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Elizabeth Bovard Strong: Bringing philanthropy full circle

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Elizabeth Bovard Strong has long been an advocate for others in need – particularly for individuals facing homelessness and addiction. From her first eye-opening experience three decades ago to her service on the board of directors for Guiding Light today, she goes “all in" to make a difference.

About Guiding Light

Founded in 1929 as the West Fulton St. Mission, Guiding Light has grown into a robust recovery and re-engagement community designed to help those living at society’s margins fulfill their God-given potential. The nonprofit has been building on a near century of compassion and celebrated more than 90 years of serving Grand Rapids. Through its Back to Work, Recovery and Iron House programs, Guiding Light works with men struggling with addiction and homelessness to return to society. Since 2017, Guiding Light has earned a Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, which underscores our commitment to accountability and transparency. For more information, visit

Elizabeth Bovard Strong has long been an advocate for others in need – particularly for individuals facing homelessness and addiction.

Originally from Pennsylvania, she lived in several states before settling in Michigan, travels that empowered her to do more after seeing struggles with substance abuse and homelessness first-hand. From her first eye-opening experience in Iowa three decades ago being on a council on substance abuse to her service on the board of directors for Guiding Light in Grand Rapids today, Elizabeth goes “all in” to make a difference.

A compassionate person, Elizabeth has always given what time, money or resources she has to spare to help others. The golden opportunity for her was to be able to support the community on a bigger scale. That opportunity came when she grew into her current role as executive vice president of Builders Exchange of Michigan, a members-based, not-for-profit construction association with offices located near Heartside.

“It’s always been a priority for me to give back to the community,” she explains. “Driving downtown to work every day, I see a community of people, God’s children, who are homeless and who are lacking resources. My heart aches for them all the time.

“That’s why at Builders Exchange, we run a few networking events for our members that also allow us to highlight and support community organizations.”

She points to the organization’s annual turkey party, which supports Mel Trotter Ministries’ Turkey Drop, as one example. Another is the annual golf outing, which has benefited Guiding Light’s Back to Work program for the past five years and led to Elizabeth joining the organization’s board.

“These organizations are both fantastic and serve different functions within the Heartside community,” she says. “We need organizations that will help get you off the street, feed you and get you into a warm bed as Mel Trotter does. We also need organizations like Guiding Light that can take you to the next level of getting back to work, finding housing and fully re-engaging with society.

“Another benefit our networking events offer is increased awareness of the need for these organizations. We engage our members in how we’re giving back, but we also always encourage them to learn about the organizations we’re supporting.”

Guiding Light’s effective programming in rescue, recovery and re-engagement is what attracted Elizabeth to the organization five years ago. At the time, Builders Exchange had fully funded its endowed scholarships through the golf outing event, so leadership was in search of a new recipient for the event’s proceeds.

A past Builders Exchange board member suggested Elizabeth look into Guiding Light, which had recently shifted from a traditional homeless shelter to a program-based recovery and re-engagement community. Through its four pillars – Recovery, Back to Work, Iron House and The Job Post – Guiding Light partners with individuals to fulfill their God-given potential.

“We met with Stuart Ray, Guiding Light’s executive director, and to say I was impressed would be an understatement,” Elizabeth recalls. “It was so refreshing to see the focus on accountability in how Guiding Light’s programs are run – that is such a huge factor for anyone to successfully recover from anything.

“Seeing that Guiding Light offered proven and needed programs was such an easy match for us. And then to learn that a lot of the men in the programs find full-time employment in the construction field, that was a bonus. There is a such a need for people in the trades.”

Flash forward to today, Builders Exchange has raised a total of $71,943 over five consecutive years with the help of construction industry and community members. The funds help sustain Guiding Light’s Back to Work program, which is designed to support men who face significant barriers to finding and keeping full-time work, including debt, lack of housing, lack of transportation and other challenges. Men in the program are able to work and save money while they pay down debt and rebuild credit histories before they look for more permanent housing. Bringing the partnership full circle, Builders Exchange members have hired men who have completed the Back to Work program.

“I love that we get to see what good things happen to the community when we pour into them,” Elizabeth says. “In a perfect world, no one would have these issues, but the reality is we have a broken world, and these services will always be needed. We keep supporting Guiding Light and similar organizations because there is no doubt they need to continue their good work.” 

When Elizabeth is not organizing fundraising events and making donations both personally and through her work, she’s finding time to volunteer for organizations like The Deborah Project, which provides a safe haven for pregnant mothers and their children. If there’s an opportunity to help individuals who are struggling and hurting, Elizabeth will be the first to raise her hand.

“It is great how these organizations all tie together in different ways,” she says. “I’m sure any nonprofit leader would love to be out of a job because there was no need for these things, but it is great to have a community that is so sensitive to what is needed and that they all work together. That’s the biggest thing. If they can, they do.”

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