Living life one day at a time became more than just a cliché for Mischelle Sytsma after she lost her home, family and career during a four-year period.
Depression and alcohol left Sytsma homeless, broke and seeking a guiding light at the Hope House, a homeless shelter for women in Grand Haven that teaches women the necessary skills to resume life on their own.
A vision of Hope
Hope House began three years ago as a vision from Love INC President Eric Morgan.
One day, a woman with two little girls stopped by the office. She had lost her home to foreclosure and needed a place to stay the night. The only option available was to give the young family a ride to the Holland Rescue Mission because the Tri-Cities didn't have a place of refuge for individuals or families in dire need.
Morgan wanted to make a change.
After three town hall gatherings and many Grand Haven City Council meetings, Morgan received the community support he needed. At one meeting, the city chambers filled up with people and extra chairs had to be brought in.
“I didn't know what was going to happen,” he said. “Not a single person stood up and objected. Person after person stood up and spoke in favor of The Ministry Center. It was amazing.”
With six rooms and a capacity of 12 people, the Hope House opened in May 2011 and has been full ever since.
Morgan's vision didn't include just a cot and a meal. He knew a cycle needed to be broken and that meant offering a tailored curriculum for each individual to help them become self-sufficient and confident women.
“We needed to be more than just a Band-Aid — we needed to be part of the solution,” he said. “We were committed to making a difference for good in people's lives.”
In order to graduate from Hope House, certain criteria have to be met. There must be steady employment, debt paid off, a savings for a deposit and first month's rent, plus an emergency fund between $500 and $1,000.
Participants are required to clean their rooms, pitch in with chores and attend classes during the day. Some of the classes include job readiness, budget counseling, resume writing, mock interviews, cooking classes and proper nutrition.
“This is a program for women who want to succeed. It’s not for the faint at heart,” Sytsma said. “But you receive 10 times back all the effort you put into it.”
Struggling to find Hope
Sytsma had been driven her whole life, both academically and professionally. She was a professor at Calvin College, an elected city official in Ada, and a praise and worship leader in her church.
She confessed to trying to maintain an upbeat image while she struggled internally.
“I started to drink to cope with pain and anger,” Sytsma said. “As a Christian and being very involved in the church, I wasn’t comfortable telling the truth. I had to hide my pain. Problems with alcohol usually aren’t addressed in church. For me, it was like living a double life.”
When Sytsma entered Hope House in February 2012, she couldn’t believe it when Morgan turned to her and said “welcome home” on her first day.
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.