Grace Gospel Reclaims Church from Nightclub, Readies for…

Grace Gospel Reclaims Church from Nightclub, Readies for Easter Sunday Openingseed017_darlene_bignotti

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 18, 2014)

The stained glass windows of the old First Congregational Church had been boarded up for over a dozen years as the center for worship was used as nightclub. After being boxed in, painted black and blue, and given names like Sanctum and Clutch Cargo, the church at Huron and Mill Street is ready for revival.

Grace Gospel Fellowship opens on Easter Sunday at 11am for its first service in the renovated chapel.

“When the seed01_bridget and kevin deegan krauseboards came down, all the sunlight came in. We thought, this is a miracle. The main window was still intact. Not one pane had to be replaced,” said Michelle Atwell, Director of Development for Grace Centers of Hope.

Under the leadership of Pastor Kent Clark, Grace Gospel and Grace Centers of Hope are more than just a church. They are mission of caring and rehabilitation that helps hundreds of men, women and children get their lives on track.

Without any government funding, the organization works miracles through the generosity of supporters and the hands of volunteers. Located across the street from their recently-acquired chapel, Grace Centers of Hope offers multiple seed016_goedert_familyprograms to lift people out of homelessness, poverty and addiction. They are one of southeast Michigan’s oldest homeless shelters, offering emergency shelter, food, and clothing to those in need. A one-year life skills program helps individuals and families transition to stable housing, sobriety and employment. They offer state-certified child care, employment training and placement, and even opportunities for graduates of their life skills program to rent to own homes in a part of Pontiac known as Little Grace Village.

David Bowman, County Commission candidate and Community and Volunteer Services Director for McLaren Oakland toured the care facility and the church with Atwell and Pastor Clark just days before the grand opening.

“It’s nice New Harvest Homes NHHto see that space being used for its intended purpose,” Bowman said. “What a great change for Pontiac and for all the people you serve. I know this is something they’ve wanted for a long time, and I can’t wait for Sunday to see it full of people giving praise.”

Walking through the Grace Centers of Hope main location, Bowman was impressed with the various areas he saw. Unlike some homeless shelters, Grace prides itself on a clean, home-like environment. There are 65 beds in their one-year programs, divided between a men’s shelter and women’s and children’s shelter. The neat rows of bunk beds and storage were donated by Art Van Furniture as were many of the higher-end furniture and décor items. seed019_Cherie_RolfeSoft-colored murals with Bible verses grace the hallways, while the rooms are warm, clean, and color-coordinated to help the residents feel at home. “I tell people that they may be homeless, but they don’t need to be dirty,” Pastor Clark said.

“This doesn’t even feel like a homeless shelter,” Bowman said. “It feels like a home.”

Atwell said that living in an organized, well-kept place is part of what helps people feel stable as they work towards independence. “We’ve worked to create a community here. We find having a sense of accountability has more of an impact seed06_joann_willcockwhen people look out for each other. A lot of times these are people who are alone, they have lost their family and friends and have no support systems. Being part of the community helps in healing.”

More than 150,000 meals are prepared in their kitchen, which is stocked mainly with donations. A recent $50,000 grant from Walmart allowed them to purchase energy-efficient refrigeration units, enabling them to store even more food and reduce expenses. Forgotten Harvest brings in fresh fruits, veggies, meats and perishables while local restaurants also donate their extras. On the day of Bowman’s tour, an array of gourmet cupcakes from Yummy’s Cupcakes in West Bloomfield were there for residents’ deserts.Jim Shaffer KELLER ad black

Multiple rooms make up the panty, where volunteers like Edward Leonard sort donations into storage. Other volunteers prepare the meals and handle the cleanup.

Also in the center are rooms full of toilet paper and personal care items, and a clothing room for adults and children to pick out items they need. Grace Centers of Hope also operates a network of thrift stores. The stores enable them to get items needed for residents, provide seed07_cindy_peltonenwork opportunities for those in transition, and help raise money for their mission.

Joy Holloway has worked for Grace for 11 years handling phone calls to the crisis line. Last year the organization had to turn away over 7,000 women seeking shelter because they are continuously at capacity. But still the volunteers and employees do the best they can. “I would do nothing but this. I’ve seen so many women come in here and see them change their lives. Some I still see on Sundays. You know their stories, where they’ve come from, and you see what they have done with their lives. It’s heartbreaking to see a young mother needing help and to have to say no. But the yeses make it worth it,” Holloway said.

As Easter Sunday approaches, workers scramble to put the finishing touches on the church. Lighting and speakers are being installed and the buildings original floors are being cleaned and restored to their 1910 splendor.sidebar016grow

The church can hold up to 700 worshipers, and their current congregation is about 300, Pastor Clark said. He is hoping that the new space will help them attract new members and support. The move also means that their old worship space on Perry Street will be converted into a women and children’s center to further increase the number of people they can serve.

The church was put up for sale when the owner of Clutch Cargos went on to other projects. The Luther family purchased the church and donated it Grace Gospel Fellowship, and the congregation raised funds for the million dollar renovation, and the purchase of a parking lot from the City of Pontiac.

“It is fitting what we are doing here, transforming a night club back into a church,” Pastor Clark said. “We see transformations like this every day in the people we serve.”

For more information on Grace Gospel Fellowship visit http://www.ggfpontiac.org/. For more on Grace Centers of Hope visit http://www.gracecentersofhope.org/.

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