Guiding Light’s services translate to jobs


The nonprofit has a $13.5-million economic impact on the community while putting more than 600 men and women back to work. Courtesy Guiding Light

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Guiding Light is celebrating that its “three-legged stool” of rescue, recovery and re-engagement is translating into jobs and spending in the region.

In the past 12 months, the Grand Rapids nonprofit had a $13.5-million economic impact on the community, as it put 614 individuals back to work, mostly into manufacturing jobs.

Starla McDermott, the nonprofit’s development director, said those 614 individuals participated in one or more of Guiding Light’s services, which include Guiding Light Recovery, an addictions recovery program for men; Back to Work, a program that provides a short-term stay and support for homeless men as they job hunt; and The Job Post, an in-house hiring and recruitment enterprise.

McDermott said Guiding Light calculated its economic impact by multiplying the clients’ average annual wage post hiring ($21,840) by the number of individuals back in the workforce. She said the impact on the community is two-pronged.

“One, we help these individuals get back to work,” McDermott said. “They’re paying rent, transportation, buying groceries and they’re putting it all back into the economy.”

“(Two), we’re completely donor-funded; we don’t get government funds, and our baseline is a $2-million budget. So, they’re spending more than what we spend to help them get back to work.”

Guiding Light has had a drug and alcohol addiction recovery program since the 1950s. When current Executive Director Stuart Ray came on board in 2010, the program was revamped to focus on mental, physical and spiritual healing. After four to six months of intense recovery, program participants are eligible to look for work.

In 2011, Guiding Light launched the Back to Work program, which removes barriers standing in the way of employment for homeless men. McDermott said those obstacles include not having an address, transportation or supplies such as boots, safety goggles and gloves.

Program participants sleep and eat in the dorm, receive job coaching, access to a computer lab and phones, transportation and other prerequisites for accepting a job offer.

“The whole purpose of Guiding Light is to get men back to work,” McDermott said. “They do end up paying us back for (the assistance) once they get back to work, but we try to remove those obstacles preventing them from getting back to work.”

She said the program has evolved since it first launched.

“Initially, when we were first doing it, we were giving men three months to find work. Now, it’s 30 days to stay here and find work. We were finding they were waiting until the last month to do a job search. The average amount of time it takes them to find work now is about five days.”

Guiding Light launched a social enterprise in 2016 called The Job Post, which serves more than just the men in its programs. It provides placement services to those in the community who are temporarily unemployed or seeking advancement in their careers; it also draws on talent from within the Guiding Light programs.

As with other staffing firms, The Job Post is funded by corporations that pay for its hiring and recruitment services. Job seekers do not pay.

McDermott said the program currently serves about 600 individuals. All revenue from The Job Post goes directly to Guiding Light.

“We are completely funded by donors, we do not get government funding,” she said. “This was one way to generate more income.”

Guiding Light’s current Back to Work enrollment is at 30 out of 32 available spaces, and its Guiding Light Recovery enrollment is at 18 out of 26 spots.

McDermott said the nonprofit is considering splitting the two programs into separate locations rather than continuing to share space at the mission at 255 S. Division Ave.

“In the summer, (enrollment) dwindles, and in the winter, we are bursting at the seams,” she said. “We have considered splitting and expanding both.”

McDermott said even though the average hourly wage for the individuals who find employment is $10.50 an hour, it helps restore dignity and confidence.

“Regardless of their past, we want to show the men in our program that they have the potential to find long-term employment and a successful future,” she said.

“And I think it’s really nice to reiterate that … even though they are only making $10.50 an hour, they are re-spending it back into the economy.”

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