The Grand Rapids native was working at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s when he was first introduced to Guiding Light and its work in Heartside. His background introduced him early on to the needs and challenges of population being served – particularly those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, which often go hand in hand.
“I knew Guiding Light was making a difference, and I thought I could contribute and make a difference, too,” says Mathis, who serves on the Board of the nonprofit. “I love the fact that faith is such a significant part of the mission and essential to the foundation of what we do. Faith is really the essence of Guiding Light.”
Faith also lies at the center of Brad’s life. After graduating from Catholic Central, he studied economics and health care administration at the University of Michigan before completing a master’s in theology at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. He spent 18 years at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, his work and faith touching many areas, including mission integration, spiritual care, ethics and community benefit.
Early in Brad’s tenure with the health care system, he helped develop and manage the Browning Claytor Health Center, which served lower-income residents on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. The patients who came for medical treatment brought many other needs with them, including education, employment and housing. Brad purchased and demolished the dilapidated homes across the street from the center, building an affordable housing development in their place, the first of several such projects he would spearhead.
Through that project, Brad first met and worked with the team at Rockford Construction. Today, he serves as the company’s Vice President of Community Development and Inclusion, where he focuses on urban development projects, such as Amplify GR, which takes a holistic approach to community development.
So, too, does Guiding Light through its Recovery addiction treatment program, Iron House sober-living communities and its Back to Work workforce development program. Faith takes center stage in each of these programs, which resonates with Brad.
“I’ve always believed in the integration of social determinants that impact our health and well-being,” Brad explains. “From a faith perspective, Guiding Light has been open about meeting people where they are. Spirituality really does have a significant impact on recovery and behavioral health as a whole.
“Being able to approach faith in a healthy way is critical for the individual and all the relationships they will have.”
The men served by Guiding Light’s Recovery program will have failed an average of five other programs before finding their way to 255 Division Ave. S. Recognized on the streets as a “no-joke” drug and alcohol addiction recovery program, it is designed to give men the structure – and opportunity – to affect permanent change.
The four- to six-month peer-led residential program combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and other resources to equip men to stay sober and approach life in a different way. Men who enroll are provided with educational classes based in principles of behavioral therapy. Each week, men attend group and individual therapy sessions with a licensed counselor specializing in addiction. They also have weekly sessions with a life coach and a spiritual director, as well as daily personal contact with outside community support groups who are all committed to their recovery.
Men who successfully complete this first phase have the option to move to Iron House, sober-living apartments that provide a safe and secure environment in a residential area outside the inner city.
At Iron House, they can live more independently and still remain supported in their sobriety journeys as they transition back into the mainstream of society.
“The impact Recovery and Iron House have is nothing short of life-changing,” Brad noted. “The testimonials that come from family members explaining how their loved ones have benefited from the Recovery program always give me a lot of joy.
“Iron House has been a tremendous opportunity for so many of the guys. Affordable housing is so difficult to find in West Michigan. At Iron House, they are part of a community, which is always a good, healthy next step in their journeys.”
There’s no charge to the men enrolled in Recovery program nor to their families. The costs are born by donors, many of whom have had a family member stolen by addiction. Other donors tell Guiding Light they support the work because it speaks to their Christian values, as it does with Brad.
“Your values are essentially what drives you,” Brad said. “We get them from recognizing the importance of human dignity, love and graciousness. Every one of us in some way, shape or form needs to be able to feel we are contributing to society.”