The Rapidian

Allen's Story and God's Irony

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Allen, a Guiding Light Recovery client and the nonprofit's kitchen director, shares his journey recovering from decades of alcoholism and drug addiction.

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About Guiding Light

Founded in 1929 as the West Fulton St. Mission, Guiding Light has grown into a robust recovery and re-engagement community designed to help those living at society’s margins fulfill their God-given potential. The nonprofit has been building on a near century of compassion and celebrated 90 years of serving Grand Rapids in 2019. Through its Back to Work, Recovery and Iron House programs, Guiding Light works with men struggling with addiction and homelessness to return to society. Since 2017, Guiding Light has earned a Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, which underscores our commitment to accountability and transparency. For more information, visit guidinglightworks.org.

/Guiding Light

/Guiding Light

Allen was accepted into the Guiding Light Recovery program in June of 2020 after deciding that he had enough of his decades-long struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Over 30 years ago, when Allen was 22 years old, he owned his own restaurant in Battle Creek, Michigan. Since then, he has worked in dozens of kitchens all over the country. When he came to Guiding Light, however, Allen remembers distinctly an exchange he had with Program Director Brian Elve about his life and the addiction issues he struggled with.  

“During my first interview, I remember specifically, Brian saying to me ‘you will never work in a restaurant ever again,’ and I thought for sure I was on my way out the door right then and there.”

Thankfully, Allen was not on his way out the door. In fact, something much more unexpected and life-changing was about to happen. Allen was accepted into the Recovery program and, oddly enough, was asked to help in the community Kitchen. Allen was dumbstruck by this and asked the Guiding Light Kitchen Director, Justin, why he picked him for the position.

“Justin told me that Brian recommended me," he said. "I was like ‘the same guy that told me I would never work in a kitchen again is recommending me for this?”

Since then, “Brother Allen,” as his peers have come to call him, has been a mainstay of the program and a “fount of elderly wisdom” for the men of Guiding Light Recovery. In November, Justin retired as Kitchen Director and recommended Allen, of all people, to be his replacement. The rest is history, and Allen has been working officially as the Kitchen Director of Guiding Light ever since.

On top of making sure the residents at Guiding Light have sufficient food, supplies, and meal plans, Allen also coordinates with other local nonprofits to distribute food donations all over West Michigan.

“Right now, my duties are to receive donations, get it back here, weigh it, and distribute it to our Grand Rapids community,” he said. “We donate to three organizations twice a week, and three more a couple times a month. I just tallied up the numbers for the month of December and right now were at 25,000 people who we helped feed for the month.”

It is ironic that, after completing his four months in the program, Allen was hired to become the new Kitchen Director at Guiding Light. Here he is today, doing the same job that he had always described as enabling his lifestyle of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Now however, this all-too-familiar job enables and nurtures his new-found connection with God, sobriety, and gives him an outlet to help his fellow man. Allen waxes philosophical about the strangely fortuitous turns his life has taken since coming to Guiding Light seven months ago.

“It’s an awesome feeling. Now, knowing that I’m helping people get something to eat, even if it’s just as simple as getting them a bag of Ramen noodles," he said. "Because, you know, I remember when I wished that I had a bag of Ramen noodles, so knowing now that I can help in that small way is an even better experience than what I had working in restaurants.

"The people that I’m helping today are grateful, some of them don’t even have an oven or a stove to cook on. The way that God lines things up for me…some people mention to me that they need something and without even looking or praying for it, it just magically shows up. I don’t have to do anything, God knows exactly what people need and he put me in the middle of it to just give and receive. That’s an awesome feeling right there.”

Allen’s story is just one example of the incredible turn-arounds so many men experience at Guiding Light, and none of these stories could have come true without you. Through all of the generous support from our donors, advocates, and volunteers, Guiding Light has been able to continue our important work of rescue, recovery, and re-engage Grand Rapids men in our community. Thank you so much for making this all possible, and God bless.

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