The Rapidian

Outgoing Board Member Will Always Have a Heart for Heartside

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

John Dice is ending his second three-year term on the Guiding Light Board of Directors. The outgoing board member has given his time and talents to the help those in need in the Heartside neighborhood for decades.
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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 more than 90 years of serving Grand Rapids. 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.

It took an internship in Philadelphia to help John Dice see – really see – the men and women experiencing homelessness in West Michigan. The Grand Rapids native had to walk a fair number of blocks to his internship in the City of Brotherly Love, passing through streets and neighborhoods where those who had lost hope or struggled with addiction or mental health issues gathered together. It was the first experience with homelessness for the young business major.
 
“Until you know someone who has gone through homelessness, the issue is very different,” said John, who is ending his second three-year term on the Guiding Light Board of Directors. “It’s like so many big issues: you have to know someone touched by that experience to develop the empathy you need.”
 
That summer struck a chord in John, as did a visit with those recovering from addiction in Harlem. He returned to West Michigan, where he has spent 25+ years working in banking and money management, and immediately began volunteering. Throughout the decades, he’s given his time and talents to the Heartside neighborhood, mentoring those in need, serving warm meals and lending an ear to those struggling with demons.
 
“One of the things you find out quickly is there is no difference between us,” John explained. “Some of the experiences I was listening to were incredibly similar to mine or those of my friends. One bad decision, or a decision that didn’t go quite as expected, could really snowball.”
 
After more than a dozen years as a volunteer, John joined the Board of Guiding Light in 2014. He immediately accepted an offer from Executive Director Stuart Ray to spend a night at 255 Division Avenue South with men going through the Recovery program – a night that “broke down any walls” between the Board and the men they serve.
 
Through its four pillars – Recovery, Back to Work, Iron House and The Job Post – Guiding Light offers rescue, recovery and re-engagement programs that give men living on the margins of society a hand up rather than a hand out. That work, John says, has been very intentional about its focus and outcomes.
 
“One of the things we didn’t want to do is perpetuate the cycle of addiction, joblessness and homelessness,” John recalls. “We wanted to identify metrics to track, if at all possible, what success meant or what having a positive impact meant. We translated those into a dashboard and posted it prominently on our website. We are very transparent.”
 
Under Stuart’s leadership, the Board focused on supporting the Recovery program, investing in sober-living housing that provides a safe and secure environment in a residential area so recovery can continue. The men who land on Guiding Light’s doorstep have tried – and failed – an average of five other programs. Our version of “no-joke” recovery has a higher success rate than many, which John and others attribute to Guiding Light’s holistic approach, focusing on physical, mental, social and spiritual health and well-being.
 
The Board has also supported the creation of The Job Post, a social enterprise that provides placement services for men and women who are un- or under-employed. Open to all in West Michigan, The Job Post serves both the staffing needs of local businesses and the men and women who are looking for work. Profits from this work support programming for Guiding Light.
 
While these programs remain active, the focus of the nonprofit has pivoted during the pandemic to address the larger needs of Heartside. John points to Guiding Light’s donation of its facility to the Kent County Health Department in the early months of the pandemic to serve as a safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness AND the coronavirus – and to its December partnership with Mel Trotter Ministries and the City to provide overflow housing and a warming shelter.
 
“The pandemic has created an openness to work with other nonprofits in the area relative to those who don’t have a voice,” John noted. “It’s one thing to stay inwardly focused and concentrated on your own mission. It’s also a blessing we are in a location that needs more than what we can deliver, which has encouraged us to work with other organizations and the City of Grand Rapids to find solutions.”
 
John hopes that spirit of partnership will inspire others to support Guiding Light and other organizations that serve our community. He has grown through his volunteering and board service, as a father and parent, a business leader and colleague, a neighbor and resident.
 
“It has been a continuous growth journey for me,” he said. “When you take on new experiences, for good or bad, you’re the better for it. I’ve had so many wonderful interactions with people who have big hearts and are well-intentioned. When you combine all these together, we can accomplish some incredible things.
 
“If anyone is looking to get involved, I would strongly encourage any of the Heartside organizations – although I have an obvious affinity for Guiding Light. If you have the time and wherewithal, it is a great organization.”

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