When the opportunity came to lead a nonprofit dedicated to caring for adults with special needs, Casey Kuperus decided to leave his for-profit job in May to take the role.
Having grown up with an older brother who was developmentally disabled, Kuperus said he wanted to help special needs people and their families with the challenges he knows they face.
After about 20 years in various positions, including sales and workforce recruitment, Kuperus took the executive director role at David’s House Ministries, 2390 Banner St. SW in Wyoming.
The nonprofit manages four group homes that house 37 adults with special needs. The nonprofit also provides support services to nonresident clients in the Grand Rapids area.
Around the time Kuperus moved from home for college, his parents chose to admit his brother into an assisted living facility, though they and Kuperus have been involved ever since.
“One of the hardest decisions my family ever made was moving him into a home that wasn’t ours, but it’s also been the biggest blessing ever for both him and our family,” Kuperus said.
That’s because he receives care from trained professionals, he said, and it gave help to his parents, who were getting older.
Most children move away after entering adulthood, he noted, but David’s House clients need ongoing assistance. Families can find themselves in crisis situations when parents get too old to manage those needs.
While he knows making that decision can be difficult, he said it’s often the best or only choice as families age.
“That’s why there’s such a long waiting list,” he said.
With a housing waitlist that contains 120 names, Kuperus is leading a $4.2-million project to build six more group homes for another 36 residents.
“I’m very passionate about the fact that we don’t have enough opportunities for places like this for folks with special needs,” Kuperus said.
Each 4,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, six-bathroom house will cost about $700,000, he said.
He said the houses are built to accommodate residents with a range of needs. The first of the six houses will have ceiling lifts to accommodate those in wheelchairs.
Jenison-based Koetje Builders and Grandville-based Omega Architects were contracted for the first house.
Kuperus said the houses are staffed 24/7, and each house will add an additional eight to 10 workers to the current 80-person staff. Housing staff prepares meals in each house’s kitchen and ensures the clients receive care around the clock.
The first of the six houses will open next month, and the others will be built one-by-one as the organization can fully finance them.
“We won’t break ground on the next building until all the funds are raised,” he said.
Kuperus said he hopes that can happen in the next year.
While he said there is strong support from some area donors, he thinks there is more potential funding out there.
The first step is bringing the area’s “best-kept secret” more to the forefront by strengthening the organization’s visibility in the community, he said.
People within the special needs community are aware of the organization, he said; now he wants everyone else to know, as well.
“This isn’t a population that gets as much press as other needs do, so I think it’s just easy to not think about the fact there’s this need out there,” Kuperus said.
“We have a lot of opportunities to educate the public about a need like this. With my hope, that’ll help us obtain more funding as we move along.”
For 2017, David’s House reported a decreased $3.8-million budget due in part to a decreased $2.3 million in donations. The 2016 $4.5-million budget, including $3.1 million in donations, was a jump from the previous year’s $2.2 million budget, which included $838,000 in donations.
The organization’s next fundraiser, the 32nd annual Walk-A-Thon, is 9 a.m. Sept. 15, at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, 1000 East Beltline Ave. NE in Grand Rapids. Participants can register at dhmin.org.
The other main fundraiser, an annual dinner and auction, took place at the Grand Rapids Art Museum earlier this year and raised about $130,000. Kuperus expects to raise a similar amount at the Walk-A-Thon.
David’s House works to create an atmosphere for residents to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, Kuperus said, and that means addressing care from a holistic perspective.
“I have three children, and I would think no one would be able to take as good of care of my child as I do,” he said. “It’s a hard thing for any parent, but we really strive to provide that level care.”
The organization started in 1987 with 10 men, and six of them still live there today.
“This is their home,” he said. “This is their family.”