The Rapidian

A path to a better place: Harvey Koning values Guiding Light's approach to recovery

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

Harvey Koning was drawn to Guiding Light because he saw the impact it had right here in the community – and because of the organization’s focus on faith.
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About Guiding Light

Founded in 1929 as the West Fulton St. Mission, Guiding Light has grown into a robust recovery and reengagement 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 guidinglightworks.org. 

Harvey Koning headshot

Harvey Koning headshot /Guiding Light

Faith has always been an integral part of Harvey Koning’s life, but when he left his hometown of Grand Rapids to attend Harvard Law School his Christianity “got real” for him.

“Being away from home and meeting so many people who were not Christians really caused me to say, ‘What difference does being a Christian make? How do I live my life? How do I give back?’” Harvey explains. “I’ve always looked for ways to participate and give back to the community. As I get involved with organizations, I learn just as much as I can to immerse myself in the community effort.”

A graduate of both Grand Rapids Christian High School and Calvin College, which is now a university, Harvey and his wife, Mara, moved to Atlanta after he finished his law studies, a new start for both of them. After six years, they and their young children moved to West Michigan. Harvey joined the Varnum law firm, where he is now a partner focused on business law for community banks and other businesses.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with entrepreneurs who founded and grew their businesses,” Harvey notes. “I’ve enjoyed helping them along the way, growing their businesses and eventually helping them sell their businesses. The best part of being a lawyer is helping someone work through a situation to help them get where they want to go.”

That parallels Harvey’s experience with Guiding Light. He first got to know the Heartside nonprofit more than a dozen years ago through Saturday work projects organized by his church, Princeton Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood. He learned more about Guiding Light’s work with Recovery and Back to Work programs by networking with board members.

Harvey “caught the social services bug” from his seven-year tenure on the board of Bethany Christian Services. He was attracted to Guiding Light because he saw the impact it had right here in the community – and because of the organization’s focus on faith.

“The Christian faith is really about fresh starts,” Harvey says. “Jesus gives people a fresh start. Guiding Light’s Recovery and Back to Work programs are really about a fresh start for the men who participate.

“Guiding Light acts in a coaching and resource role. It’s up to the men to embrace and do the work to put their lives on a better trajectory. What I like about these programs is that they help create a path to a better place.”

Harvey has been a board member for the past three years, serving on the Program and Executive committees for Guiding Light. He values the opportunity to engage directly with men in the programs by attending support group meetings, joining in the one-year sobriety celebrations and picnicking with the men who live at Iron House, Guiding Light’s sober living community.

“I’m impressed by the realness of it,” Harvey explains. “For instance, in the support group meetings, people are down to the real truth of where they are and are past putting a nice face on things.

“Recovery isn’t about people we see on the street – it's everywhere. Substance abuse is not limited to a particular group in society.”

Guiding Light’s Recovery program provides a holistic approach to addiction treatment that helps men construct a life worth staying sober for. Known on the streets as no-joke recovery, the residential program combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and resources to equip men to stay sober and live life in a new way.

Funded entirely by donors, Recovery gives men the structure and opportunity to focus entirely on their sobriety and to engage in positive change. As Harvey and other board members know, that takes time – and hard work.

“A week or two in detox and rehab is typically not enough to get at the core issues and create lasting change,” he says. “Addiction affects people on both a biological and behavioral level. I really appreciate the sustained commitment by both Guiding Light and the men – four to six months of an intensive live-in program, interactions with support groups and the opportunity for supportive housing through Iron House.

“Society is always looking for quick fixes. The men in the program know that this is going to take work and sustained effort. Guiding Light walks with them on that journey to help set them up for success – not for days and weeks but for months and years.”

Harvey’s board work is “very much encouraged” by his law firm. As a service business, Varnum recognizes the importance of engaging and supporting organizations such as Guiding Light that make a difference. His legal background has been helpful, particularly during the pandemic, which has given rise to “interesting questions and challenges.”  

“I'll admit I used to make a lot of assumptions about people who are in a difficult spot,” Harvey says. “Someone may not have secure housing or a job. Someone may be struggling with addiction. Through my work with Guiding Light, I’ve learned to set these preconceived ideas aside, hear their stories and work together on what comes next.

“We all find ourselves in tough places in our lives. Sometimes our assumptions cause us to blame and give up. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of an organization that recognizes the value and worth of each person and works to help people re-engage meaningfully with their families and communities.

“We’re all a community together. We all rise and fall together.”

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