Accolades for Lutheran Social Services programs

by Barbara Lewis 26. July 2012 15:14

Hats off to our West Michigan Home Care program, based in Grand Rapids, which received the Best of Home Care 2012 award from Home Care Pulse, a company that surveys our home care clients and staff. And the Lansing office our our Children and Family Services program is a winner of the 2012 Best of Lansing Awards in the Human Services Organizations category. The Lansing Awards program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the area for enhancing the positive image of small business through service to customers and the community.    

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LSSM | News

Mobile dental clinic helps refugee kids

by Barbara Lewis 5. July 2012 16:04

Busy worrying about keeping a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, most refugees don't have the luxury of taking care of their dental health. Lutheran Social Services' Refugee Services program in Grand Rapids hosts a mobile dental clinic twice a year to serve refugee children. A few weeks ago, the dentist took care of 37 kids, with the help of interpreters for Burmese, Bhutanese and Congolese families. Medicaid pays for the dental exams. Families also got to visit the "store," a room where the staff keep items donated for the refugees. Everyone went home with linens, clothing, kitchen or bathroom supplies or toys and games for the kids. (In the photo, Sobit Parsai, 11, from Bhutan, waits for his dental X-ray.)



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Girl with special needs gets ‘forever home’ for Christmas

by John Elmore 22. December 2011 15:43

Christmas is coming quickly. While buying and giving gifts is a focus for many this time of year, sometimes it’s a gift that can’t be purchased that means the most. This year, Brianna Droski, a special needs 4-year-old, has a new mom for Christmas, someone to love her and care for her no matter what.


Her grandmother, Deb Droski, 58, a former over-the-road truck driver, took in Brianna as a foster child in December 2009. With the help of Christopher Fisher, adoption case worker for Lutheran Adoption Service in Grand Rapids, Deb adopted the girl on Kent County Adoption Day, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, before Judge Daniel V. Zemaitus.


Brianna has cerebral palsy. “Brianna looks like a normal little kid,” Deb Droski said. “When we go out to a restaurant, the waitress will ask her what she wants to eat, and we have to explain that she’s tube-fed.” Brianna really needs her new mother. She has the mental capacity of a baby, can’t swallow liquids, can’t walk or bear her weight, and may always need to wear diapers. “She can’t talk,” Deb said. “She makes noises, that’s her way of talking. It was hard at first, but I understand her pretty well now.”


Last January, Brianna started going to pre-school half days at Ken O’ Sha Park Elementary School. She also has therapy two or three times a week. While Deb was a bit worried about adopting her special needs grandchild at her age, she knew she needed Brianna as much as Brianna needed her. “God brought us together for a reason,” Deb said. “She has been my rock, and I have been hers.”


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LSSM Refugee Services hosts International Women’s Day gathering

by John Elmore 9. March 2011 17:37

“Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day,” said LSSM’s Dana Doll. A hundred years ago, more than a million men and women attended rallies supporting women’s rights to vote, to hold public office, to work and to be allowed vocational training, plus a call to end discrimination against women on the job. The largest gathering involved 30,000 people. 

Lutheran Social Services of Michigan hosted a gathering at the Ladies Literary Club in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to celebrate women around the world, especially local refugee women, and their efforts to bring an end to war for the protection of their children. 

The evening program included interviews of two female refugees -- one a new business owner from Haiti and the other a recent arrival in West Michigan from Democratic Republic of Congo -- who know the hardships women face. Local recording artist Brie Stoner, who grew up as a missionary kid in Spain and has worked with women from North Africa, shared some of her music of compassion and hope.

Those in attendance finished the evening by marching together holding candles to the blue pedestrian bridge over the Grand River for a group photo with their signed banner. The picture will be gathered with more than a hundred other second annual "Join Me On the Bridge" events around the world, posted on the website of Women for Women.

For the full story about this evening event, click here. More photos from this event can be viewed by clicking on this link.














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Client Stories | General | LSSM | News

Refugee women honored in Grand Rapids

by Barbara Lewis 14. February 2011 10:14


The Refugee Services program of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan in Grand Rapids is honoring refugee women at an event March 8 celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Participants at "Join Me On the Bridge" will meet downtown at 5 p.m. at (venue change) Calvin College’s Ladies Literary Club, 61 Sheldon Blvd. SE, then march to the Fulton Street Bridge. A group photo will be taken and posted online to with photos of dozens of other gatherings around the world. 

At the Ladies Literary Club in Grand Rapids, people will enjoy special music by local artist Brie Stoner, hear the survival story of Florence Bish, a refugee from Congo, and help decorate a banner for use in the march. "Join Me On the Bridge" was created by Women for Women International, whose mission is "helping women survivors of war rebuild their lives." Last year's event involved more than 20,000 women in 108 events on four continents, like the one that took place last year in Sarajevo, the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina (in photo, left). The Grand Rapids event is funded in part by a grant from the North Kent Chapter, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

For more information about the event, contact Chris Cavanaugh at or (616) 356-1934.

To read a Grand Rapids Press article with more details about this Mar. 8 event, and plus information about a separate related event the next day, Mar. 9, both sponsored by LSSM, click here.




Terraces resident shares experiences with audience, actors of "The Diary of Anne Frank"

by John Elmore 19. January 2011 16:07

Diet ("deet") Eman, 90, moved into The Terraces at MapleCreek in October 2010. With the downsizing, she has been going through her old papers, some going back to the time when she was part of a Dutch resistance group against the Germans with her fiance, Hein, during World War Two. For two years, she lived under an assumed name because the Nazi Gestapo wanted to kill her. Consider how young she was, just 20 when Germany invaded The Netherlands in 1940.

The resistance group hid Jewish people and the young downed American pilots and flight crews, both acts punishable by death. They transported weapons and stole thousands of I.D. and ration cards from Nazi offices and distributed them across the country. Even when she was imprisoned under a false name, the Gestapo continued to look for Berendina "Diet" Eman, and had regular contact with her parents. While in a maximum security prison and then in a concentration camp, Diet has said, she "did so super stupid" (pretended to be dumb) so that she would not seem threatening enough to bother with, not worth executing. She believes God preserved her life. Among the other prisoners was Corrie Ten Boom.

On Monday morning, Jan. 17, 2011, Diet was interviewed about her war experiences live on the radio by Shelley Irwin, host of the WGVU Morning Show. Also involved in that interview was Bruce Tinker, who is the director for a local production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" by Grand Rapids Civic Theater running through Jan. 30, 2011. (Shelley is in her first stage role as the woman who rescued Anne Frank's diary, who recently died at age 100.) The third guest for this 24-minute interview was Len Robinson, a director and producer and president of Jewish Theater Grand Rapids. Len served as a coach for the all-gentile cast, helping them with pronunciation of Hebrew and with insights into aspects of the Jewish tradition.

Diet assisted the actors in understanding what things were going on in The Netherlands outside of the hiding place shown in the play. She admits during the interview that working with the drama has been bringing back her post-traumatic stress from the war.


NOTE: Director Bruce Tinker shared that Diet did a wonderful "talk-back" with the play's audience and the actors after the Sunday matinee on Jan. 16, and that she will do so again on Sunday, Jan. 23. This is a great opportunity to hear Diet in person. 

For show dates and times and to order tickets to see "The Diary of Anne Frank" by Grand Rapids Civic Theater, visit: or by phone at 616-222-4000. 

Diet Eman's life story is featured in the January 2011 issue of the "Celebrating Life at MapleCreek" newsletter. For your free copy, send your request by email to the editor, John Elmore ( Please include your name and your postal mailing address.

Diet Eman's personal story about her wartime experiences is shared in her moving book Things We Couldn't Say -- and in the 2005 documentary film "The Reckoning" featuring Diet and five other people who were involved in the Dutch Resistance during World War Two (produced by Grand Rapids-based Storytelling Pictures).














Christmas angel at Allen Manor

by Barbara Lewis 21. December 2010 10:49

The Allen Manor resident was in a bind. She had called a cab to go to the doctor and paid the fare for a round trip – but the driver never returned to pick her up. Another patient became aware of her problem, and when his brother-in-law came to pick him up, the two men offered to bring the resident back to Allen Manor in Grand Rapids. Lonnie McCaleb, the driver, stopped in at the office to tell manager Kimberly Sleet the story. Allen Manor has 24 HUD-subsidized apartments for low-income seniors. McCaleb, a caterer, was so impressed by the building and the residents that he offered to bring every resident a Christmas Eve dinner. “He didn’t want to imagine any senior without a holiday dinner,” said Kimberly. “He said this is his chance to give back to the community for the many blessings he has had.”

A story about delivering the Christmas Eve dinners appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on Dec. 25, 2010. Read it here.

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Single father offers hope to youth as a LSSM foster dad

by Susan Aumiller 25. June 2010 13:50

Luke 12:48b – “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Cole Williams is a hero to the teen boys in his home, especially his own 15-year-old son Nathan, who told him, “I’m proud of you, because you’re a really good father.”

Cole understands them. When he himself was 15, his mother moved to a subsidized apartment that did not have room for him. His former fifth-grade math teacher, Ralph Cantania, took him in. “I was grateful, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Cole recalled. “I was a young black man, and he was a white man.”

Cantania was in his mid-fifties, divorced and childless. “He was the nicest kid,” he said, “and he needed someone.” Cantania became Cole’s legal guardian, then learned the boy was going to be a father. “What impressed me was Cole’s promise, ‘My son is going to know who his father is.’”

Cole went to parenting groups and learned skills for raising his son. For about two years, Cole saw his son regularly and brought him home on weekends. Then Nathan came to stay for good.

Two years ago, the two moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from New Jersey. Cole works for St. John’s Home, a foster care residential shelter program in Grand Rapids for children ages infant to 18 years old. “I saw kids come in with no place to go,” Cole said. “I want them to know that I am someone they can depend on.”

Cole, now a licensed foster parent through Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, is Dad to a home full of teenage boys. “This is a very real family,” Cole said. “These are my sons. We deal with real issues. It comes with real responsibilities. We’re dealing with children who were abused and neglected. It involves a lot of sacrifice. But the more you know, the more you owe. You can make a difference."

More foster homes are needed for hurting children and youth. Visit

Read the feature story about Cole Williams that ran in The Grand Rapids Press on Father’s Day, June 20, 2010.

Listen to the StoryCorps recording of Cole Williams and guardian Ralph Cantania.

Listen to the StoryCorps recording of Cole Williams and his 15-year-old son Nate.

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News | LSSM

Iraqi family starts new life in Grand Rapids

by Barbara Lewis 21. April 2010 10:21

The phone call came to Lutheran Social Services’ Grand Rapids office out of the blue. A documentary filmmaker was trying to locate a newly arrived Iraqi family for a film he was making. He was at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, as were Lutheran Social Services refugee resettlement staff. They were all looking for the same family of nine, who left Iraq for neighboring Syria in 2006, their lives threatened by sectarian violence.

The filmmaker, a Syrian named Fadi Wahbeh, is making a documentary about the journey of this family to a new life in America. He spent a month last summer visiting with the family in Damascus and had just flown in from Dallas, where he’s a graduate student and teacher, to catch the family’s arrival.

A look of relief crossed father Hasan's face when he spotted Wahbeh at the airport.  The children – five girls aged 9 to 18 and two younger boys – were excited to see him. “I used to bring them candy every day in Damascus,” Wahbeh said with a laugh.

Also at the airport were volunteers from Rogers Heights Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan, home church of an American refugee relief worker in Damascus. She knew the family needed a sponsor in Michigan so she and Chris Cavanaugh, Lutheran Social Services’ manager of refugee resettlement in West Michigan, encouraged the church to take on those responsibilities. Church members are helping the family get settled and adjust to their new home.

Then another challenge arose. The group had arrived with 18 bags. “Usually a family will come with three or four suitcases,” Cavanaugh said. The Lutheran Social Services van could not hold all the people and all the luggage. With the help of Wahbeh’s rented car and a pickup truck belonging to a member of the church group, the family and their belongings were transported to their rental house in northwest Grand Rapids.

Inside their new home, Wahbeh watched through his camera lens as Hussam, 3, jumped up and down on a bed. He doesn’t know much English, but as he bounced he said, “Happy! Happy!”

“Did you hear that?” exclaimed his mother, Meithaq. “He said he’s happy.” It was a sign that life in America is going to be good.

Wahbeh plans to return to Grand Rapids in six months, around the time the family’s rent and food subsidies will be ending. “I want to capture how the program has been able to prepare them for society,” Wahbeh said.  He plans to finish his film by the end of 2010.

(This is just one of many refugee families and individuals scheduled to arrive soon in Grand Rapids. In the week of April 19 alone Lutheran Social Services in West Michigan welcomed a family of six, a family of eight and two individuals from Burma. Every family needs furniture, especially beds and bedding, along with kitchen pots and pans, dishes, flatware, towels, lamps, even clothing – whatever it takes to turn a bare  apartment into a home. Donations are welcome. Volunteers are needed to take the refugees to appointments, drive them to and from work or to medical and other appointments, share activities to help them get used to American life and customs, and to mentor or tutor them in English. What they need most are some friends in their new land. To learn more about how you might help, contact Chris Cavanaugh in Grand Rapids: (616) 356-1934 or email )

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