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As Pandemic Enters Second Year, Guiding Light Sees Increased Demand for Addiction Recovery Program

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Since the beginning of the year, Guiding Light has had an uptick in the number of inquiries and enrollments for its Recovery program. Director Brian Elve provides insights into the problem -- and how Guiding Light has developed an effective approach to help men recover and re-engage.

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

As the global COVID-19 pandemic prepares to enter its second year, Guiding Light is seeing increased demand for its addiction Recovery program.

Known on the street as “no-joke recovery,” Guiding Light’s peer-run program provides an intensive residential treatment path for men who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. The four- to six-month Recovery program combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and resources to equip men to stay sober, reconnect with their families and re-engage with work and with society.

Since the beginning of 2021, Guiding Light has seen a sharp uptick in the number of inquiries and program enrollments for Recovery. Director Brian Elve attributes the increases to the continued stresses brought on by the pandemic – and to Guiding Light’s hands-on approach to intake, which starts with compassion and connection.

“We take the role of advocate,” Elve explained. “If someone calls us, we’re calling them back – and not just once. If someone signals the least bit of interest in Recovery, we’re tracking them and calling them back regularly, sometimes for two or three months. Men enrolling in the program tell us we’re the only organization that continued to call them.

“If you are a late-stage addict or alcoholic, you have pretty much burned all your bridges. We approach conversations by asking, ‘Hey man, how are you doing?’ and affirming they have value and worth. We try to give some hope that there IS a path through their addictions to a better life.”

Guiding Light’s Recovery program is free to participants and entirely funded by donations and grants. Men who arrive at the doorstep of 255 Division Ave. S. have often tried – and failed – other recovery programs an average of five times. They often arrive with nearly $11,000 in debt from student loans, credit cards and other bills. Many have lost their homes, sleeping instead on couches of friends – or on the street. 

Elve said program participants notice the difference in Guiding Light’s approach to recovery from day one. Men are expected to be out of bed at 5:30 a.m., make their beds and assist with chores as they launch into the intensive program of education classes, individual and group therapy sessions and weekly sessions with a life coach and spiritual director. 

Program participants have daily contact with outside community support groups who are committed to their recovery. On average, they attend nine support group meetings each week. Last July, Guiding Light put new safety precautions in place to ensure the continued health of program participants and staff.

Protocols include regular hand-washing, wearing masks, physical distancing, daily health screening and temperature checks. The staff work to balance the need to stay healthy with the need for connection and support for those in Recovery, adding CrossFit classes in the chapel and establishing a Thursday game night that has included lip sync contests, CrossFit, yoga and a running team.

Still, the isolation mandated by the pandemic has put the onus on staff to find creative and safe ways to establish and support community. Unlike other programs, Guiding Light’s Recovery program is peer-led. All current team members have come through the program themselves and have experienced the challenges firsthand.

“We’ve all been through this,” Elve said. “We’re all in recovery. It requires honesty to be here – and a recognition that the game is up and change is necessary. 

“At some point, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘Is this how I want to be as a father, a husband, an employee?’ Those bigger questions attract people to our program. We’re not just a plug in the jug – we ask how you want to live your life and help you take the positive steps needed to get there.” 

If you or a man you love would benefit from Guiding Light’s Recovery program, call 616.451.0236, ext. 23 and take a confidential first step. Learn more on our website.

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