Our Brother’s Keeper revitalized by new volunteer interest

TROY LANDIS

BIG RAPIDS — Just a few weeks ago, officials say, the Our Brother’s Keeper homeless shelter was on the verge of permanently closing — the result of burnout from two people who served as both the board of the nonprofit organization as well as its office staff.

But now, the shelter — which serves a maximum of 35 people and is often filled to capacity — is thriving, with a spate of new volunteers, potential new board members and a director/manager, who is expected to be appointed at Thursday’s board meeting to fill a longtime vacancy.

“We put out a post on Facebook in March that just said, ‘Here’s what we’re dealing with. If we don’t get some new people in here to help, Our Brother’s Keeper may not be around much longer. We need a break.’ And the response we got was just tremendous,” said board president Leslie Parish. “It made me very happy. There’s a need for Our Brother’s Keeper here in Big Rapids and people here recognize that. Now, we hope, the load will be managed in a more sustainable way.”

Among those who stepped up was Troy Landis, a firefighter with the city of Wyoming Fire Department who had only begun volunteering at OBK a few months prior. Landis, 45, of Hersey, indicated his desire to lead the organization, saying he was inspired by the people who came to the shelter and wanted to get more involved.

“I’m in a situation that allows me to have some free time, and I’m blessed for that,” Landis said. “I’m trying to pay it forward, because I think if the community were more aware of some of the good things happening for these people, it would be inspiring to them, and they might be willing to contribute their time or money to the cause.”

Parish said she’s excited to see what Landis can do in the position.

“He has the enthusiasm and the know-how to get things done,” she said. “It’s a good complement for me, because I have the vision and the enthusiasm, but not necessarily the know-how. I’m looking forward to working with him as a team. I’m hoping with him coming on board, we can get some great things accomplished.”

The shelter, which is normally open Nov. 1 through May 1 every year, is challenging for just two people to run, Parish said — especially considering she and vice president Kelli Butler both have full-time jobs. OBK relies largely on grant funding to remain solvent, which means grant writers are needed. There are always security issues to deal with. And recruiting volunteers can occasionally be difficult.

“It wears on you after awhile. It’s stressful — you’re dealing with peoples’ lives,” Parish said. “Plus, you really need a person there at the shelter in order to maintain consistency with your rules. We’re not always going to be able to be there, but Troy will be.”

Butler still intends to leave the board, Parish said, and while there has been interest from the public in administrative positions, there are still others available. She advised those interested to call (231) 629-8033.

Parish and Landis have a number of ambitious goals they want to accomplish; including gaining accreditation through the Better Business Bureau, updating the shelter’s security system to include video monitoring, staying open all year long and building a number of “tiny homes” in the area.

Regardless of whether or not each and every goal is accomplished, the pair say, they are just happy OBK is still viable.

“I’m excited to get started. The community needs Our Brother’s Keeper,” Landis said.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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