Mel Trotter launches public phase of capital campaign

$9.8M of $14.9M goal already has been raised behind the scenes to build new shelter and offer improved services.
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Mel Trotter Ministries is well on its way to improving how it addresses the city’s homelessness crisis.

Downtown Grand Rapids-based Mel Trotter Ministries hosted an event on May 14 announcing the public phase of the Immeasurably More campaign, a $14.9 million fundraising effort to fund the construction of a renovated shelter and make changes and improvements to its programs and services. It has been 54 years since any kind of significant renovation has occurred to the downtown mission’s physical properties.

Founded in 1900, Mel Trotter Ministries serves over 3,000 homeless guests each year — providing housing, meals, recovery programs, educational and job training, and spiritual counseling so local residents can break the cycle of addiction, pursue permanent housing, gain employment and explore educational opportunities.

During the past two years, Mel Trotter merged with Heartside Ministries and Next Step of West Michigan to expand its services to homeless individuals in the region.

Launched in 2019, the Immeasurably More campaign raised more than $9.8 million in the past year, 66% of the campaign goal. Over 240 community donors, local businesses and area foundations have supported the campaign, and now, the nonprofit is asking for additional support from the public.

Mel Trotter Ministries leaders plan to begin construction on the new shelter this summer, with anticipated completion by fall 2022, with Rockford Construction serving as the project’s contractor and Craig Architects as the architectural firm.

The current 113-bed men’s shelter is a crowded, open plan dorm that has no privacy. The women’s shelter, which houses children and families, is overflowing. Mel Trotter said the new shelter will provide “increased dignity, health and safety” with its new design, including quad rooms and air filtration systems.

At the public announcement of the fund drive, Bob Worthington, Janis Petrini, Anedra Eatman and Michael Faas, the campaign co-chairs, invited the community to join in the fundraising effort, which will continue through the winter.

“As we work to help the homeless (individuals and families) of our community, I am pleased to be part of an effort that reaches out to help our community’s most vulnerable. Mel Trotter is a beacon of hope during tough times,” Worthington said. “Homelessness is a growing problem nationally, and it’s the same here in West Michigan. And this happens for a lot of reasons: job loss, medical diagnosis, addiction, foreclosure, generational poverty, you name it — and that was before the pandemic. COVID has just complicated things that much more. If it wasn’t for Mel Trotter and our community partners opening the temporary shelter at 250 Ionia, we would have had 30 people every night not being able to get into the shelter.

“So as a result of all this, the board of directors of Mel Trotter Ministries has made the goal of raising $15 million to accomplish three things. The first thing we’re going to do is renovate our men’s shelter. … The second thing we’re going to do is provide more job training programs that reflect the current job market. And then finally, the third thing is to provide more transitional houses to our guests as they move into normal lives.”

Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter, said when he started working at the nonprofit nine years ago, a guest of Mel Trotter could get a job and a decent apartment on the bus line for $700 or $800 per month. Today, those same apartments cost $1,500 to $1,600, while wages haven’t risen much, if at all.

“We decided to stop complaining about it and start partnering with people and doing something about it, so we now own several houses, and this campaign will more than quadruple the (number) of houses that we have to get people out of a shelter as quickly as possible and into housing,” he said.

Eatman said at the event the campaign has received support from local and regional foundations, area businesses and community donors.

“We have been so fortunate to receive gifts to this important campaign. My fellow chairs and our campaign cabinet join me in thanking the community for their meaningful gifts. We now invite the broader community to help us complete this campaign effort. We welcome gifts of all sizes,” Eatman said.

She noted the co-chairs are not just working behind the scenes; they also have given of their resources toward the fundraising goal because they believe in Mel Trotter’s mission.

“That is what we are about, focusing on serving our community, the homeless and those that are hurting,” she said. “Tim (Swiney, Mel Trotter’s chief campaign officer), a year and a half ago took me on a tour to show me the men’s shelter, and literally, my eyes were welling up as I was walking through the shelter. That was my first time I had ever seen it, and as I was walking through it, I said, ‘We have got to do better. This is not OK. We have to do better.’ And so as we were walking through it, I said, ‘OK, Tim, so where do I sign? Who do I make my check payable to? Because we need to get moving on this, like, today.’ And so, I am excited to be able to celebrate today and say, we have progression. … We have raised $9.8 million toward our $14.9 million goal.”

In a video prepared for the campaign launch, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said, “I do hope that you will join me in supporting Mel Trotter Ministries as they kick off their capital campaign. They are such a key partner in our community as we work together to ensure that individuals have a safe place to call home and also a safe place to sleep at night. Their work is really pivotal as we continue to work on finding housing options for every single person that calls Grand Rapids home. So, thank you to Mel Trotter and thank you to all of you for joining us in this important work.”

Those who are interested in donating to the campaign can visit meltrotter.org/immeasurablymore.

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