by Aemelia Tripp | photos by Two Eagles Marcus
Tami Vandenberg greeted me at the door on a snowy February day, ushering us into the warm front room of Well House. Co-owner of popular GR watering holes, The Meanwhile and Pyramid Scheme, Tami adds Well House to her list of community givebacks. Her passion for housing and volunteering with Well House pushed Tami to take the executive director job at the end of 2012. “I passed people on the streets without homes, our neighbors, everyday on my way to work. One of the first things we did (when we took over Well House) was go straight to the streets, inviting people to come see if they’d be interested in living at Well House.”
Well House is a multi-layered, well-oiled, lovely machine. In addition to fundraising through grants, events, and community donations, the house has plans to start an urban farming initiative in the greenhouse with commercial crops in mushrooms and garlic. Tami also plans to fill every empty spot of dirt with crops for the tenants.
Camilla Voelker and Jeff Smith, in charge of Urban Farming at Well House, will teach tenants how to grow their own food and preserve it. Debra recently moved into Well House and already can’t wait to start planting. “It (Well House) is a peaceful place to live, and I’m super excited to start growing food because that’s part of a healthy lifestyle,” conveys Debra. “I like that we all help each other and I know people here care about me.” Well House also has an art studio where, when finished, tenants will be able to paint, craft, and make and sell prints and pottery.
“Having access to all houses, washing clothes, movies, a big kitchen- all of (it) is generous,” shares Reggie, a Well House tenant, expressing his appreciation. Tenants pay monthly rent for their room, which includes utilities and access to all house amenities, activities, and two community dinners a week. “I like that Well House is flexible to the disabled, people who can’t go out regularly,” says Well House resident, Anna. “(It’s) not just a room to rent, but a place to have community and build social skills.”
Although Well House doesn’t have any living advancement programs of its own, it provides tenants with the resources they need to find an apartment or job. “We consider ourselves connectors. We try to pull out people’s talents, build their confidence and self esteem, so they can make their own choices and get back on their feet,” Tami notes.
Well House currently owns three houses next door to one another. Each has a different category of living – Welcome House, Quiet House, and Social House. Tenants can walk in and apply to live in one of these houses. All rooms are full right now with families of one or two. Tami hopes to have a fourth house running by April.
In the Social House, I found a picture of Well House founder, Marian Clements. She started the organization in 1978 with one house and eventually bought two more in the area. Tami shares Marian’s passion for people and the earth. The occasional article about Marian refusing to get rid of her goats or fighting the city on sustainable energy practices were not uncommonly found in the newspaper during that time.
The future looks bright for Well House as Tami and her team apply for grants and receive donations to purchase the fourth house down the block and prepare for spring planting. Tami passionately remarks, “The demand is there. It doesn’t cost a ton of money to get people off the streets.” Grand Rapids lucked out with Tami’s vision and determination. With such strong leadership and early success, we expect to hear a lot more from Well House community.
Don’t miss Well House Urban Farming Initiative Fundraiser at The Meanwhile on Thursday, February 28, 4pm – 2am.
Visit www.wellhousegr.org or 600 Cass SE Grand Rapids 49503 to volunteer or donate. Well House is a 501 (c) 3 organization.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Aemelia Tripp is the marketing coordinator at Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. She attends Calvin College and is entering her senior year as a Strategic Communications major. Aemelia enjoys bike rides and singing jazz songs.