Archive for the ‘nonprofit’ Category

Calling the Next Generation of Leaders.

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Good morning and Happy Thursday! It is a beautiful morning in downtown Grand Rapids!



Yesterday was the annual meeting of the Trustees of Mel Trotter Ministries. It was one year ago that my term ended as Board Chair.

Last year I shared my reflections on this experience.

One of my great joys during this time was seeing the launch of Mel Trotter Ministries 2020 Strategic Plan.  Check it out to see some exciting things we see in the near future for MTM.



Detroit Nonprofit Day

Today,  I was reading about an upcoming event called Detroit Non-Profit Day

This is a one day conference in April devoted to preparing non-profits for financial and sustainable growth.

Reflecting on Detroit NonProfit Day and  my experience at Mel Trotter as well as serving other nonprofits, got me thinking on nonprofit sustainability and prompted me to write this post.

This is an issue that all non-profits need to address:

how are non-profits going to stay viable in the future?


However, the issue I wanted to address in this post is sustainability in leadership.


My Call to Next Generation Leaders. We Need You.

I can appreciate the anxieties that many service-minded folks can experience when faced with volunteer/board service. Particularly the next generation/millennials.

Many feel inadequate and inexperienced.

I had a conversation recently with a friend – we serve on a committee together where the rest of the people around the table are successful influencers and leaders in the business community. My friend made the comment to me that “one of these things is not like the other.” He was pointing out the obvious – we, in both our minds,  stuck out like a sore thumb because our relative young age.

Simply put, when you are younger and sitting around a table full of gray-haired folks who have achieved much more than you, it is easy to let insecurity or doubt slip in.

This insecurity can be a road block for many in putting themselves out there for service.

If that’s you – here’s my call to you:

What you are experiencing is normal.

But get over it.

Fight through the temptation to be passive. Be bold and reach out to the organization that fits your passions.

Don’t do it for yourself – do it for the cause that you care about.

Because whether the organization acknowledges it or not – they need you.

They need your perspective, and they need you to get involved to gain experience and develop institutional knowledge in how their nonprofit works.

You only learn the strengths and the gaps of an organization by spending time in that organization in active service.


Here’s a selfish plug for Mel Trotter Ministries – interested in learning more about ways to serve or connect with the leadership? Join me for lunch.

At Mel Trotter Ministries, we are always looking for volunteers. We need people who have a heart for the hungry, homeless and hurting in West Michigan.  As we seek to end homelessness in West Michigan, one life at a time, it is a large task and we cannot do it alone.


This is my call to everyone, but particularly our next generation of leaders – millennials and beyond.

Ask yourself:


How can I serve?




Millennials – I’m reminded of the Bible – 1 Timothy 4:12 –

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers

The fact remains – the millennial and younger generations are our future leaders.

Now is the perfect time to get plugged into one of the many opportunities to serve and lead.

Please take this as your personal invitation from me –

Take the initiative.

Get engaged.

Just show up.



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka


Lessons from Court: Real Estate Investors combating the Affordable Housing Crisis

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

I took this photo this morning. Even when its cold outside, there is just something about the morning sun rising over Grand Rapids that gets me excited.



Wearing Multiple Hats.

Life is complicated when we wear multiple hats. I’ve written about the multiple hats I wear.

We all wear multiple hats. For example – I am a Christ Follower, a husband, a father, an attorney, a (recent) church elder, a volunteer, a mentor, etc…


The two roles that I find colliding most often are as follows:


Hat 1. I am an attorney representing business owners including real estate investors.

Hat 2. I am the past-board Chair at Mel Trotter Ministries – and am committed to ending homelessness, one life at a time.


Two Universes colliding

My two universes often collide and bring me right into the middle of a thick tension. That tension is highlighted by a scenario I often find myself in, such as the one a few days ago.


Recently I walked into the courthouse with a relatively simple task: obtain a Judgment for my client.


My client, real estate investor, recently purchased property that had an existing holdover tenant. This tenant had not paid any rent in months.


The complicating factor that I discovered when I met the tenant outside the courtroom:

the tenant was a single woman with young children, with no place to go.


These are the situations that law school doesn’t prepare you for.

How do I advise my client in this situation?


An Affordable Housing Crisis.

I just read an article today from Nick Manes at MIBiz on how in Grand Rapids there is still a Strong Demand for rental real estate.

This article is one of many constant reminders that it is hard to find housing in Grand Rapids, even if you can afford it.

The young lady I met at court, and others similarly situated, could very well find herself homeless.

I am thankful for places like Mel Trotter Ministries where in 2017 over 400 individuals found housing.



Three Examples of Real Estate Investors being part of the Solution.

I am thankful for those who are willing to work with tenants. In the case above, my client agreed to provide additional time for the tenant to find other housing.

See here for my article on the Eviction Prevention Program – a program implemented last month intended to address the affordable housing crisis in Grand Rapids.


Another client scenario comes to mind. This particular client is a well-to-do business owner with a big heart, and entered into the residential real estate rental industry truly to be part of the solution – to provide affordable housing to those in need without gouging those on a fixed budget – even though the market would allow my client to charge higher rent.

This is social entrepreneurship at its finest!

However, in this particular client’s case, my client was “too nice”. He was taken advantage of by a tenant.  In the end, I believe the Landlord’s generosity actually did a disservice to the Tenant by allowing the Tenant to stay months in the property without paying. Certainly the tenant wasn’t helping the landlord by failing to make any efforts to pay.

Many of my clients can’t afford not to receive regular rent. They rely on the rent to pay the mortgage.

This is why it is often said that the affordable housing crisis is complicated.


I also think of the private investor who decided last year to work with Mel Trotter Ministries to house and case manage homeless youth – to get them into their own stable housing. This investor knows that he could get more profit on this rental, but is willing to take less money in hopes of changing the lives of homeless male youths.



A Lesson from these 3 Real Estate Investors….

There are no easy answers here. But what I appreciate about all three of the investors I mentioned above, is that they were all committed to “do something” – maybe somewhat awkwardly at times, maybe with mixed results, but their hearts were in the right place and they all did something to be part of the solution to transforming lives out of homelessness. They were committed to making their community better.


Are we willing to step up and be part of the solution, in some capacity?

We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.


How are we working to build a better community?



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka



Michigan Law Update: The Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative. Community Revitalization Now Includes Downtown Grocery Stores.

January 17, 2018 Leave a comment


Several years ago ago I took my family to New York City. (and took the below photo).

Even amidst the chaos of protecting my 4 young children from darting out in2015-11-26-13-04-02to oncoming traffic – we absolutely loved the City.


We loved the walk-ability of City life –

that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.


I love downtown Grand Rapids.


(Below, photo I took this morning from my office)

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs to continue to support growth in downtown grocery stores.


This is not a novel concept.

There has been recent exciting development in Grand Rapids on this front – see Meijer opening a grocery store on Bridge Street.

Also, Russo’s International Market opened last year as well.



“Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative” – Public Act 229

Last March, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative.” (re-named “Neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative”)

This Bill intended to provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

Specifically, HB 4027 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program


Passed into Law

On December 28th this House Bill was given immediate effect and assigned as Public Act 229 . 


The law provides incentives to “new neighborhood” food initiatives. That is why, per the new law:

a new neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative…is not eligible for a community revitalization incentive if it is located within 1 mile of an existing retail supermarket, grocery store, or produce market…that offers unprocessed USDA-inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”


Hopefully this law will spur development of urban grocery stores in Grand Rapids, and beyond to places like Detroit. There is wonderful community development work going on right now in Detroit, as the article below highlights.


Healthy Food Options – Essential for Urban Living

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living. Check out this recent article from Non-Profit Quarterly about Communities of Color Developing Residents-Owned Groceries.

According to the Article:

“Grocery stores…often anchor “neighborhood economies, recirculating local revenues through wages and nearby businesses. They can also be neighborhood hubs, where people go to buy good food as well as employment centers and sources of community pride.”

“Alas, the lack of these hubs can be damaging, notes Malik Yakini, who directs the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Yakini is one of a host of activists across the country who are working to foster community ownership of food businesses in communities of color.”


We should be encouraging Malik Yakini and others and supporting community ownership of food businesses in communities of color. Hopefully the new law will attract such local ownership.


Parting Thoughts

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.

I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. In Grand Rapids, we are confronted everywhere with the need for Affordable Housing. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan honestly asking the question: “How am I building a better community?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka


Join me at Mel Trotter Ministries 3rd Annual Season of Hope Event – Keynote by Author Ron Hall “Same Kind of Different as Me”

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment


Occasionally when I am walking in downtown Grand Rapids I will run into a guy with dirty clothes, smelling bad, looking homeless. When I am asked for money, my gut reaction is to want to help. Honestly though, oftentimes I have no idea what is the right response.


I will invariably pray for them, but I’m faced with the hard decision:

  • do I give them money?


  • do I buy them food?


  • do I simply direct them to Mel Trotter Ministries?


Should I be doing more?


Join me in hearing from Ron Hall, author of “Same Kind of Different as Me”  – you can check out the trailer to the movie, based upon the book, that is coming out soon.


Ron Hall’s friendship with a man that society had all but disregarded and given up teaches us all fundamental lessons – namely:

All people are valuable and loved by God. 


Hear from some of Ron’s experiences and valuable lessons.

As he tells us in his book:

To love a man enough to help him, you have to forfeit the warm, self-righteous glow that comes from judging.”
On Tuesday September 26, 2017 Mel Trotter Ministries will host its 3rd Annual Season of Hope Event at the JW Marriott with Ron Hall as our guest speaker.

We are still looking for corporate sponsors. Tickets are available here


Thank you to our Honorary Leadership Committee!

Kenneth Graham & Linda Vos-Graham
James & Nancy Engen
Tom & Marcia Haas
Cate & Sid Jansma Jr.
Bill & India Manns
Tom & Jackie McGovern
Mark & Elizabeth Murray
Gordon & Karla Oosting
Janis Petrini
Jerry & Marcia Tubergen
Harold & Lori Voorhees, Jr.
Greg & Meg Willit


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers Should Keep Track of this Bill to Make Veterans a Protected Class in Housing Discrimination.

August 31, 2017 Leave a comment

On August 16, 2017 HB 4872 was introduced into the Michigan House of Representatives.

The Bill amend the “Elliott-Larsen civil rights act,” and would provide that veterans are included in the list of those protected by Michigan law against housing discrimination.

The Bill would define Military Service as:



The Bill brings two thoughts to mind:

  1. Our Veterans and those who served our country deserve to be treated fairly in housing and all other areas of life.
  2. This Bill brings up a fundamental question: are Veterans being discriminated against in housing? Does it happen?



According to statistics recently published in the Bridge with insight from Dennis Van Kampen of Mel Trotter Ministries, there are fewer homeless veterans than ever in Michigan today, but more homeless youth.

The Bill was sent to the committee on Military and Veteran Affairs. I will be tracking this bill.


I look forward to hear comments from the public on this issue: are we in Michigan protecting our Veterans access to fair housing?

Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Removing Employment Barriers For the Most Vulnerable. Work To Be Done.

August 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Today I read an article from the ABA JournalNY District Attorney’s efforts resulted in some $644,000 of minor offenses being dismissed. Check out the article here.

In making his argument in support of the massive dismissals, the District Attorney explained to the Judge that:

“New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences,”


Such unintended consequences are not unique to New York City.

In West Michigan, our community development organizations see firsthand that outstanding warrants cause significant barriers to employment and housing. Immigration is an ever increasing topic of local and national concern.


Indeed, the ABA Journal had noted several years ago that Post-conviction consequences make it difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs – here

The ABAJournal noted that: “The U.S. economy loses up to $65 billion in output each year because of fewer job opportunities for convicted felons, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The Small Business Association of Michigan – has previously reported that:

Convicts leaving incarceration often have a difficult time re-entering the working world because, according to one survey, 65 percent of employers would never consider hiring someone with a felony record.


Michigan’s Role..

Michigan government has taken steps to remove such employment barriers. The Work Opportunity Act was introduced in the Senate back in February to further incentive businesses in hiring former convicted felons.  You can check out my previous articles on the matter here.

More Locally…

Check out Mel Trotter Ministries and their Community Outreach Court – formerly “Street Court” initiative.


An older  press release (here) details how MTM, Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministries help the homeless with criminal backgrounds.

I’m thankful for the work that Mel Trotter, Degage, Heartside, and other organizations are doing to help the homeless in West Michigan clear up outstanding legal issues that are just another obstacle between them and employment..

Also Worth Praising their Efforts….

There are a number of great companies who reach out to support putting Michiganders with certain barriers to work.  Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids lead by CEO Kathy Crosby does a fantastic job of equipping this demographic and putting them into long term employment.

Some West Michigan companies who do a great job of reaching out to hire/place those with employment barriers are Cascade Engineering and its Founder Fred Keller. Others include Lacks EnterprisesKentwood Office Furniture and Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids lead by Janis Petrini to name a few.

These community partners deserve praise for their work putting to work the “unemployable” and the vulnerable in our local community.

To conclude:

there’s work to be done.

Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Community Revitalization To Include Downtown Grocery Stores: Update on The Urban Food Initiative.

August 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday I read a story about a Detroiter, Raphael Wright who plans on opening a “mission-driven supermarket” in downtown Detroit. Check out the article on NextCity.

Raphael’s idea is sparked by a much needed grocery option in Detroit- particularly for low-income residents.

I love this idea.

A few years back I took my family to New York City. We loved the walk-ability of City life – that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.

food-healthy-vegetables-potatoesI love downtown Grand Rapids.


If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs a downtown grocery store.

In February, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative” it would provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.



Specifically, HB 4207 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program


An update since my last post, in May, the Trade and Commerce Committee recommended a substitute bill, check here.

The Bill substitute changed the name,  Urban Food Initiatives, to “NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR FOOD INITIATIVE”  – thereby broadening the applicability of these community revitalization incentives –  I have bracketed the additional language:

Property that will be used primarily as a retail supermarket, grocery store, produce market or delicatessen that is located in a downtown [OR IN A DEVELOPMENT AREA AS DEFINED IN SECTION 2 OF 3 THE CORRIDOR IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY ACT] area…that offers unprocessed USDA inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”

The other substantive revision to the substitute bill would require that at least 5% of community revitalization incentives be awarded to these initiatives. Check out the Bill Analysis from the House Fiscal Agency, for more information.


Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living, particularly for low-income residents. Check out a previous article from Next City about the Food Revolution in Detroit.

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.



I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. Grand Rapids has a need for affordable housing for the most vulnerable in our society. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am looking forward to tracking the progress of this bill. I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan taking serious their responsibility as community stakeholders and asking the question: “How am I building a better community?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka