The Helpful Charity Initiative

What is The Helpful Charity Initiative? Helpful Charity is an initiative of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project (HNCP). This initiative includes collaboration from the following agencies: Catholic Charities West Michigan, Degage Ministries, Dwelling Place, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Guiding Light Mission, Heartside Ministry, HNCP and Mel Trotter Ministries. The goal of the Helpful Charity Initiative is to educate volunteers about the Heartside neighborhood in order to make a greater impact!

Where do we start? We often see and hear of well-intended individuals bringing items such as blankets, hats and hotdogs and handing them out on the street. Although these items may be needed there have been instances when good intentions have led to unintended consequences. This is not always the case, but coming unannounced to pass out items can be tough. Before volunteering, one can call or email any of the contacts in this packet to find out current Heartside needs! Each agency can provide information on opportunities in the neighborhood or needs of that day/week!

One can also contact HNCP ( to facilitate a discussion around Helpful Charity. This can be done with a small group, youth group, business etc.

Working together we can: Create greater communication between stakeholder groups, reduce unnecessary duplication and facilitate greater organization of resources! Individuals served benefit when the community works from a holistic approach, which helps move them forward. Organizations benefit when volunteers are meeting unmet needs in the organization and community. Volunteers benefit when they give in a way that is meaningful and fills actual needs. Faith communities & businesses benefit when they know they are doing needed and meaningful charitable work. Our work can create greater impact when community works together!

*The Helpful Charity Initiative is a practical community response to the book, Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton.


A New Community Court Collaboration Initiative

The 61st District Court, Cooley Law School, Heartside Social Services, Community Legal Services of West Michigan and Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project (HNCP) have joined together to provide free legal services to marginalized individuals that have unresolved non-violent misdemeanors and civil infractions through the recently launched Community Outreach Court. The program, the first of its kind in West Michigan, helps individuals resolve outstanding warrants, charges, and fines, which can potentially keep them from attaining employment, housing, and other basic necessities.

HNCP seeks to create collaborations among all stakeholder groups by inviting them to craft win-win situation in order to help make the Heartside-Downtown a place where all people are welcome and respected. HNCP started this collaboration by reaching out to the 61st District Court and Cooley Law School seeking to fill a gap in the service of the court system, while also aiming to help those who may be caught in the system.

To date the Community Outreach Court has conducted over one hundred record checks, eleven individuals have been accepted into the program, four individuals are pending acceptance and one individual has graduated from the program.

Click on the link below to learn more about the Community Outreach Court.

Real Change Not Spare Change Educational Campaign

In response to an increase in panhandling throughout Grand Rapids, HNCP and a collaboration of social service agencies, businesses, churches and city officials have teamed up together to address the issue in positive ways. “Real Change, Not Spare Change” is an educational campaign that addresses the panhandling in multiple ways.

Some panhandlers are homeless and genuinely need help. As a community we can help them in more effective ways.
Panhandlers may be seeking money to purchase drugs or alcohol. With that in mind, there are better ways to give.
Most residents of Grand Rapids are charitably minded. We want to help people give without enabling unhealthy behavior.

The Real Change Not Spare Change educational campaign gives people the opportunity to help without hurting and the peace of mind to know where their money is going. One can redirect their giving by: Looking for Real Change, Not Spare Change giving jars at hotels, restaurants and bars, or by making an online donation to the Real Change Not Spare Change Website. Online donations should be available by mid June. All proceeds will go directly to the Heartside Community Fund, which helps individuals with prescription co-pays, buying work boots, bus tickets and more.

Like already mentioned, some panhandlers are homeless and genuinely need help, but direct donations are
not always used on items like food, clothing, or shelter. As a community, we can help
in more effective ways. We can treat panhandlers with respect and help those in need through donations to the Heartside Fund, a community resource for local social service agencies. Every donation to the Heartside Fund helps–no matter how large or small.
Make sure to check out the Real Change Not Spare Change website at

Helpful Charity Next Steps Initiative

Over the last year, you may have heard Bethlehem Church and other agencies/organizations reference about the book Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton. Many agencies and churches have made adjustments to their programs in response to this book, but as a community we have yet to make the decision to fully implement the principles it describes. HNCP is proposing a year-long initiative called, “Helpful Charity Next Steps”. The goal of this initiative is to change the culture of well-intended, but often uninformed, charity by increasing collaboration and communication between systems as well as educating the community.

In hopes of this being a truly collaborative effort, HNCP has invited a number of agencies to participate in this initiative. The list of invited agencies includes Access of West Michigan, which has connections to West Michigan churches, Heartside Social Service Agencies which include Catholic Charities of West Michigan, Degage Ministry, Dwelling Place, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Guiding Light Mission, Heartside Ministry, and Mel Trotter Ministries as well as United Way, which has a wealth of knowledge around community needs and connections to businesses. Grand Rapids churches have always helped those in need and many times have taken a literal approach in helping (i.e. if someone is thirsty give him or her a drink, if someone is hungry give him or her a meal).

The issue is often that churches & volunteers are disconnected from actual needs in the Heartside Neighborhood and there tends to be a focus on short-term solutions rather than solutions that will have a greater impact in the long-term. So how does the Heartside community start to tackle these systemic issues? Through the “Helpful Charity Next Steps Initiative”. HNCP is proposing executive directors of the social service agencies use their connections with churches and donors to set up meetings to inform and start communicating using the same language. We are also proposing quarterly meetings with Heartside volunteer coordinators, a shared online resources board for Heartside volunteer coordinators, and community trainings for volunteers and businesses.

There is an energy in the air to do things better. Working collaboratively to change culture is difficult work, but if we can encourage churches and business to not only meet immediate needs, but to be part of long-term change, we can truly make a difference!

Heartside Public Intoxication Community Meeting

Having released the report findings, we are challenging the community to respond in real and meaningful ways. In this spirit, the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project is convening a community meeting around the issue of public intoxication.

Public intoxication is a complex issue and affects all stakeholder groups in Heartside-Downtown. Although public intoxication will never be completely eliminated, we would like to challenge the community by asking if there is a way to address the issue in a more collaborative and effective manner. During this meeting we will be addressing intoxication that causes a disruption in the day-in-day-out operations of our neighborhood.

The Public Intoxication Community Meeting will take place on Wednesday, December 4th from 8:00-9:30 am at Bethlehem Church, located at 250 Commerce Avenue. The process will involve bringing participants up to speed by giving a brief overview of the problem and what is currently being done to address this issue. There will then be a time of community brainstorming and dialogue to discuss possible opportunities. HNCP will then call a follow-up meeting three months following to review progress and action items from the initial meeting.

Please RSVP to Kate O’Keefe by November 25th via email or phone: or 616.485.4557.

HNCP Neighborhood Voice Research Project

In December of 2012, HNCP contracted with Tiger Studio to help answer the question: “How can Heartside Neighborhood provide a platform that creates awareness and gives all residents an equal voice?” Throughout the research process Tiger Studio and HNCP captured the full range of stakeholder groups in Heartside to assess behaviors, attitudes and perceptions in ordered to better understand how to develop a fully inclusive planning process for the community. Insights from the interviews were synthesized into high-level trends. Problems were identified and framed for discussion. Stakeholders were then segmented into user groups with similar characteristics and motivations. Tiger Studio held a series of brainstorm sessions throughout the community with the stakeholder groups. Participants shared ideas based on real needs and people within the community. The top initiatives were framed up by defining the user needs, resources, investment, partnerships, timeframe, measure of success and steps necessary to implement each initiative. Please see link below for the Heartside Neighborhood Voice Research Report

Tiger Studio Research Executive Summary

About HNCP


February, 2010, to December, 2011

The HNCP Mission is to facilitate the possibilities for increased collaboration between ministries, agencies, neighbors, governmental agencies, and others who have a stake in the Heartside neighborhood. It is a ministry of Bethlehem Church which provides a place, in kind support and services. Other financial support comes from grants from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Dyer-Ives Foundation, the Amos Fund, and individual and congregational gifts.

In the late winter to early spring of 2010 Pastor Jay Schrimpf of Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Commerce Street in the Heartside Neighborhood just south of downtown Grand Rapids, MI, invited the executive directors of non-profit social service agencies and service providing churches in the neighborhood to gather and counsel together in this new collaborative association, the HNCP. Jay invited Charlie Homeyer to serve as facilitator of large group meetings and Kate O’Keefe to serve as secretary and web master. On April 22 Kuyper College Social Work students presented their findings about service coverage and gaps and types of services provided by agencies in the Heartside Neighborhood. On May 10 eighteen people representing seventeen agencies or churches responded to the invitation by attending the first large group HNCP meeting at Bethlehem Church. Jay had invited about 57 people.

These meetings have continued at 10:00 AM on the first Monday of almost every month since then. They serve as a monthly opportunity for ten to twenty or more people working in non-profits in the area to meet, see one another, share news from their own organizations, hear about issues in the neighborhood, discuss them, and support action steps in response. For example, some of the issues discussed have included the filming of movies along South Division Avenue in the neighborhood, the Human Rights Guiding Principles for the Neighborhood agencies, the proposed Urban Market, Bike Week, health issues in the neighborhood, food issues, and housing issues, as well as working with the public library to list all programs and services in one central posting. In the beginning the group brainstormed subjects for discussion. Other subjects came to the agenda unsolicited. For instance, recently Marla Ehlers of the Grand Rapids Public Library brought to the Collaboration Project her serious concerns for the provision of adequate warming locations for the homeless during all periods of every week in the winter. The cause of this concern was the need to relieve the library of serving as a de facto emergency warming location for residents and others. In issues like this one the Collaboration Project has garnered the support and collaboration of agencies, churches, the Grand Rapids police and fire departments, the Downtown Development Agency, Grand Action, the Inner City Christian Federation, the Rapid, and ACCESS among others.

By July of 2010 Jay Schrimpf was convening the HNCP Advisory Board, usually meeting on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Besides Jay, Charlie, and Kate, those on the Advisory Board included Anne Weirich of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Charlotte Ellison of Heartside Ministries, Marge Palmerlee of Degage Ministries, Stuart Ray of Guiding Light Ministries, Cheryl Schuch of Family Promise, and Kent Vanderwood of Mel Trotter Mission & Ministries. It was in these meetings that agendas have been formed, accountabilities have been made, and frank discussions have begun regarding potential areas of collaboration on bus passes, meals, health provisions, and beds in the neighborhood. This requires the executive directors, and not just program directors, to grapple with issues of duplications and gaps in services, as well as with pressures on the neighborhood from outside forces and influences. In this context the realities of boards and donor bases and their expectations, as well as of neighbors and their needs, are raised. The HNCP also determines how to respond in a united and collaborative way to these pressures. Primarily it is the intention of the Project and its stakeholders to earn a seat at the table and a voice to be heard in the deliberations and decisions regarding the present and future of the Heartside Neighborhood, For example, HNCP submitted to John Nunn, the Executive Director of Grand Action, the names of people from its agencies to become and serve as full members of the advisory groups in the development of the proposed Urban Market to represent the perspective of the agencies and neighbors from the neighborhood. The overall purpose is to help the Market to succeed in this environment in collaboration with the agencies, clients, and neighbors. Over time the Advisory Board has added Deb Nykamp of Catholic Human Services as a member and has replaced Kent Vanderwood with Bob Evans of Mel Trotter. The focus of all of them is more and more on the work of the Advisory Board. Anne Weirich and Char Ellison have moved on with their lives and ministries.

In March of 2011 the HNCP hosted a large meeting of executive directors and selected representatives from their boards of directors. Sr. Carmelita Murphy facilitated the meeting as a consultant. One of the primary learnings from that gathering is that the neighbors and clients see the social service providers in the neighborhood as a single organism, and that the city also sees them this way. Therefore, it would serve the agencies and churches well to see themselves more nearly this way, too, and begin behaving and acting more closely in collaboration with one another to approximate becoming more closely aligned as a unified organism.

During the summer of 2011 the HNCP took a step forward by adopting three attainable, measurable goals. These include a Community Events/Opportunities Communication System. This system will provide monitors inside or in the streetside windows of the agencies and churches to communicate, to everyone interested, a schedule of all meetings and services offered in Heartside on each day. The second initiative is a Shared Data Base System so that every service provider can have the same information about clients and share information with one another. Stuart, Cheryl, and Jay are working to contract with a potential provider of such a System. The third initiative is to engage the neighbors in developing an Area Specific Plan for the neighborhood to overlay the City of Grand Rapids Master Plan.

All of these initiatives and collaborations, e.g. the merger of weekday meals on behalf of God’s Kitchen and Guiding Light Ministries, give impetus for Heartside Neighborhood to move forward into its constantly changing and fluid future, facing its needs, celebrating its promise and contributions, and its part in the ongoing, unfolding, and dynamic life of the City of Grand Rapids and of all her citizens.