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1.23.20 – Club News

Club News written by Tom Mathison

The Rotary Club of Downtown Grand Rapids gathered at noon at the University Club for its regular meeting. President Neil Marchand called this meeting to order at noon by welcoming everyone and announcing the line-up of events and future speakers for the Club:

  • 30th – Steve Heacock – President/CEO, Grand Rapids Whitewater @ University Club
  • 6th – Club 77 @ Emmanuel Hospice, hosted by Sara Lowe and Heather Duffy – RSVP by Feb. 2nd.
  • 13th – Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director, Degage’ Ministries @ Degage’ Ministries – RSVP by Feb. 7th.

President Neil invited Tom Mathison to lead us in our song for today, “Is It the Truth” (sung to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”), followed by the invocation by Carl Ver Beek.

Following lunch, Neil invited Matthew Hogg to introduce guests and visiting Rotarians, and then invited Katherine Roye to introduce two new members:  Katharina Hausler-Gross, Assoc. Provost, Aquinas College (sponsored by Kevin Quinn and Cecilia Cunningham), and Evan Sassack, Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch (sponsored by Luis Vecchio and Ed Bujdos).  Each made a few remarks and then were welcomed to the Club by President Neil with new membership pins.  Welcome Katharina and Evan!

President Marchand invited Alex Wilson to give us an update on the happenings with the Community Engagement Committee.  She started by recognizing the Rotarians who volunteered earlier this week to prepare and serve dinner at the Ronald McDonald House.  She also mentioned two more events coming up:  SASy lunch at the U-Club on February 20, and Habitat for Humanities event on February 29.  For Habitat, see Christine Lindeman and be sure to register by February 17.

President Marchand invited JoAnn Abraham to the podium to introduce today’s speakers, Leslie Hooker and Suzanne Wilcox.  Leslie and Suzanne work with children with special needs who have aged out of the K-12 system and require care, pus dignity and respect.  Leslie’s son, Tanis, is visually impaired, and Suzanne’s son, Gavin, has autism.  They began a business – Beer City Dog Biscuits as a way to provide vocational training with a sense of purpose for their sons.

Suzanne began by saying that she and Leslie were friends in school in East Grand Rapids 40 years ago.  Suzanne moved away for 30 years and had a successful education consulting business in Cleveland, Columbus, and, later, Grand Rapids.  She and her family moved back about 10 years ago, and she reconnected with Leslie.  About five years ago, they began to ask themselves what their kids will do as they age.  In Michigan, public education services are provided until a student reaches the age of 26.  They then get a Certificate of Completion, rather a GED or diploma.

They developed a vision of a “living community” of adult foster care and senior care on the same campus (they referred to an existing place (Miser Acordia) on 32 acres in Lincoln Park in Chicago that accommodates 600 residents and 1,000 volunteers.  They brainstormed about living spaces for their kids, as well as creating a business to give their kids a purpose.  A friend from Cincinnati gave her a dog biscuit as an idea for a business, and an idea was formed for a business here.

They research the market, acquired an agricultural license for producing dog food, and found free space with two ovens in the kitchen of Central Reformed Church, as well as classroom space at GRPS.  They have grown to serve 56 young adults who work from 1 to 4 times a week.  They come from Ready for Life and from the Kent ISD.  They make up to 5000 biscuits each day.  They are restricted only by the availability of kitchen space and oven capacity at the church.

They get their used grains from Founder’s Brewing, and they add rice, flour, eggs, and peanut butter in a special recipe that dogs love.  Their biscuits are sold in pet supply stores in several states, as well as the local farm market and downtown market.  The workers receive no wages, just vocational training.  Money from the sale of biscuits pays for packaging, ingredients, marketing, legal fees, and a part-tie kitchen manager.  Leslie and Suzanne receive no compensation.

In honor of Leslie’s and Suzanne’s time with us today, President Neil presented them with a certificate saying that a water filter has been donated in his name to a family in Nicaragua.  He then rang the Rotary bell to adjourn the meeting.

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