint Mary’s.”

The book has a conversational and personal tone, and includes photographs of the subjects, whom McCorkle credits for building Saint Mary’s into one of the top performing hospitals in the 49-hospital Trinity Health system.

“On the Wings of Angels”will be sold at local bookstores, on and in Saint Mary’s gift shops. All proceeds will benefit the Saint Mary’s Foundation, which supports the hospital’s programs, facilities and services.

Business for dummies

With U.S. unemployment rates expected to remain near 8 percent for the foreseeable future and no signs of a major economic turnaround anytime soon, increasing numbers of Americans of all ages and socio-economic groups have concluded that starting a business may be the best path to personal success.

“More than 25 percent of start-up businesses fail in year one, and 55 percent by year five, which is why it’s critically important for budding entrepreneurs to adequately do their homework before taking the leap and launching a business,” said Ed Paulson, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, of the first-year business failures, nearly half are caused by lack of owner competence.

Paulson, who has spent his entire career counseling small business people, will visit three cities in West Michigan to share his perspective about how to build a successful business. He has visits scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, June 15, at Holland’s Herrick District Library; 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 18, at Grand Rapids Public Library; and 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at Battle Creek’s Willard Library.

Fast times

Throughout most of 2006 to 2009, John Bravata, former chairman of BBC Equities in Brighton, scammed more than 500 people out of $53 million with a Ponzi scheme that was run through his investment firm, according to court records.

Bravata collected money from investors — many of whom were retirees and even his own employees — who were told their money would be used to purchase real estate and were falsely promised their principal investments would be guaranteed against loss and they would receive high interest returns.

According to the courts, that investor money instead was used to support Bravata’s lavish lifestyle. Recently, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud with 15 counts of wire fraud.

So where are Bravata’s ill-gained toys now? In Byron Center, that’s where.

According to Scott Miedema, COO of, the items were seized months ago from Bravata holdings in Miami and Detroit.

“We have held these assets for nearly a year waiting for the courts to sort out the charges of conviction,” Miedema said. “Finally they will be sold to the highest bidder.”

So what’s on the auction block? Well, on June 18 — the day Bravata is scheduled for sentencing — visitors to will find items that include a 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT, a 1996 Ferrari 348 Spider Convertible, and 2003 and 2004 Sea-Doo Bombardiers.

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