When two Grand Rapids authors set out to celebrate the work of nonprofits across West Michigan, naturally, they decided to do it in book form.
Authors Deb Moore and Betty Epperly met through a shared interest: Both are personal historians. They had each written other people’s stories separately, but had an idea to tell stories together.
“Since we see the power in stories, we thought writing a book about the nonprofits in Grand Rapids was a natural choice because there are so many stories within the nonprofits,” Epperly said.
Research for “Ripple Effects — Ten West Michigan Nonprofits Serve, Inspire, Transform” started in January 2014, when Moore and Epperly contacted executive directors of various nonprofit organizations. During that time, they were looking for individuals whose stories they could write about in the book.
“We were amazed at how many (nonprofit organizations) there are,” Moore said. “We thought there was a lot, but when we started checking, it was really a lot. We started with the ones that had local roots and that we had some connections and knowledge about. And once those signed on, then we tried to round out the range of services so we would have some in education, social services, counseling and medical. There’s a broad spectrum.”
The two pushed to have the book published by the fall, since that is typically event season for area nonprofits.
“A lot of (organizations) expressed interest that they would want to have the book available at their event,” Moore said.
Late spring, summer and early fall was devoted to writing. The book was published in late October.
The individuals whose stories they chose to tell came from recommendations from nonprofit executive directors in the region.
“In our book, we found a variety of demographics and the organizations are all different in purpose and scope,” Epperly said. “And they treat their clients with such respect. … They want their clients to be self-sufficient and many of them, when we first talked to them, said ‘We don’t want this to make it sound like we’re rescuing anybody. We’re trying to meet needs, but empower people to eventually meet their own needs.’”
One of the stories featured belongs to Juanita Sanchez, who received assistance from Family Promise of West Michigan. Family Promise is one of the few area shelters that works to keep families together.
“When you’re in a crisis, the first thing you turn to is your family. Traditional shelters split those families apart,” said Cheryl Schuch, the executive director of Family Promise of West Michigan. “Historically, when families go to other missions, men had to go to men’s mission, women with boys 10 and under had to go to women and children’s missions and boys 10 and up didn’t have a place to go. As a parent, I couldn’t fathom that, not knowing what’s happening with my kid.”
Sanchez received Family Promise’s services in 2012. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant with her fourth child. As a result of chemotherapy and two operations, Sanchez lost her job, leaving her husband LaDale Nelson responsible for providing for the family. With only one income, the family lost their home and was forced to live in their van. Soon after, Nelson lost his job as well.
Sanchez dialed 211, a number that directs callers to human services. She was referred to Family Promise, where the family received emergency shelter. Sanchez and Nelson used the resources at Family Promise’s Day Center to look for jobs and housing.
“They cheered me up and told me we’d get through this crisis,” Sanchez said in the book. “You get into moods where it’s overwhelming — you want to give up, but I never did because the people at Family Promise were behind me, supporting me.”
Since then, Sanchez has found a home and started a new job at DialogDirect. She is currently cancer-free and takes time to give back, volunteering at Family Promise and giving inspirational speeches.
“It helps me emotionally, doing these speeches for people,” Sanchez said. “The more I put it out, the more it helps me to deal with my past.”
Sanchez is one of many personal stories featured in “Ripple Effects.” Five personal stories are highlighted from each organization, ranging from volunteers to board members and people who have received services.
“It’s so amazing that we’re highlighting this,” Schuch said. “I know there are many more agencies out there, so hopefully, (Moore and Epperly) can look at doing a series.”
“Ripple Effects” is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Schuler Books.
Sidebar: Nonprofits Featured in Ripple Effects
In the new book “Ripple Effects — Ten West Michigan Nonprofits Serve, Inspire, Transform,” authors Deb Moore and Betty Epperly shared stories of people who’ve been impacted by the work of 10 West Michigan nonprofit organizations. The organizations included:
- Baxter Community Center — Focuses on addressing immediate needs, assisting individuals to become responsible, productive and self-sufficient, and affirming the positive qualities in individuals and the community.
- Catherine’s Health Center — Dedicated to serving low-income, uninsured residents of the northeast sections of Grand Rapids, primarily those who live in the Creston and Belknap neighborhoods.
- D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s — Provider of traditional and innovative programs that enhance the well-being of children and their families and that provide opportunities for them to realize their full potential.
- Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan — A resource and advocacy organization promoting public awareness and supporting lifelong opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
- Family Promise of West Michigan — Engages community and faith-based organizations in ending homelessness one family at a time.
- HELP Pregnancy Crisis Aid — Helps pregnant women carry their babies to term by offering them support and alternatives to abortion, regardless of their faith, origin or background.
- Home Repair Services — Strengthens vulnerable Kent County homeowners because strong homeowners build strong communities.
- Kids’ Food Basket — A nonprofit organization attacking childhood hunger to help young people learn and live well.
- United Church Outreach Ministry — Values individuals and builds community in southwestern Kent County by providing material and educational assistance to meet basic needs, improve quality of life and promote self-sufficiency.
- Wedgwood Christian Services — Offers professional counseling and educational services to youths and families.