The Other Way Ministries celebrates 50 years of serving Grand Rapids
In 1967, the West Side neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was suffering. The community was plagued by gang violence, poverty, and drug abuse. Believing that people needed hope and healing, Ninth Reformed Church designated $500 to start something new that would address the neighborhood’s needs. Out of that, The Other Way Ministries began to take shape inside space at Frank’s Market. By 1973, Dick Ter Maat, then pastor of Ninth Reformed, was hired as The Other Way’s first full-time director.
Just last year, The Other Way celebrated 50 years of serving the West Side.
Meeting the holistic needs of individuals and families in the West Side neighborhood, The Other Way focuses on early childhood education, access to economic opportunities, and community engagement. The organization accomplishes this through free childcare and preschool, literacy tutoring, discipleship, support groups, job-readiness programs and partnerships, a food pantry, and a new focus on health and wellness.
The Other Way also recently became a pick-up site for produce from New City Farm, a nonprofit CSA (community supported agriculture) that hires high school students to grow, harvest, and sell produce. (New City Neighbors, the farm’s parent organization, was featured in the Fall 2016 issue of RCA Today.) The Other Way purchases fresh produce from New City Farm, which trains its young employees in agriculture and job skills. The produce is then sold at 50-percent cost to West Side neighbors who often have little access to fresh, healthy produce nearby.
Throughout its five decades of ministry, The Other Way has clung to Dick Ter Maat’s motto of “spontaneous obedience” to Christ through asset-based community development. In addition to opening its childcare center and preschool, it helped organize Servant’s Community Church (RCA), helped establish Westown Jubilee Housing, and partnered with local colleges for nursing initiatives.
“We believe every person has something to contribute,” says Kurt Reppart, executive director of The Other Way Ministries. “I’ve been involved with The Other Way for over 16 years, [and still] what matters the most are the individual people and the families who walk into the door.
“Some of the families we’ve been working with for 20-plus years. We see the transformation in their families and how they’re connected in community and taking next steps.” Because The Other Way has been invested in its community for all these years, says Reppart, “You get to see stories of transformation and belonging.”
From its beginnings with Ninth Reformed Church (which closed in 1978), The Other Way has continued to have ties to the RCA. More than 80 percent of The Other Way’s supporting churches are RCA churches, and many volunteer work groups also come from RCA congregations.
Reppart believes that individuals and churches continue to support The Other Way for the same reasons they did in 1967: people believe in the ministry’s approach to community development in the West Side neighborhood. “The Other Way has always been relationally and holistically focused,” he says.
A church’s commitment to community development is important in Reppart’s mind: “The church can be the leader for the low-income family, [advocating and] speaking up in a new way.”