Rapid Blog: HQ and Atomic Object band together to fight youth homelessness

This Rapid Blog Q&A comes to us from Shandra Steininger, executive director of HQ, Grand Rapids' first youth homeless drop-in center, and Carl Erickson, CEO and co-founder of software development company Atomic Object. The two recently banded together to work on better serving the youth homeless population in Grand Rapids. In addition to Erickson offering his expertise and business perspective as board chair, Atomic is also assisting HQ with technology, marketing, and fundraising. Their comments are their own and does not necessarily reflect the views of Rapid Growth or its parent company, Issue Media Group.
When it comes to youth homelessness, the fight can seem endless. But when community members band together, transformational change can begin. In this Rapid Blog, HQ and Atomic Object break down their unique partnership and their hopes for the future.
Carl and Shandra, tell our readers a little about your organizations.

Shandra Steininger: HQ is a drop-in center for youth, ages 14-24, who are experiencing unsafe and/or unstable housing. Our mission is to create a safe and affirming space where youth can find rest, build connections, and pursue their passions to realize their dreams. We start from a place of relationship. Allowing youth the opportunity to build trust, heal from past traumas, and simply be—before jumping to solutions, goal setting, intrusive story gathering, and other pushes toward “recovery.”

HQ is so much more than eating a home-cooked meal with friends, warm showers, or clean laundry. It is more than access to basic needs items like deodorant and underwear. It is a place where you belong. A place where your absence is noted. You are missed. Authentically cared about. A place where genuine support is second nature and the honest belief in one's potential is celebrated. We move beyond the label of homeless and into the work of transformation, one step at a time.

Carl Erickson: Atomic Object designs and develops custom software applications for clients ranging from the Fortune 500 to startups. We love the wide variety of industries we work in, and how we help our clients grow their business and compete successfully. We started on Wealthy Street in 2001, and in 2016 we renovated and moved into our current location at 1034 Wealthy, right across from Sparrows coffee house. We also have an office in downtown Ann Arbor. Recent local West Michigan clients include Steelcase, Art Prize, Van Andel Education Institute, and Masterpiece Flowers. We’ve always cared about the neighborhood and city we work in, and we’ve supported both in a variety of ways. Those connections make our lives richer. Our employee ownership makes this easy and natural.

How did this collaboration come about?

Carl: Shandra and her colleague Mary DeYoung came to Atomic by way of our mutual friend and community connector Mark Holzbach. They were looking for help with building software that would further HQ’s mission and reduce barriers to youth getting connected to critical supports. It wasn’t clear to me that custom software was the solution to their needs, but it was clear they could use advice, and the mission of HQ appealed to me, so I started offering my time and help through Mary. l am currently the board chair of HQ, having taken this role in May of 2017 after joining the board in the summer of 2016.

What does HQ gain from the relationship?

Shandra: Atomic has allowed the leadership commitment and expertise of Carl to be shared intensively, which will have a lasting impact on our overall stability and sustainability. What’s really beautiful about this partnership though is that it gets so much deeper than a board position. It’s more organic than that! Atomic Object has provided IT support, shared physical resources, and meeting space, and was recently a test site for a bi-location youth employment position. They have prioritized their employees time to learn about the complex issue of youth homelessness in this community and provided on-ramps to engaging in the work.
What does Atomic gain from the relationship?

Carl: When the ask came to become board chair, I initially replied, truthfully, that I didn’t have the time to give to this important job. But the work spoke to me, and I was inspired by the creative, dedicated staff, so when I got asked the second time, I decided to say yes, and I made it work by dedicating some of the time I had previously put into Atomic.

For the company, this represents an experiment in a deep involvement by an Atom with a local non-profit working on an important community problem.

Other Atoms have visited HQ and helped with design, marketing, technology, and fundraising. Atomic thinks about the good we do in four distinct buckets: products for clients, wealth for shareholders, personal and professional growth for Atoms, and making our communities better places to live. Our involvement with HQ has been a very satisfying way to help make Grand Rapids a better place to live.

What comes next?

Shandra: My hope is that this relationship continues to deepen and mature and might be an example to other local businesses and nonprofits. It is my deep belief that our entire community benefits when ALL of its members feel safe and are supported in reaching their full potential. This couldn't be more true for a growing industry like software development in a growing city full of hopeful and talented young people like Grand Rapids.
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