Gracious Hosts

April 4, 2003
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A couple of weeks ago, the Business Journal featured MarvinMcKenzieJr. in its Inside Track space.

The executive director of KidsFirst, an emergency shelter for children in Kent County that's affiliated with St. John's Home, designed and implemented the program himself.

There are many "extras" in the home, but McKenzie stressed he doesn't fight the good fight by himself.

To ensure these extras keep coming in, McKenzie puts energy into fundraising. He'll tee off June 2 at the 4th Annual KidsFirst Golf Tournament sponsored by Robert W. Baird & Co. at Watermark Country Club.

"We hope to raise $50,000 this year, which is a lot of money, but we think Kent County residents want us to continue to give this level of care. Kent County folks are very supportive. I feel very fortunate to be doing this work in this community."

There are a few things that make KidsFirst a great program. "The first is great cooperation from other agencies that under other circumstance might be our competitors. The second is a generous community that keeps supporting us with charitable donations year after year."

McKenzie said his work is not often newsworthy, and he prefers to focus on the kids.

One of the most difficult parts of his job is finding good placements for the children who leave KidsFirst. To ensure a higher quality of placements, McKenzie decided to launch his own program. The Host Homes foster care program opened in 1999.

"The foster care system, as effective and valuable as it is, provides less stability than we'd like to see. Too often children move from one foster family to another and live with several other foster children in the same home."

The Host Homes program is different because it matches one child with one family — a relationship McKenzie says he hopes lasts a lifetime. Caseworkers who are assigned just 10 families make sure these families get all the support they need to make the match a success. He calls Host Homes a program "in the toddler stage" with just 17 families participating. "We're growing slowly so that the quality stays high."

St. John's Home's endowment fund has been set up to provide college scholarships for all Host Homes kids. "We are the only private agency in the nation that offers this," he said. "And it's only possible through the generosity of this community."

McKenzie is thoroughly immersed in his work. He also is vice chair of the Executive Coordinating Council of Kent County and serves on several boards and committees devoted to children welfare.

  • Another person devoted to service died last week.

Former Congressman HaroldSawyer, 83, died at his Algoma Township home Thursday.

He represented the 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-85 and had a longstanding law practice in Grand Rapids.

Congressman VernEhlers, R-Grand Rapids, remembered "Hal" fondly.

"Hal Sawyer and I worked together when he was the prosecuting attorney for Kent County and I was a Kent County commissioner. Hal's experience and expertise as a criminal defense attorney made him an excellent county prosecuting attorney. Throughout his term in Congress, I had the opportunity to continue working with him as a county commissioner and as a Michigan state representative.

"His work in Congress included getting federal funding for the early stages of Grand Rapids' downtown revitalization and he also sat on the committee that reviewed the findings of the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hal was respected by his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee because of his legal expertise."

  • Is it time to call off the dogs?

Internet chat boards have been buzzing for the better part of a year with news of Steelcase CEO JimHackett's imminent departure from the helm of the world's largest office furniture manufacturer.

Shut up already.

During a conference call with Wall Street analysts on, ironically, April Fool's Day, Hackett was finally able to express some optimism.

Steelcase's management team, he said, "has demonstrated a capability to lead in a historical depression."

"My generation of leadership has not faced such an event. Likely, there was some question of what it would do to me, the other leaders, and our company," Hackett said. "And the good news in this is that the lessons learned are always cumulative, which means as the economy returns, we expect to leverage our insights into being leaner, more resolute to move quickly, and to have confidence in our ideas."

Does this mean the wags will stop predicting his dismissal? Probably not. But now when Hackett offers his two cents' worth, he can talk about per-share profits, not losses.

It's nice to see a little confidence return to an industry (and community) leader.

  • Besides, if that doesn't work, Hackett now can fire back at his Internet detractors on their own turf.

Steelcase announced Thursday that it is launching the first edition of 360 e-zine, an online publication created to provide a "360-degree view on current workplace issues and trends," according to PamBrenner, manager of workplace issues for Steelcase and editor of the e-zine. "The goal of the 360 e-zine is to provide information that will foster productivity, innovation and effectiveness."

The venture promises plenty of columns, tips and quick overviews regarding the company and industry.

To subscribe, visit

And, no, Hackett will not be monitoring the e-mail addresses.           

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