Everyone faces challenges in life, and some face more than others. That’s where Scott Jonkhoff and Next Step of West Michigan come in. Next Step is a faith-based nonprofit employing people coming out of prison or rehab and helping them integrate into the workforce.
Everyone faces challenges in life, and some face more than others. That’s where Scott Jonkhoff and Next Step of West Michigan come in.
Next Step is a faith-based nonprofit employing people coming out of prison or rehab and providing them with a community of support that will help them integrate into the workforce, regain hope and empower themselves to create a better future, says Jonkhoff, president of the organization. It aims to give hope to those others have given up on, helping the men and women who have otherwise had doors shut in their faces, whether because of previous criminal records, addiction issues, or otherwise.
According to Jonkhoff, taking a risk on employing an ex-offender isn't just the kind thing to do, it makes business sense.
“I started Next Step because men kept coming to me who needed work and an opportunity to prove themselves. There is a tremendous amount of talent, potential, and energy sitting behind bars, and yes there is a stigma. Yes, our guys have made some mistakes and screwed up, but so have you and I,” he says. “If we could put a fraction of the amount of resources into helping, versus the cost of warehousing ex-offenders, I believe [those] actions and would begin to reverse some of our stigmas.”
Jonkhoff’s own experience as a poor college student and then the owner of a small fastener business for 13 years doesn't necessarily reflect the pasts of those he helps, but it did lend him the common sense and street smarts needed to keep Next Step running. He says it’s actually the gift of faith that he values most, as “so much of what we do makes little sense when you look at it through standard business practices or the wisdom that the world values.”
“Christ's teachings are more than just words on page to me; they are to be lived out,” he says. “Much was demonstrated about helping, and the words ‘Do not be afraid’ appear over 350 times in the Bible. If you just take those two teachings it covers a lot of ground on how we enter life with a hurting world.”
And as president, he enjoys the opportunity to find others passionate about what Next Step does and how it’s done.
“Providing opportunities that can help transform a life and family is an amazing privilege. Many come to us broken and hurting but when provided a chance to earn a paycheck, life begins to change,” he says. “As our Next Step men work with us a bit, that opportunity to have a reference on their resume now exists. They move from an attitude of entitlement to thankfulness and that is a great encouragement.”
There are 17 people involved in running Next Step, headquartered at 906 S Division, in Grand Rapids. On the administrative side, Jonkhoff works with Jonathan Peerboom, who handles development and project management. Peerboom shares Jonkhoff's zeal for matching people with life-changing opportunities.
“Let’s put just a fraction of the resources into helping these guys get work, get trained, and gain stability that we put into the state corrections budget,” Peerboom says. “This is a problem that has measurable, practical solutions. Give them a chance to prove themselves.”
Peerboom describes Jonkhoff as a visionary who puts his words and heart into action. Next Step is Jonkhoff's startup, but his passion runs throughout the organization, bringing together staff and those coming for help alike.
“The thing that excites me about this work is that people come through our doors in really tough spots, and in a matter of months, they start to change,” Peerboom says. “They have money in their pockets that they earned. They have people around them that encourage them, support them, and that become friends. That is powerful.”
Grand Rapids is growing and changing fast, Peerboom says, and there is a big need for skilled construction labor. Next Step provides that training and job references.
About 80 percent of Next Step’s revenue comes from billable services, including demolition, home renovation, landscaping, and income from Straight and Narrow Workshop projects. Straight and Narrow is Next Step’s wood shop division, which provides custom millwork and cabinets for the construction division, and manufactures furniture and custom woodworking to sell. The remaining 20 percent of Next Step’s income is garnered from foundation, church, and individual donations.
When it comes to spreading the word, Next Step has never really had a problem finding people to help, Peerboom says. Word of mouth travels fast when people know the project delivers quality results.
“Getting clients to come to us is never an issue,” he says. “The streets have their own network. When word gets out—and it has—that we hire felons and guys coming out of drug/alcohol rehab, we get lots of inquiries.”
But as Jonkhoff says, there are and never have been any “clients” at Next Step, as that word “reinforces an us versus them mentality.”
“In case we haven't realized it, there's just ‘us.’” He says. “We let word of mouth and actions bring the visibility. We don't always get it right but it seems to be working.”
For more information on Jonkhoff and Next Step of West Michigan, visit http://www.nextstep-wm.org/
Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected]
Photography by Steph Harding