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UIX: Stuart Ray's mission is helping others get to work

Stuart Ray

Stuart Ray has a prosperous future in mind for Guiding Light Mission and its clients. With The Job Post, the employment agency arm of GLM, people are being matched with careers, and the seeds for the mission’s future support are being planted.
Stuart Ray has a prosperous future in mind for Guiding Light Mission and those it helps. With the Job Post, the employment agency arm of GLM in operation since April, not only are people being matched with the careers they seek, the seeds for the mission’s future support are being planted.
Ray, executive director of GLM and president of the Job Post, is intent on keeping the mission sustainable. Guiding Light is known for its recovery program, assisting men suffering from chronic homelessness, substance abuse, and other issues. GLM’s Iron House ministry is a transitional housing complex that provides a safe, secure living environment for those reentering mainstream society. The GLM Back to Work Program provides a short-term stay and resources for men who are employed or seeking full-time employment, allowing them to save money while they look for permanent housing. The Upscale Thrift Store, in Kentwood, also provides GLM clients with work and an income. Possibly even more than these programs, Ray sees the Job Post as the best way to build wealth and stability for men involved in the mission’s recovery programs and the mission itself, while in turn bolstering a generation of donors.
Anyone can seek employment through The Job Post, and several have been placed already. In its first year, the program is aiming to place 10 workers, 50 by its third in 2017, increasing steadily after that. Ray, who has previously owned and run the Burger King restaurants throughout west and central Michigan, cites his professional experiences as sign of his ambition for GLM and its effectiveness.
“I used to run 42 Burger King franchises. When you work at this level, you strive for the top; the most you can achieve,” he says. “We’re in this for a return on investment. The Iron House ministry helped, we have the thrift store, and now the Job Post. And I think the Job Post is the way to keep growing and developing. I think that’s really the direction we want to take this ministry.”
Since the GLM board of directors approved the Job Post initiative in early 2015, Ray and Job Post Vice President Christina Felan, who handles the agency’s day-to-day operations, have been reaching out to local companies as possible employers. There are currently five businesses signed on as employer partners. As a “temp to hire” service, the Job Post places candidates in temporary work positions with the intention of developing the positions into full-time, sustainable employment. They will also offer some traditional temporary employment. 
“We are hopeful that employers see their partnership with The Job Post as part of their own reinvestment in the community,” says Felan, who has 8 years of experience as an employment recruiter. “We’re going to place qualified, able candidates, but we hope that our employer partners see the bigger picture and want to help make a difference.”

Felan is charged with managing all of the daily operations of the company, as well as cultivating relationships with employers and facilitating the job candidate process.  

"I love the interaction with people," Felan says. "Making a difference in someone’s life is very rewarding for me."
GLM administrates the payroll for placed workers and invoices the partnered employers, so accessible cash reserves above the mission’s $2 million budget as well as a dependable revenue source are crucial. While revenue will come from job placement and will be used to help sustain the Job Post and Guiding Light’s offerings, Ray is planning that finding gainful employment for those in need today will also help foster a spirit of giving back in the future.

The importance of fostering a dependable and generous donor base is growing as the baby boomer generation ages, Ray says.
“Guiding Light’s average donor was 62 in 2011, so they are 66 now. Soon they’ll be 70, and eventually they won’t be with us anymore,” he says.
The U.S. population of Gen X was nearly 10 million less than Baby Boomers in 2014, according to the most recent census figures. And, Ray says, there is a greater disparity in donations between generations. The Boomers’ average gift per check is $125, while just $15 from Gen Xers.
Appropriately enough, the idea for a program like the Job Post was suggested to Ray by donors on multiple occasions.  
“Donors had brought it up and said, ‘you should be doing this.’ And I wondered if there might be a high risk factor, but after going over the numbers and the outcomes, the risk just wasn’t there,” Ray says.
Ray is not only accustomed to managing risk factors after six years on the job, he’s got a track record of using common sense and elbow grease to confront stagnation in all levels of the mission.
“A long time ago, this wasn’t a great street. Guiding Light was a flop house. You’d come in and see people just watching TV all day,” he says. “One day I came in and turned it off. I got messages from board members saying that was too aggressive, not everyone agreed with it. I was going against the market. But after a certain amount of time, people see the benefit and adapt to that way of thinking.”
Ray considers the Job Post a continuation of the nonprofit’s mission of helping individuals to re-engage in the community. The Job Post has adopted the tag line “Renewing hope and rebuilding lives one job at a time.”
“Guiding Light Mission is dedicated to creating strategic investments that help solve community problems,” Ray says. “As we help men recover from their struggle and transition back into the community, we notice that employment is one of the biggest barriers to full re-engagement. We realize that is an issue for others in our region, too, so we decided to face the issue head on and invest in helping people find work.”

For the time being, the Job Post will operate out of GLM’s Heartside headquarters at 255 South Division. Long-term plans call for the agency to have its own location.
For more information on the Job Post and Guiding Light Mission, visit http://lifeonthestreet.org/.

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com.
Photography by Steph Harding 
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