From Darkness to Light: Kyle Hinton Encourages Men to “Do the Footwork”
Guiding Light’s newest board member has only had the chance to briefly walk through the doors of 255 Division Ave. SE because of COVID-19. But Kyle Hinton has walked in the shoes of the men who seek recovery and reconnection through the programs offered by the Heartside nonprofit – and he knows the importance of shining a light.
“We serve men who are in a dark place,” Kyle notes. “The sober mission is what really drew me to Guiding Light. We have a good structure in place, and we have qualified people who know what they need to do from a programming standpoint. The key element is to get people who are ready to come in and do the work – because this is hard work.”
Kyle knows that firsthand. The Detroit native was in a “really dark place” when he landed in Grand Rapids at the age of 27. Undereducated and struggling with addiction, his decisions led to encounters with the law. Kyle started attending Bible study as a way to get out of his cell, had an awakening, and began to read the Bible in earnest.
His next stop was the downtown YMCA, when it was located across from the Grand Rapids Public Library. He took advantage of the proximity to “get into a routine of reading.” One of Kyle’s sponsors in his recovery program recommended he seek more education – and it wasn’t an empty suggestion.
“It took me five years to graduate from high school, so I had a self-defeating belief I wasn’t a good student,” Kyle recalls. “I told myself that for years and years and years. Unlike a therapist who encourages people, your sponsor tells you what to do – and that’s what my sponsor did.
“He told me, ‘If you want me to sponsor you, you need to go down to that community college and enroll.’ So I did.”
Kyle needed a tutor for “just about every class but reading” at Grand Rapids Community College, but found himself getting into healthier routines, attending support groups, reading a lot and running. He remembers being late one night and running to a sobriety meeting playing old self-defeating tapes in his head about being unable to do anything right.
“That’s when a voice said, ‘Do the footwork.’ I stopped and looked around but couldn’t find that voice. And after a few minutes, I realized that was God talking to me – and that became my mantra. Do the footwork.”
Fitting advice. By 1988, Kyle had been sober for a little over a year when family struggles caused him to be entrusted with the care of his children, ages 4, 2 and 3 months. Kyle immediately stepped in to become a focused and full-time father.
Grounded by his children and rooted in his family and faith, Kyle completed a two-year associate degree from GRCC – then his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration, both from Grand Valley State University. He enjoyed bringing his children to the Allendale campus where he worked as the assistant director of the Upward Bound program – and at being an “involved, responsible and committed father.” Kyle ultimately earned a second master’s degree in family life education before completing a graduate certificate program in alcohol and drug abuse at Western Michigan University.
Shortly after completing his MPA, Kyle went to have a doctor check a lump on his arm and was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The University of Chicago offered the best treatment path, so he traveled there with his mother. As the pair left that first appointment, his mother stopped to pray with a woman and Kyle was walking to the car alone when he heard the voice again: “I chose you.”
“I didn’t turn around and start looking around that time,” Kyle says. “I told my mom, ‘I’m going to be alright’ because God talked to me and told me ‘I chose you.’ From that moment, I knew he had chosen me to take care of my kids and be the best father I could be.
“After I got my kids sent off to college, there were still some things resonating in me, and I knew that God had chosen me again to help men who have become entangled, devalued and marginalized. I believe in my heart He commissioned me to do this work. It’s taxing and can be long and arduous, but it is gratifying to see someone step out of the darkness and into the light.”
In 2009, Kyle fully embraced that commission by opening New Visions Counseling. In the early days, he worked extensively with the Michigan Prison Re-entry Initiative, supporting clients re-entering society through cognitive behavior therapy, parenting skills and family reunification work, among others. Since that time, he has expanded and now has contracts with local, county and state organizations, including sobriety and drug court, working with clients individually as well as in group settings.
Kyle is anxious for COVID restrictions to lift so he can work more hands-on with the men in Guiding Light’s Recovery program. Known on the street as “no-joke recovery,” Guiding Light offers an intensive, drug and alcohol recovery program designed to give men structure and opportunity to engage in change.
The unique residential program, which is offered at no cost to participants thanks to the generosity of donors, combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and resources to equip men to stay sober and live life in a new way. As one participant said, the program gives men a reason to be sober.
That resonated with Kyle, who recognizes that it takes a convergence of “timing, tone and temperament” to be successful in cutting through the darkness.
“Some people are just not ready,” says Kyle. “A key element of Guiding Light’s program is to get people who are ready to come in. The programming we offer is critical, as are our recovery coaches. While it’s great to have people who are therapists or have a theoretical framework and background, our recovery coaches are the difference. To have someone who has experienced these challenges to come in and walk alongside our clients, that’s huge.”
Kyle lists the other elements of Guiding Light Recovery that spoke to him: its holistic approach, its focus on finding meaningful work and its sober living apartments, Iron House. This social enterprise provides a safe and secure living environment in a residential area outside the inner city, allowing the men who have completed the first phase of their recovery to live more independently as they transition fully back into the mainstream of society.
Most importantly, there’s spirituality – the place where everything begins for Kyle, the “rock of everything we do there starts with our Father.” After hearing some of the stories from the men, Kyle has found himself saying, “the Lord has something planned for you – that’s the only reason you are still here.
“There are folks who’ve been through the meat grinder. To have a place like Guiding Light where you can heal mind, body and soul, that’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to put in some work, but when we talk about the whole self, we can support you.”
THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST HAS BECOME A NEW PERSON. THE OLD LIFE IS GONE; A NEW LIFE HAS BEGUN!
2 CORINTHIANS 5:17