Do Good: Personal historians' book shares the stories of local nonprofits

Little known fact: Grand Rapids is the second-most philanthropic city in the United States, after Salt Lake City, Utah.

“This community really is unique, and it’s partly because the residents are very giving,” says Betty Epperly, co-author with Deb Moore of their self-published book, Ripple Effects: Ten West Michigan Nonprofits Serve, Inspire, Transform. The book is available at Schuler Books and on (search: Ripple Effects Michigan). It is also available from the nonprofits featured in the book.
When local authors Betty Epperly and Deb Moore sat down to write about local individuals whose lives have been changed by their interactions with West Michigan nonprofits, they discovered a ripple effect. Do Good editor Victoria Mullen gets the story behind the stories in a book that's a must-add to your holiday shopping list for people who care.
Diana R. Sieger, president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation, wrote the book’s foreword. “Betty Epperly and Deb Moore have written poignant and insightful stories focusing on the ways key West Michigan nonprofit organizations have transformed the lives of countless residents. The profiles demonstrate the significance of the nonprofits to the well being of the community, and the reader comes away better informed of the importance and impact these groups have on individuals and families. The stories in this anthology shine a light on critical concerns such as the alleviation of poverty, the assurance of proper medical treatment and food security, the importance of education and the promotion of home ownership to build a robust economy…”

Epperly and Moore, both members of the Association of Personal Historians, met in October 2013, hit it off, and began their book project in January 2014. The authors wanted to feature organizations with local roots, focusing on what’s unique about Grand Rapids.

They chose 10 organizations that serve different segments of the population: Baxter Community Center, Catherine’s Health Center, D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s, Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, HELP Pregnancy Crisis Aid, Home Repair Services, Kids’ Food Basket, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM), and Wedgwood Christian Services.

“We wanted to tell the histories of people helped by the organizations, and what brought the individuals there for help in the first place,” says Moore. “We asked about the assistance they found and how it changed their lives. The thrust of the book is the people, not the nonprofits.”

But it wasn’t enough to tell the stories of 50 individuals. The authors quickly realized that to give the stories context, it was important to provide an overview of each organization.

“Each overview includes the nonprofit’s roots, leadership, and purpose,” says Epperly. “The executive directors of each nonprofit helped us determine the stories to pursue. Some volunteers shared their stories, but most stories are from the point of view of the clients.” Moore and Epperly interviewed each of the 50 people, one-on-one.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Epperly. “People were candid about the hurdles they faced and how the organizations helped them overcome obstacles.”

Says Moore, “We tried to pick a variety of individuals. Each nonprofit does an amazing amount of different things, and the stories reflect the services the organizations provide.”

The authors discovered a common thread through all of the stories—the ripple effect, if you will: After an individual received help from a nonprofit, he or she wanted to give back by volunteering and sharing his or her story.

Moore and Epperly worked steadily on the project from January 2014 to October 2014.

“We each wrote about five nonprofits and edited each other’s work,” says Epperly. “It was so easy to work with Deb. We had the same goals in mind. The process worked out very well.”

They planned the book’s publication to coincide with the time of year in which most organizations hold fundraisers: October.

The history of Epperly’s own family provided the inspiration to co-author the book. Her parents emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1950s. Eventually, the family settled on a farm in West Michigan.

“In a way that’s what inspired me to write this book,” Epperly says. “My parents overcame so many obstacles: they didn’t speak the language, they had no career choices. They farmed, and that was really tough work. They invested in the family by working so hard on the farm, and within one generation, we’re living the American dream. I realized that I didn’t have as many barriers as many people do.”

The authors found the organizations’ histories fascinating, and also how Grand Rapids got involved as a community—the interconnectedness between the organizations, and how they responded to the needs of individuals.

“We found that it’s not about a denomination or religion, it’s about a common passion,” says Moore. “These nonprofits preserve their clients’ dignity. They provide assistance responsibly and promote self-sufficiency. There is a high level of respect at these organizations.”

Epperly says that the nonprofits don’t want to be seen as places that rescue people.

“They are truly walking alongside people,” she says. “That was evident, and the clients really felt that too. There is nothing patronizing. The nonprofits have a vision for social justice and caring hearts, but it goes beyond that. It ventures into having deep relationships with clients and the ripple effects transform into a vibrant community over time. These kinds of communities don’t just happen. They are very intentional.”

Moore says that although she knew there was a wealth of organizations in town, she was blown away by how many there are and the people they serve.

“Money is more prevalent here than we realize, because it’s not always a name on a building; there are many unsung heroes,” says Moore. “Writing this book made me more appreciative and thankful for what I have and thankful for places and people with kind hearts and social justice that will reach out and help people.”

Get involved:

- Consider giving the book to a friend or loved one for Christmas. Ripple Effects: Ten West Michigan Nonprofits Serve, Inspire, Transform is available at Schuler Books and on (search: Ripple Effects Michigan). It is also available from the nonprofits featured in the book (links above). The nonprofits buy the books at a discount, so by buying a book, you’ll be contributing much-needed funds.
- Volunteer your time at your favorite nonprofit.
- Donate what you can.
- Spread the wealth.
- Be kind.

Images by Adam Bird.

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