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VanDyk Mortgage projects new jobs to accommodate quadrupled growth

Over the past few years, Grand Rapids-based VanDyk Mortgage Co. has nearly quadrupled in size, says Chief Financial Officer Justin McDowell. Licensed in over 36 states, VanDyk Mortgage has approximately 400 employees nationwide, but nearly 75 of are local, and McDowell says the growing company has plans to hire anywhere between 10-15 more employees in the Grand Rapids area to accommodate its expanding market over the next year or two.
McDowell says over the past two to three years of growth, VanDyk Mortgage has created approximately 20 full-time positions in the Grand Rapids area already, many of those new positions residing in the company’s 15,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids.
“We’re always recruiting for loan originators and as our sales staff grows, they’re going to need those team members behind them,” McDowell says, adding that as production grows and each new loan officer is recruited, they come with another handful of hires that will build the supporting team around them. “Once you hire one, you will hire additional people to assist them.”
McDowell attributes some of this impressive growth to a business predicated by the market, but also to VanDyk Mortgage’s focus on the purchase business and service. 
“Our lifeline is not refinance,” McDowell says, adding that the purchase-focused business practices allow VanDyk Mortgage to maintain stability in a market with fluctuating interest rates. 
He says 80-90 percent of VanDyk Mortgage’s business is in the purchase business, and because of close relationships with area realtors, its staff knows how to close deals in a timely manner - an average of less than 18 business days or less for a process that can take around 30 for most banks. 
Most recently, VanDyk Mortgage released its first mobile application for customers, available for iPhone and Android devices, that provides updated statuses as they hit each milestone in the loan process, complete with contact information and GPS navigation for title companies, information on appraisals and access to supporting documents like pay statements and W-2 forms that can be scanned in using a device’s built-in camera.
Though the current Grand Rapids headquarters at 2449 Camelot Court SE has enough room to accommodate some growth, he says room to expand VanDyk Mortgage’s staff is one of the many things they’ll be re-evaluating in 2015.
“We’re going to continue to expand, and try to look within the company and continually improve in all aspects, continue to re-evaluate and improve in all areas,” McDowell says. “With rates being so low, it’s going to be a good year with a lot of opportunity out there to continue growth.”
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of VanDyk Mortgage Co.

Irwin Seating Co. expansion brings 60 new jobs to Grand Rapids Area

 Walker-based Irwin Seating Co. will bring 60 new jobs to the Walker community in 2015 as part of a 50,000-square-foot renovation effort of existing manufacturing space to accommodate a new product line for movie theaters called the Spectrum Recliner Series, which boasts a higher quality upholstery and comfort than typical theater chairs, says Vice President of Business Development Graham Irwin.
The world's largest manufacturer of public seating for movie theaters, auditoriums, arenas, performing arts centers, and convention centers, Irwin Seating Co.'s new Spectrum Recliner Series will require not only a renovated space, but also an investment in new machinery and equipment, including additional training for new employees. 
With over 400 employees between its two locations in Grand Rapids and Altamont, Ill., 287 of its total employees work out of the Walker manufacturing plant at 3251 Fruit Ridge NW. Irwin says all of the 60 new hires will be at the Wyoming location to accommodate the expansion, and most will be full-time positions as the company embarks on a slow but steady hiring of new employees over the next three years as new production begins to increase as well.
"We're in the process; we've done some hiring but it's really a three-year plan to ramp up," Irwin says. "We'll be looking -- as we build up our capacity we'll be adding folks throughout the year."
The renovations, machinery investments and new hires are in large part thanks to a $300,000 Michigan Strategic Fund incentive approved earlier this month with the help of Grand Rapids-based nonprofit The Right Place, Inc. alongside its local and state partners.

"Irwin Seating Company and the Irwin family have long been a part of West Michigan's manufacturing and economic growth history," said The Right Place, Inc. President and CEO Birgit Klohs in a press release earlier this month. "We are pleased to see the company continue to grow, innovate, and reinvest in the region. The expansion project further demonstrates the manufacturing sector's continued growth in West Michigan." 

Founded in Wyoming way back in 1908, Irwin says the company's mission is as simple as serving its customers and acting as an economic engine in the community it was created by. 
"As we achieve success it's part of our values to share that with our stakeholders and our stakeholders are our employees, but we hope the community is one of our stakeholders, too," Irwin says. "As we're more successful we'd like to share that success with the community we're in."
For more information about Irwin Seating Co. or inquire about job openings, visit www.irwinseating.com or call 616-574-7400.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Irwin Seating Company/The Right Place

Love's Ice Cream named "Startup to Watch" by Making it Michigan Conference, expands distribution

Not all startups are made up of code and bytes. Some are based on fresh, organic ingredients and a commitment to sustainability.

Love's Ice Cream was recently named the "Startup to Watch" by the Making it Michigan Conference. Chris McKellar, founder, says the recognition was based on his company's business plan execution, short time to hit profitability, consistent growth and a steady progress with distributing his pints throughout Michigan. McKellar says he was nominated by his advisor at the MSU Product Center.

New distribution channels for Love's include their selection, out of more than 100 possible  products, to be featured by Westborn Market for at least a year. "I see that stroke of luck - being in the right place at the right time - as paving the way for the Love's Ice Cream invasion of the east side of the state," McKellar says. "It will help us get our small scale distribution wings."

Looking forward, McKellar says he is working on several projects. "Some are top secret, others not so much. We will be releasing a very special product this spring that has been over a year in the making. We are also starting to brew our own sodas, which will be available mid-February."

McKellar says he is still readying his vintage Love's Ice Cream van and anticipates being all over Grand Rapids in 2015 when the weather clears. "It made its debut last July but needed more restoration than originally thought. It's nearing completion and will be road ready for spring," he says.  

He also anticipates a very busy year. "We're constantly booking events all over West Michigan, and while 2015 still has lots of dates open, we're getting requests for 2016 already. In addition, we are getting regular inquiries from retailers around the state interested in carrying our pints."

To keep up with the growth McKellar says he will be hiring some staff in March: "We're looking to add a couple staff for the May - September season and we're encouraging food-minded people to apply in February."

Putting the growth and recognition in perspective, McKellar is quick to point what is at the heart of Love's Ice Cream. "Most importantly, though, we remain focused on putting out the only organically principled ice cream and vegan gelato in Michigan," he says.

For more information you can view their website here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids-based Terryberry greets 2015 with projected job creation

As the Grand Rapids-based firm Terryberry leaves behind a year of job creation and overseas expansion in the U.K., Managing Partner Mike Byam says the company is poised for even more growth in 2015. 

Byam says at least 90 percent of the 33 new jobs Terryberry generated in 2014 were full-time positions, with 50 percent in IT-related positions, including software development and customer service. 

22 of those jobs were created locally, housed in the building adjacent to Terryberry’s Grand Rapids headquarters at 2033 Oak Industrial Drive NE that Byam says the company has been expanding into since 2013. 

“The IT jobs are supporting our traditional business, so the work that we’re doing from an IT standpoint and development standpoint is because our vertical integration is also driving the success of our traditional award production and fulfillment aspects,” says Byam, who attributes much of the success and growth in 2014 to Terryberry’s 360 Recognition and Give a WOW platforms. “We continue to invest a lot of money into having a terrific platform in our 360 Recognition and Give a WOW platform.” 

While the Give a WOW social recognition platform uses the social networking model for peer-to-peer recognition, Terryberry’s 360 Recognition platform is an organizational software designed to house all of a company’s recognition programs - service awards, sales awards, peer recognition and more - under one roof.

However, both programs find their strength in affordability and efficiency, spearheaded in a time where both of those things were essential to a plethora of then-struggling industries. 

“I think a lot of the success we’re having currently is related to investments in a vision that we saw the market having four or five years ago and headed down that path, so we’ve sort of got a jump on that,” Byam says. “If you think about 2009 or 2010 and what we were dealing with globally at that point, organizations were just trying to keep the doors open. They weren’t investing in recognition as something with an additional cost, so we took the fact and said, ‘Hey, companies are going to be looking for additional ways to recognize people…what inexpensive options are there to engage employees in the difficult times?’”

These employee recognition platforms also help to streamline the administrative process to avoid eating up unnecessary resources in an organization’s human resources department, Byam says, and allow recognition to become a daily action versus a monthly or quarterly action, boosting the sense of value of place for the employees that work there. 

In 2015, Byam says he is looking forward to continued growth in both the North American and European markets, the latter of which continues to gain speed as business practices expand with the global marketplace.

“This marketplace, the platform real for recognition, is still in its infancy,” Byam says. “The percentage of organizations with some recognition strategy in place is high, but that real, comprehensive, interactive piece - that percentage of the market is very small. That’s something that over the next five years we’ll continue to grow and increase in.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Terryberry, Inc. 

Related stories: 
Grand Rapids' Terryberry seeks computer programmers, service support for high-tech employee awards

Terryberry, Collegiate Bead keep skilled labor jobs in West Michigan 

Grand Rapids company buys competitor, lands the region 8 jobs

AGC of America calls for government action on skilled trade jobs shortages during GR visit

On the heels of a recently released national survey showing a shortage of skilled workers available for hire in the construction industry, Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America Ken Simonson spoke to industry professionals and media members at Rockford Construction Co. in Grand Rapids about the organization's new workforce development plan. 

The AGC's workforce development plan is essentially a call to action outlining measures federal, state and local officials can take to make it easier for schools, construction firms and local construction chapters to establish construction training programs. 

Simonson cited recent federal figures that show a loss of more than 900,000 construction industry workers to retirement, school or jobs in other sectors over the last four years. In tandem with the rebound of construction projects and employment – which, in Michigan specifically translates to an increase of about 15,000 jobs since 2009 – Simonson says 83 percent of construction firms that responded to ACG's survey reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers for hire, with 70 percent expecting worker shortages to remain steady or get worse over the next year. 

"Unless the nation is prepared to go from a market where firms don't have enough work to one where they don't have enough workers, it is essential to take steps now to prepare the next generation of workers," Simonson told audience members at Rockford Construction Co. earlier this week. 

"While the AGC of Michigan and the local construction community are doing their part to prepare and train new employees, the sad fact is that the country has spent the last three decades dismantling what were once robust vocational education programs across the country," he continued. 

His workforce development plan includes a call for more federal resources dedicated to career and technical training, specifically a reform of the Perkins Career & Technical Education Act, which funds vocational education programs, to give states increased flexibility and autonomy.

Simonson also hit on establishing new charter schools with programs that focus on key skills like construction and manufacturing, saying it should also be easier for school leaders to "establish career academies and other skill-based programs," and states should enact legislation allowing high school students to enroll tuition-free in public community college career and technical programs.

"I think educating everybody that there's an issue, just like with everything else, and getting people involved and in West Michigan, we're obviously involved at a number of different levels from Grand Rapids Public Schools, all of our partner organizations to get people involved and educated and show them that construction can be a lot of careers in the future," says Rockford Construction Co.'s Chief Innovation Officer Pete Mitchell.

Later on Tuesday, the Michigan Workforce Development Agency made an unrelated announcement on the Michigan Strategic Fund approval of nearly $8.6 million in Skilled Trades Training Fund program grants to 23 Michigan Works! agencies around the state to implement skilled trades training to better match talent with employer needs. 

Click here for the full list of Michigan companies selected to receive MWDA funding, or visit AGC of America and AGC Michigan online to learn more about the organizations and the ACG Workforce Development Plan. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Rockford Construction/ACG of America

Welcome home for the holidays. We miss you. Why don't you stay?

ReThink West Michigan has a pretty simple ask. If you're a native Michigander who has moved away to start a career in another state, when you come back to Grand Rapids for Thanksgiving weekend to visit your family and friends, why don't you stay?

In fact, ReThink West Michigan would like to introduce you to other professionals and have you meet representatives from some of the largest and most dynamic companies in Grand Rapids who are looking for talent and are eager to share some cool projects they are working on.

That is the premise behind ReThink West Michigan's recruiting event on November 26. The casual networking event targeting former Michiganders who will be in town for the holidays is being hosted by Hello West Michigan and The Right Place. It will be held at The BOB from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The Right Place's Megan Sall says the organizing team has lined up employers from very diverse industries, including Spectrum Health, Amway, OST, Steelcase, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Ranstad Technologies, Mercy Health, Crowe Horwath, and Northwestern Mutual, who will have representatives attending and be available to informally talk about job and career opportunities.

To get the word out, Sall says they have partnered with local college and university alumni groups so that individuals who have left the state after graduation for jobs elsewhere can see the career opportunities here with a fresh set of eyes. "The event is for everybody because the job story of West Michgan is not just manufacturing and not just health care," she says. Sall points to Grand Rapid Public Schools as an employer who will be attending and has openings for teachers.

Sall hope that anyone reading this story will share information about the event: "If you have friends and family coming back for Thanksgiving weekend and want them to move back, have them attend."

Additional information can be found at www.rethinkwm.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Cherry Health reflects on past successes, looks ahead to future growth

Known as Cherry Street Health Services for the past 25 years, the medical provider that now has 23 locations throughout the state of Michigan is much bigger than it was when it opened its first location at 500 Cherry Street in 1989.

Over the past decade, the recently renamed Cherry Health has opened a new clinic every two years on average, most recently in February 2013 with the Barry County Community Health Center in Hastings, which plans to add dental services to its existing behavioral health services in the coming months.  

"We've had a pretty significant impact on the area, so we thought it was time we helped people appreciate who we are as Cherry Health, which has grown out of what has been Cherry Street Health Services for the past 25 years," says Michael Reagan, chief external affairs officer with Cherry Health. 

Cherry Health has created jobs alongside the past two decades of growth in location and service expansion, most notably following the 2011 merger with Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance and Touchstone innovare, when the organization more than doubled its staff from 250 employees to what is now around 800.

"Whenever we begin to establish a new health center or whenever even Proaction or Touchstone began to expand, we were adding local employment opportunities for health professionals both in the entry level and more advanced professional staff," Reagan says, using the 20-30 new jobs created with the opening of both the Montcalm Area Health Center in Greenville and the Barry Community Health Center as an example. "It gives an important diversity to the labor market in each of the communities that we serve."

Reagan attributes much of Cherry Health's success and its steady growth to two key factors: the first being its awareness of community needs, its documentation of those needs and its competitive approach to demonstrating those needs to funders; and secondly, accounting for a wide spectrum of primary care health issues and behavior health issues with integrated care practices, including both mental illness as well as substance abuse disorders. 

"Over the years we've always looked at what the needs of the community were, in terms of those who were medically underserved and didn't have access to care and they were quite successful," he says. "By going after competitive federal grants in some cases state grants that have helped sustain that growth where they were expanding every few years with a new health center."

Currently, Reagan says Cherry Health is waiting on the verdict of a proposal still pending with the federal government to open a new health center in Eaton County. The organization is also looking at opening two school-based health centers; one at Innovation Central within the Grand Rapids Public School System and another in Cedar Springs, however Reagan says neither of the school-based health centers are concrete plans at this time. 

Cherry Health is the largest Federally Qualified Health Center in Michigan, serving over 60,000 patients annually with over 60 physicians and mid-level providers in four Michigan counties. 

Click here to see current job openings at Cherry Health, or click on the "careers" tab to learn more about job opportunities at its various clinics throughout the state. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cherry Health

Digital gaming studio takes root in Lowell, MI

Seed. Grow. Harvest. It is a business model straight from a farm. The big difference for Protege Game Studio, however, is that they aren't growing crops, but instead are training students for high-tech jobs in the digital media and gaming industries.

Sandon Newton, founder of Protege Game Studios, says that March 2015 will mark two years at his studio in Lowell. A second studio in Zeeland, MI was just opened in September 2014.

Protege offers classes in video game design to students, roughly from 5th grade to college. He says some students are only interested in having fun and making cool games, while others are looking for career and portfolio development.

Keeping with their mission, "Seed, Grow. Harvest," Newton, who has a computer science degree from GVSU and an MBA from Cornerstone, says he currently has two employees, both of whom started as part of Protege classes, and he intends to keep that that practice in place: "We plan to hire only from within."

Besides offering classes, the firm has a commercial side of its business and creates digital gaming courses and training materials for other companies. Newton says their team has developed a simulation game called "The Lean Ice Cream Shop" for a local lean manufacturing training company that uses game mechanics to teach and apply lean principles. He is also is working on augmented reality apps and game development curriculum through the Zeeland-Holland studio to support iCademy and Innocademy charter schools as a premium elective.

Newton says he is reviewing several opportunities for growth and says that the education and training marketplace is ripe for innovation and perfect for using game mechanics as a platform. He says he is anticipating more hires in the very near future, all from students from within the studio.  

To learn more about Protege Game Studios you can review their sites here and here.

Writer:  John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Compass Insurance moves, hires, and predicts new neighborhood is next to 'blow up'

After completing an expansion project early last month on its new offices at 525 Ottawa Avenue NW, Sales Manager Hernan Balcazar at Compass Insurance Agency says the locally owned and operated company will be looking for between 7-10 new insurance agents to add to its staff over the course of the next 18 months. 

Compass Insurance Agency moved from a strip mall location on 28th Street to the now 54,000-square-foot offices on Ottawa Avenue in May, completing the expansion project in early October to make room for 15 individual offices, a customer service center, and additional workspace for about six other employees. 

“We just outgrew it,” Balcazar says of the old 28th Street location. “We were growing and looking to add more agents and add more employees, so by moving here in May, we immediately doubled our square footage. Then with the rebuild we were just able to add on top of that.” 

Neighbored by the Speak EZ Lounge and the newly opened Garage Bar, Balcazar says he thinks not only is the company poised for growth, but so is the surrounding community of businesses. 

“I really think that this little area that we're in here on the other side of the highway from the main downtown area is the next one to blow up,” he says. “Right now it's kind of like an industrial district, but there's a lot of vacant properties out here and I think a lot of people will be looking to move in.” 

Owner Jack Hoedeman started Compass Insurance Agency in 2002, but Balcazar says business has really picked up in the last few years, and even more so when he joined the company a little over one year ago. 

“[Jack and I] just kind of just clicked and have a lot of the same values and ideas,” he says. “I allow him to have the ability to still mentor, while I can interview, bring in new people, managing them, bring in the numbers and motivate and he can focus on some of the sales and being the face of the company.”

Not only are there more clients looking to Compass Insurance Agency for service, there are more companies than ever available to its clients for auto, home, health and commercial insurance.

“The biggest difference is that as an independent agent I can broker multiple companies and because I have multiple companies that I can invest your business in, I work for the customer and not for the companies,” Balcazar says. “We know that price is important, but service and coverage is also important.” 

He says he and Hoedeman expect to grow Compass Insurance Agency over the next two or three years, both in the form of its staff roster and its physical building space, considering the future purchase of the building among the many options still on the table. 

“It’s been go, go, go, but we’ve got a good thing here,” he says.  “We’re bringing in the right people and we think we’ve got a good product and process to go along with it. Word is kind of getting out now that we’ve got the space.” 

Visit Compass Insurance Agency’s website to find new employment opportunities or contact Balcazar at (616) 245-5555 for more information on how to apply. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Compass Insurance Agency

Slows Bar-B-Q to bring dozens of new part-time positions to new Downtown Market location

As owners of the Detroit-based Slows Bar B-Q begin construction on the new Grand Rapids Downtown Market location, over the next few months, they will be hiring as well as building.

Over a dozen new jobs will come to the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids this spring upon the completion of Slows Bar-B-Q’s second location of the full-service barbecue joint, which originally opened in Detroit’s Corktown back in 2005. 

Brian Perrone, executive chef and co-owner of Slows, says without a complete floor design the restaurant can’t pinpoint the number of new employees they will need come spring, but he expects the kitchen alone will require at least a dozen.

“We’ll be looking for bartenders, experienced kitchen and catering people,” he says. “We will probably be hiring some catering servers that will be more of a part-time thing. We’re not really planning on having services but we still need hosts, and ushers and food runners and that kind of thing.”

Perrone says Slows plans to expand their popular Slows-To-Go service, which includes catering, as the brand grows in the southeast side of the Downtown Market. The menu features slow-cooked barbecue staples like brisket, ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey, and jambalaya and will have several dozen Michigan-based artisan and craft beers on tap, as well. 

“It’s just great to get the brand over (to Grand Rapids),” he says. “It’s great being able to offer the menu that we do, I think that’s going to be huge. I think catering will be a big piece for the business. Just in the Downtown Market alone there is lot of opportunity.”

Perrone says he and Slows co-owners Phillip Cooley, Ron Cooley, and Mike Metevia also want to advance the Slows Bar-B-Q retail line in the future as brand recognition grows in Grand Rapids. 

In the meantime, Perrone thinks Slows Bar-B-Q is exactly where it needs to be in Grand Rapids. 

“I think the downtown market is a really great place for us to be,” he says. “We don’t plan on going anywhere, so we’re looking for a long-term relationship.” 

Slows Bar-B-Q will create an online portal for job seekers in the coming weeks, but Perrone says interested applicants can still check the restaurant’s website for updates on employment opportunities and construction progress or email jobs@slowsgr.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of the Downtown Market 

Fast-growing human resource consultancy helps fast-growing organizations find talent, manage process

HR Collaborative provides human resource consulting and management services to small and medium-sized organizations. In the last 18 months, the firm has added seven employees and moved from a one-room, shared office suite to a new office with triple the space.

Beth Kelly, founder, says the firm's growth is a combination of factors, including a resurgence of the economy and employers needing more assistance in "finding the best people for the company." Kelly says before the last recession, it was simple enough for many employers to take out a help wanted add and fill the position. Now, she says it is a much different story; many talented individuals left Michigan during that time and firms are not getting the response they used to when they had jobs to fill.

Another factor in the growth was strategic. Kelly says for many years, she worked with a team of contractors to provide her services but companies were wanting a longer-term relationship with her firm. "We worked for years with partners and consultants but our model began to change and we wanted more stability when clients called and we wanted to work more as a team," she says.

Although Kelly has experience working with organizations ranging from two employees to large corporations, she describes their firm's "sweet spot" as organizations with between 25-50 employees, growing at a pace that the the human resource issues are becoming more complex but, at the same time, are not in a position to create a full-time, internal  human resource team.

Kelly says she hired her first employee in June of 2013 and now has a team of eight. Her new office space is at 678 Front Ave NW, Suite 265. She says future hiring needs will be evaluated in 2015.

To learn more about HR Collaborative, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs New Editor

Plenty of job openings as manufacturing expands in Michigan

Blackford Capital, a national private equity firm headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has added five new staff members to the company. The hires are a result of the success of its Michigan Prosperity Fund (MPF), a fund that recharges the economy by investing in Michigan-based ventures.

Since MPF was created in 2012, Blackford has created 44 jobs locally, including 39 at portfolio company Custom Profile and the aforementioned five at the company's headquarters.

Jeff Helminski, managing director and head of the Michigan Prosperity Fund, says the new jobs at Custom Profile are a great entry-level opportunity for anyone looking for a job but especially for those who are entering the work force for the first time. "These are good jobs that pay well," he says.   

In his experience, Helminski says, these types of manufacturing jobs, many of which don't require a college degree or previous work experience, are rapidly increasing. In many cases, employers are not able to fill the openings and are having a hard time building their workforces. "Manufacturing is expanding," he says. "The basic requirements are that the individual has a good work ethic. There are plenty of openings."

The Michigan Prosperity Fund currently includes Grand Rapids-based Custom Profile, Inc., Metro Detroit-based Mopec, Grand Haven-based Grand Transformers, Inc. and Fenton-based Burgaflex NA.

To learn more about Blackford you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Joyful Sounds Music Studio doubles client base, adds two new teachers to its growing community

Eastown's Joyful Sounds Music Studio has hired two new teachers and expanded its programming to accommodate its growing client base, which owner Michele Venegas says has nearly doubled since this time last year.

"There's definitely more research out there that talks about the benefits of music for young children and babies, so I don't know if it's that or just people looking for something to do," she says. "The parents obviously value music and appreciate it, and so they're looking for this activity and once they get in we can teach them a little bit more about the importance of music at such a young age. I think a lot of people are like, 'Oh my word, what on Earth would you do with a four-month-old in a music class?' We can educate them as to the benefits and the value of that."

Venegas opened Joyful Sounds in the Blackport Building at 959 Lake Drive SE six years ago with two different 45-minute classes – one for just pre-mobile infants and their caregivers, and the other a mixed class for ages birth to five and their caregivers. 

The most recent new hire, Sonja Noykos, will teach a new program with Music Together http://www.musictogether.com/
 curriculum designed specifically for ages five to seven without a caregiver, while music therapist Audrey Stein will bring a new level of expertise and potential to the program's scope. 

"I have wanted to have a music therapist on board, although our classes are inclusive for kids with more mild special needs. So, having her there, we are able to take on some kids that have a little bit greater needs," Venegas says, adding that with so much of special needs children's therapy being individual or one-on-one sessions, she hopes more families will be able to take advantage of a uniquely inclusive activity for families who want to connect. 

"The nice thing about this is that the families can come together and it's an activity that they can all do together with all of the siblings and the (parent)," she says. "In fact, a lot of what we do in there are things they do in their therapy or speech therapies and things like that but they just have a good time and it's in a really fun setting." 

Venegas says she expects to open a second location in the near future and "imagines this time next year (Joyful Sounds) will have a lot more going on," but says right now she's focusing on outreach efforts and hopes to partner with organizations like Bethany Christian Services to offer classes to families with foster children or other organizations that help young mothers and pregnant teens. 

"We're sitting on a lot of potential right now and there are a lot of avenues that we're going to be [exploring] so I feel like yes, we have grown quite a bit since last year, but I also feel like we're kind of sitting on the verge of a lot of bigger growth," she says. "It's endless. The possibilities are endless, so we're putting out our feelers across the board."

For more information on Joyful Sounds Music Studio and the Music Together program, visit www.kidsmusicgr.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Joyful Sounds Music Studios, LLC. 

Related articles:
Children, parents move to happy rhythms at growing Joyful Sounds music experience studio

$8.5 million Holland Home Breton Rehab & Living Center overhaul to bring 10-15 jobs with new center

Construction is finally underway for the new $8.5 million expansion project at Holland Home's Breton Rehabilitation & Living Center, scheduled for completion in late 2015. 

When finished, the privately funded overhaul will include a 4,560-square-foot rehabilitation center and a 13,390-square-foot, 15-bed memory care assisted living unit and bring 10-15 new jobs to accommodate the increased capacity. 

Mina Breuker, chief operating officer of Holland Home, says many of these new positions will be in the new memory care assisted living unit for what she calls "universal workers," who are expected not only to work with residents from both a customer service angle and clinical knowledge base, but also know food service techniques and light housekeeping. 

"They do everything," Breuker says. "It's like a home – we do everything, our own laundry, cleaning and that type of thing. Employees take ownership and for the right person, it's a very rewarding work environment." 

Part of the nonprofit's Breton Woods campus, the memory care assisted living space will be a "deinstitutionalized version of the typical nursing home," with more spacious private rooms and bathrooms with communal dining and living areas and a residential style kitchen. The new assisted living facility will also house a den, spa, nurse station, staff office, and separate clean and soiled linen rooms. 

Breuker says the assisted living unit will also feature a built-in ceiling track lift system that will make it possible for a single person to perform a safe transfer of a resident from the bed to a chair or to the bathroom, making the personal care process much easier on both staff and residents.  

She says with completion slated for fall 2015 she expects Holland Homes will be filling up those assisted living facility positions over the course of next summer to allow for any in-house training required for the new hires. 

To learn more about openings at all of the Holland Home locations, visit http://hollandhome.org/employment/. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Holland Home 

Mary Free Bed YMCA will be first of its kind in 'universal design', create 40 new jobs

The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids broke ground last week on its new $30 million facility in Cascade Township – a massive 116,220-square-foot LEED-Certified facility funded through an investment by its community partners at the Mary Free Bed Guild that will be the first of its design on a national level. 

The new Mary Free Bed YMCA will replace the existing 35-year-old Cascade Township building and will incorporate traditional Y health and wellness activities and programs with a new level of "universal design" to create an integrated facility suited to the needs of individuals with ability levels that fall anywhere on the spectrum. 

The 36-acre campus will include an indoor aquatics center, sports courts, group fitness classrooms, fitness area, indoor track, teaching kitchen, greenhouse, and learning classrooms as well as an outdoor sports complex with sports fields, tennis courts, an activity trail, children's playground, wheelchair softball field and a farm-to-table program – complete with an on-site community garden and greenhouse. 

Ron Nelson, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, says the new healthy living center is the manifestation of many existing partnerships forged between the Y and similarly invested area organizations, including the Michigan Nutrition Network, among others. 

"We've also been talking with various organizations, from school districts through West Michigan Environmental Action Council to the Innovation High School as part of the Kent Intermediate Unit - just to a variety of organizations that have an interest in conducting programs and activities or have a similar interest in investing in the disabled population," Nelson says. 

With scheduled competition of fall 2015 still about a year out, Nelson says they expect the new facility to create 40 new jobs, though the number won't be a concrete one until the building is closer to opening. He says the majority will be part-time positions for fitness instructors and personal trainers, as well as in aquatics, maintenance, membership services, and office/clerical work. . 

Nelson says the YMCA will most likely hold a job fair to recruit these new hires, but details on that won't be announced until about six months out from the opening date.  Progressive AE is serving as the architect on the project and Rockford Construction will manage the construction.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images Courtesy of Terry Johnston Photograph
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