October 10, 2023

Here for a Reason

One ICCF client for nearly forty years has deeply invested in local youth through her role as mom, foster parent, educator, and now member of the ICCF Board of Directors.

When Janice moved with her son (age 2) and daughter (age 10) to West Michigan in November 1984, they had nothing.

“I had never heard of Grand Rapids,” Janice recalls. “I had lost my apartment and was living on someone’s couch. I had no furniture, no car. Just my kids and diapers, that was it.” Only 28 years old, Janice left her home in Gary, Indiana, to seek a better future. She had been laid off from her job in the school system when a thriving industrial community started to feel the squeeze of an economic downturn due to overseas competition. Houses were empty, businesses closed, and Janice knew it was time to leave.

Once in Grand Rapids, she wasn’t sure they would fare much better. Janice and her kids crowded into the only apartment she could afford. She had no stove or refrigerator, instead relying on the apartment’s space heater flames to warm themselves and their meals. Her children shared their single mattress, while Janice slept on an old, raggedy chair that had been left behind. They had no phone, no washer or dryer, and no appropriate clothing for the brutal Michigan winter.

“I would get two burritos from the gas station next door and cut them up into small pieces for dinner. We ate it with water,” says Janice. “When you opened the apartment’s cabinets, mice fell out. The mice ate the toes out of my only pair of shoes, so I had to wear double socks.” Fighting to make a life for her family, Janice walked long distances to the welfare office, the food bank, and the utility company. When she successfully got their heat turned on that winter, a corroded gas line led to an emergency evacuation and overnight hospital stay. She remembers the fireman who told her, “You must be here on earth for a reason, because I was supposed to be doing a recovery, not a rescue.”

With support from local agencies like the Salvation Army and her caseworker, Janice earned a job as a daycare teacher and moved into a safer rental. Janice incorporated her gift for art—crafts, painting, writing—into her students’ daily routine and became a favorite of their parents. Then the daycare suddenly closed. One of Janice’s coworkers enlisted her help to relaunch the daycare out of the first floor of his home. Janice painted Disney characters on the wall, he cleaned the carpets, and they opened for business. “The parents were so eager that before the business was open they were dropping off kids to my house,” Janice remembers.

It just so happens that Janice’s new daycare was located right across the street from a house that was soon listed for sale. It was available through a City of Grand Rapids program being facilitated by ICCF. Her coworker suggested it would be a good investment, but Janice wasn’t sure. She had never been a homeowner and the place would need work. During an open house hosted by ICCF, her coworker helped her measure the rooms and encouraged her to make future plans. Janice tried not to be discouraged by what other potential homebuyers said about their savings, their retirement plans, or their bonuses. Her handwritten application was copied twice, meticulously proofread, and then submitted to the City of Grand Rapids. She was invited to an in-person interview and asked what her future plans would be if she were to receive the home.

Janice told them, “I want to be a foster parent. I don’t want kids to ever have to go through what I did in my life. I didn’t have anything. The house I grew up in was condemned, uninhabitable. I don’t want kids to ever feel like they don’t have anybody.” When Janice received notice that she was chosen to own the home, she was ecstatic. She paid a $1.00 down payment to the City of Grand Rapids, and she and her children moved in right away, but didn’t have much furniture or decor to make it feel like home.

“A good friend told me, ‘That’s why they make curtains. Nobody needs to know what you have or don’t have except for you,’” recalls Janice. She got connected to one of our partners, Home Repair Services, to help with home maintenance and continued working and saving. Soon after, she made good on her words and took in her first foster child, a young girl. For years, Janice’s home became known as a safe haven for local kids.

“My first foster daughter was like another child to me,” says Janice. “Children who lived with me over the years weren’t in foster care, but they were my children’s friends, and something was going on at home, so they ate here and slept here as they needed.” Janice is immensely proud of all her kids, including a young woman who just earned her Master’s Degree before heading on to medical school in Boston. Janice considers their successes to be her own.

“Generational wealth—it’s not in the bank, it’s where you lay your head,” says Janice. She remembers the day that she carried her final cash payment to the bank for her mortgage. “They said to me, ‘If you can wait, we’ll type the deed up.’ I thought, ‘If I could wait all those years, I can wait a few more minutes.’”

Janice has lived in her home for almost forty years. She’s seen the neighborhood change and grow, but one thing is constant—everybody knows and greets Ms. Janice with a smile. The local kids are always asking for snacks or a peek at her famous toy room, which features years of collectibles. Through raising her own children, her service at the daycare center, and her years as a foster parent, Janice’s legacy is clearly demonstrated as she invests in the next generation. She uses her art, her life experiences, and her home to surround kids with love and challenge them to be their best selves.

“Everybody on this street knows me, but I want them to know one another,” says Janice. She values a community that looks out for one another and cares about the collective good. When she greets old friends, the first thing they ask is where she lives now. Every time, Janice answers “Still on Bates Street. By the grace of God, I’m in the same place.”

This summer, Janice accepted an appointment to the ICCF Community Homes Board of Directors. During her term of service, she’ll help shape the initiatives that provide affordable rental and homeownership opportunities to our community. “Being appointed to the ICCF Board is coming full circle,” Janice says. “If I had stayed in Gary, how would I have had the privilege of being a neighbor with this life I had? Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some tough times here. But I’m so grateful. I’ve been so blessed in this house. I want to be the difference.

ICCF Community Homes

ICCF Community Homes is the oldest non-profit affordable housing provider in the state of Michigan. Active in the Grand Rapids area since 1974, ICCF serves over 2,000 households a year through its programs and services. Program offerings include Family Haven emergency shelter, over 700 units of affordable rental housing, newly constructed homes for purchase, homeownership education and financial counseling.

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