Grace Centers of Hope 80th anniversary celebrated through volunteerism

Robin Buckson
The Detroit News

Among the Grace Centers of Hope residents and volunteers cleaning up a Pontiac backyard as part of Picking up Pontiac there are many stories of hope and transformation. 

Jager Carmos, 26, says he used to be a jailbird until he was forced by the court to enroll in the men's program at Grace. "When I came here, Grace Centers of Hope taught me a different viewpoint to life than I’ve heard from any other rehab or program I’ve ever been into and I fell in love with the place because of the sense of community that’s here."

Now seven years later, Carmos is the volunteer coordinator for Grace. The idea of Picking up Pontiac was a team effort by Carmos and others who wanted to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Grace Centers of Hope with three days of volunteerism, a critical part of what has made Grace the catalyst for so many transformed lives.

"Everything started in one building. Over the course of the 80 years, we have now a career and education center, a day care, a women’s center and then also a men’s program. And that doesn’t just happen over night, it happens with a lot of volunteer work and a lot of help from the community. I like to say that volunteerism is the horsepower that drives a mission like this. Without the volunteers, we’re not gonna go anywhere," says Carmos.

From left, Katy Kuriwchak, Paige Collins and Molly White, all residents of Grace Centers of Hope's women's program, joke around for the camera as they weed a backyard as part of the Picking Up Pontiac, three-days of volunteerism and clean up, organized by Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, Mich. on July 22, 2022.  Grace Centers of Hope is celebrating its 80th anniversary of creating life-saving programs that provide hope for those facing issues of homelessness, addiction, abuse, poverty, and spiritual emptiness. The nonprofit's four-day milestone anniversary celebration begins with Picking up Pontiac, three days of volunteerism and cleaning up the downtown Pontiac neighborhood.

Christa Merritt, 37, takes a break from pulling weeds to talk about her transformation. "I was on the streets for about two years before I finally came to Grace and got my kids back and my life back. Compared to then and now, is like, I could have never possibly imagined that my life could be as good as it is now. I think that staying sober, it’s is not about staying sober, it’s about producing a life to where you’re happy enough that you don’t want to do anything else. And that’s what they (Grace) brought me to."

Over four decades, Grace Centers of Hope CEO Pastor Kent Clark has seen thousands of transformations. "This is the oldest, probably without doubt, the largest shelter in the state of Michigan. And especially that’s true, in doing what we do, putting families together, getting people off of drugs to no cost to them. Ours is not short term deal, you’re here for a year getting your life back together. After a year you move into the village here or earn your rent and become a, hopefully, a productive citizen." 

"This is a miracle place. We really see the most amazing things. Even to consider our budget, to raise $8 million with no government funding. I feel like it’s a God miracle. And then to have 10-12 thousand volunteers a year to come out and to come alongside. The American people are the most giving people in the world. We found that to be true, and especially if you give them something to give toward that they know is really gonna be successful and Grace Centers has become that and noted for that."

Following the three days of volunteerism, Grace Gospel Fellowship will host an 80th anniversary event at 11 a.m. and the public is invited to join the celebration. The program will include a presentation of the timeline of Grace Centers of Hope with pictures, stories and videos highlighting the past 80 years. Grace Gospel Fellowship is located at 65 E. Huron St. in Pontiac.