Hope And Faith Have Each Other

    GRAND RAPIDS — Going on the philosophy that if you have faith and hope, nothing is impossible, Jim Tuinstra and Verne Barry this month joined forces and seamlessly merged their companies, Hope Network and Faith Inc.

    Faith Inc., founded by Barry, was created with the goal to find employment for homeless people in the Grand Rapids area, while Hope Network places people with disabilities in the job market.

    While the two have been working together in one capacity or another almost since Faith’s inception, it wasn’t until now that the two companies’ services were merged into one. Faith will now be a program of Hope Network West Michigan, an affiliate of Hope Network.

    Hope Network has been serving the community for nearly 40 years by bidding on small jobs and then housing production in its warehouse where employees with disabilities and physical and mental disadvantages are put to work. Jobs such as collating papers, packaging contents, sealing boxes and loading pallets all can be accomplished by people with a range of disabilities.

    With the new arrangement, there is the opportunity for Faith employees to be immediately placed into a job that Hope has already bid on and get paychecks by the end of the week.

    “Our (homeless) people have disabilities, there is no way around it. But they were showing increases in productivity. And some of the people Hope traditionally serves are developmentally disabled and can only function at 20 percent capacity, and that is all the faster they were going to go. So you had some limits as to what you could accomplish and how fast you were going to turn it around,” said Barry.

    “So when we came in, they (Hope) were able to bid on bigger jobs and have quicker turnaround times, and so it not only gave homeless people jobs, which we were concerned with, but it also opened up many more jobs for other developmentally disabled people that hadn’t been able to work.”

    Tuinstra, CEO of Hope Network, and Barry insist not much will change with the merger — only a few technicalities with management, paperwork and stationery.

    “The checks will now say ‘Hope Network’ and that may be the biggest change of all,” joked Barry.

    What will change will be Barry’s position with the company. Homeless himself for a period of time, he understands the trials and tribulations his employees go through and is also proof that they can turn their lives around, as he did.

    “I think being in this position is really an advantage to the people we are trying to help,” said Barry. “They see what I have been through and they know that what I am telling them is only from experience.”

    So Barry will take his experience and hard work and travel to other Hope Network affiliations where he will try to incorporate programs such as Faith into the working mission. Tuinstra and Barry added that Faith supporters can be assured that Hope Network will remain true to Faith’s mission and vision.

    “It really wasn’t an issue of who could take over who. It was that we had been working together for so long and really complemented each other on so many things that when Faith was sitting down to think whether they wanted to stay separate or join with a larger organization, we really wanted to talk with them,” Tuinstra said.

    While continuing to look for the ability in people, not the disability, Barry said the company plans to extend its services outside of the Heartside district and into other areas of Grand Rapids, as well as looking for continued joint partnerships.

    “We are looking for the next step in this process,” said Tuinstra.

    He noted the ideal next step would be to find a company or companies which would be willing to place some of Hope and Faith’s employees into its production process on a trial basis, as a temporary service. Then, if the employee was successful, he or she would either stay there or move to another full-time employment facility.

    “We are really grooming people for real work experience,” explained Barry. “Yes, we are giving them work to do and they are completing tasks, but the real lesson behind it all is work skills — coming in on time, showing up for work, following work procedures and all of that kind of stuff. After they leave our facility they sometimes aren’t really ready for a true work environment. But if we could find that intermediate spot which is a cross between the two, I think we could have even more success stories.”

    Hope Network has an open door policy to accept everyone and give him or her a chance. While Tuinstra and Barry admit there have been some failures, there have been way too many successes to dwell on the few that didn’t work out.

    Drug screenings are performed as an employee leaves the operation instead of when he or she enters, to make sure that they are ready to enter the workforce. Throughout their time at Hope, employees are required to take drug abuse classes, even if it is only for tolerance and understanding of those with a substance abuse problem, Barry said.

    Other incentives are offered to encourage employees to succeed and turn their lives around. Sometimes Barry noted it can be an issue of self-esteem, and the simple completion of a continuous job can make an employee feel he or she has what it takes to succeed.

    “These are people that want to help themselves, and placing 4,000 people over the last 12 years into employment is a pretty good track record,” said Tuinstra. “With this merger we are only going to strengthen that effort and be able to reach more people who need our help.”      

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