'God's Man' For Mel Trotter

October 30, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Rev. Chico Daniels has spent more than 26 years ministering to people on the streets where they live rather than from the pulpit. With his recent appointment as president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, he continues his love affair with rescue mission work.

Daniels took the helm of the 108-year-old nonprofit on Oct. 1, succeeding retiring president Thomas J. Meyers. In announcing Daniels appointment, Richard Koole, chair of Mel Trotter’s board of directors, said that Daniels was chosen after a nationwide search that included more than 60 applicants. He said the board believed that Rev. Daniels was “God’s man” for the position.

“I believe strongly in divine intervention,” Daniels said. “God rescued me, and now I’m in the rescue business. Working in full-time Christian service is all I know and is all that I want to do.”

Raised in Orlando, Fla., Daniels joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school because he felt he was heading in the wrong direction and wanted to get on a new track. He spent six years as a Morse systems operator with the U.S. Air Force, first in London and later on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.

“Left to my own devices, I’m not sure exactly how things would have turned out,” Daniels reflected. “God eventually sent my way a young GI who was very serious about his faith. I became envious of what he had, and that was the beginning of the rebirth of my faith.”

It was during his time with the Air Force that he met his future wife, Vanessa, a foreign missionary whom he wed two years later. Following his stint in the military, Daniels attended a Bible institute, was ordained a minister and also became a foreign missionary. For the first couple of years, he worked in London and Sierra Leone, West Africa, in Action Missions International. He returned to the states in 1986 to serve as regional director for Match Two Prisoner Outreach, a prison visitation program in Vallejo, Calif. For five years, he worked in some of the toughest state prisons in California — Folsom, San Quentin and the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

“It was quite an educational experience, to say the least,” Daniels recalled. His job was to recruit men to go into the prison, befriend inmates and assist them with rehabilitation. 

“While working with the prisons, my heart became even more burdened for the plight of the men when they got out of prison,” he remarked. “Many of them have nowhere to go when they get out; they’ve burned their bridges with relatives and family members. That was why I wanted to get involved in rescue mission work, because I wanted to be there for the guys when they got out.”

Daniels went on to become director of Inner City Services at Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, Calif., and his family took up residence in a mission house in the infamous Iron Triangle, a rough neighborhood in central Richmond that’s riddled with crime and violence. That was where he really got hooked on rescue mission work, he said. In 1995, Daniels was hired as executive director of the Visalia Rescue Mission in Visalia, Calif.

Daniels came to Grand Rapids in 2001 to head Guiding Light Mission. Overseeing the Guiding Light Mission was the hardest assignment of Daniels’ life up to that point: It was the second “flop house” he had been commissioned to clean up, he said. There was a lot of abhorrent behavior and predators who preyed on the weakened and helpless on the streets, he recalled. The predators and drug dealers were calling the shots at Guiding Light seven years ago, he said.

“It was a very dangerous place,” Daniels acknowledged. “We declared Guiding Light as ‘God’s House’ and served notice on drug dealing, prostitution and violence in and around the mission. The police used to stake out the front of the mission because of the crack smoking that used to go on in the restrooms. We declared on all of those factions, and God backed us as we painstakingly worked to clean up that mission and make it solvent again.”

Under Daniels’ leadership, donations to Guiding Light Mission doubled, the SAVE (Spiritually Accountable, Vocationally Equipped) program was born, and the organization started several major outreach efforts, including programs for urban and suburban pastors, and business and nonprofit sector leaders.

Through the rescue mission ministry, suburban churches begin reconnecting to the inner city, he said: White people were coming back to the core city and rolling up their sleeves to minister to the urban community. He thought it was “awesome.”

“I really saw an opportunity through all of that to build bridges and tear down walls, and that’s what I’ve been doing in Grand Rapids the past seven years,” Daniels said.

In addition to feeding, clothing, housing and ministering to the drug and alcohol addicted, Guiding Light created some outreach opportunities to bring black and white business leaders together, Daniels said. The Jonathan David Fellowship, as it’s called, numbers 30 men, including such local leaders as Fred Keller, Mike Jandernoa, Joe Jones and District Judge Benjamin Logan. They visit each other’s churches with their wives, and members come to the mission once a month for breakfast and a Bible study. The group followed Daniels to Mel Trotter.

“We’re going to turn them on to rescue mission work,” he said. “We also have a group of urban and suburban pastors that we bring together once a month. We want them to adopt inner-city schools.”

Daniels became acquainted with and befriended former Mel Trotter President Meyers and the two began to notice the similarity in their visions for their rescue missions.

“It became apparent to me that the major donors in this city were not interested in duplicating what Mel Trotter was already doing,” Daniels remarked. “There is too much duplication and not enough collaboration in this city, according to the major donors who suffer from donor fatigue.”

Daniels’ credits Meyers with creating more income streams for the future of Mel Trotter Ministries. Meyers developed two thrift stores that not only boosted income but gave residents in the mission’s long-term residential program opportunities to train in retail sales. A third store will soon open in Belding. Long-term residents can also train to become certified auto mechanics in the mission’s new automotive training and repair facility at 555 28th St., which is another initiative Meyers started to increase revenues. Mel Trotter also runs a used car lot at 225 Commerce Ave. that sells donated cars.

What’s next for Mel Trotter? With the gentrification that is rubbing up against the mission on Commerce, Daniels’ believes that within the next three to five years Mel Trotter will be looking to relocate to a new, possibly larger site. He said the organization is exploring property options on Ionia and Grandville avenues.

“My vision and desire would be to see Guiding Light Mission and Mel Trotter merge and relocate together in a larger facility, a facility more accommodating for rescue.”

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