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Diamond Among the Rubble: Grace Centers of Hope

Imagine that you are a young mother with four boys to feed and wake up every day scared to death about an abusive marriage to a gambling addict that often led to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse when the gambling went south. Now, add to this horrible situation her knowledge that something wasn’t quite right with her children. One of the boys was struggling with social interactions and would not make eye contact with anyone, including his mother. The other boys were also experiencing similar interaction issues and she knew they needed help. With her husband spending every paycheck at the casino, the family was living in poverty with no realistic way out. 

Holding her infant son in her arms while being used as a punching bag she finally found the courage to get out and fled to a domestic violence shelter. After spending months at the shelter, the counselors put the young mother in contact with Grace Centers of Hope (GCH), knowing its long term life skills program at the William A. Davis Women and Children’s Center was exactly what she and the children needed. 

With the help of her case manager and the GCH Children’s Program, the children were finally evaluated by medical professionals and all four children were diagnosed as autistic. Today, the boys are receiving the individualized care, therapy, and assistance they require through Early On, a childhood assistance program for children with developmental delays. This wouldn’t have been possible without the care, compassion, and determination of the mother’s case manager and other GCH staff. 

This story I just described is one among hundreds that the GCH staff experience daily in Pontiac, Michigan. The head shepherd of this faith-based organization is Pastor Kent Clark, who has been leading this amazing journey for over 30 years. I could not stop smiling, hearing story after story of great miracles that he has experienced over the years and of incredible kindness of donors, staff members, and residents that make this organization truly a diamond among the rubble. They are literally changing lives every day. Pastor Clark is proud to say that GCH is blessed every day to be able to share vital long-term life skills without any government funding. During my recent visit, I asked Pastor Clark what has surprised him during the recent pandemic and economic hardship and he replied it has been the unimaginable kindness of donors and volunteers. He believes that an important aspect of these acts of kindness is that volunteers and donors get as much out of their positive efforts as the residents receive and it is one of the major reasons the community is able to help so many men, women, and children during this difficult time. 

I thought I knew what the Grace Centers of Hope provided for homeless men and women, a little food and some shelter from cold Michigan weather. Oh my, I was so uninformed and simple minded about my understanding of what the GCH offers those hurting with no place to go, no relationship with God, no family support, and deep hopelessness. As I have researched and dug deeper into their programs, I am so impressed by the time and dedication that case managers, counselors, and teachers provide on a multi-year commitment to residents.  I am awed every time I hear a story or listen to a video about life changing stories of residents who came to the community totally broken, but have found the love, support and life skills necessary to lead a productive life. 

Did you know that women and children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in Southeast Michigan? That is a sad fact that is hard to get your head around. Pastor Clark and Misty Phillips, Director of Donor Relations, commented during my visit that they can’t really explain why it happened, but they experienced a flood of calls from demoralized and distressed women, many with children, asking for help during the worst phase of the spreading pandemic. Misty recalled being overwhelmed by the heavy volume of calls from women in dire straits that even caused her, a six year GCH veteran, to get extremely emotional. 

The ‘Hands of Hope’ state licensed childcare center is a critical component of the women’s program that provides quality care for each child in the community. They do not accept any government funding and therefore are trusting that God will use volunteers and donations to provide the needs of the center. Parents going to school or working after graduating from the One Year Life Skills program know that their children are in good hands with teachers that will provide a nurturing environment that focuses on physical, social, linguistic, and cognitive development for each child. 

I could try to describe each of the wonderful programs that GCH does for their residents but, to be honest, it is better to hear directly from the residents.

Please check out the real and heartfelt videos from men, women, and children on the website to see and hear true stories regarding the tough but rewarding journey that residents experience. It won’t take much time for you to understand the depth and the personal approach that does truly change lives. 

One vital component of GHC is their four thrift stores in the Detroit metro area. The thrift stores turn in-kind donations into treasuries for resale, contributing over 40% of all GCH revenues. This vital contribution directly impacts men, women, and children that by providing food, shelter, clothing, counseling, education, and employment to individuals that are in their one-year and two-year aftercare programs. At each store, you will find spotless showrooms, a cheerful environment and a courteous staff eager to help.

Learn more about the thrift stores and the most needed items on their website. 

Ok, it is time to tell you a wonderful story about a true angel that became a donor and major supporter of GCH after her husband passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2014. This life changing event was Mary Castorri’s get-off-the-couch moment that brought her to GCH, not knowing much about the charity.  She simply told Misty Phillips that she wanted to help out in any manner that would be beneficial. Misty gave her a tour of the main building and she saw that the men’s dorm needed some TLC so she bought new bedding for 55 men as well as new washers and dryers. A few weeks later she volunteered to provide some clothing to the thrift stores and this old, tired van shows up to pick up her clothing donation and she decides, on the spot, to buy a new van for the charity. Today, after donating numerous meals and a valuable necessities to the charity over the last few years, she is leading a team of donors and residents to rebuild a dilapidated 5-bedroom house in Pontiac that will be a new home for a resident family that has successfully completed all of the multi-year life skills and educational development programs. This family will join 52 other GCH homeowners and renters in the Little Grace Village. Talking to Mary and hearing about her rewarding gestures of kindness for the residents of GCH is energizing and inspiring. The excitement in her voice and the positive emotion that she expresses tells me all that I need to know about making a difference in the lives of others. This is the type of miracle that Pastor Clark talked about during my visit and I can easily understand why he feels so blessed that good things are happening at GCH.

Please take a look at the wonderful job volunteers have done with some of these homes.

A lot of sweat, energy, and donations are required to restore these homes to their original architectural design. 

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