Executive Director: Sandy Baker
“Excellence can be attained if you…..care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible.”
Sandy Baker received her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education in 1987 from Michigan State University and her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership in 1992 from Western Michigan University.
Her teaching career began in the Lansing Public School District at Pattengil Middle School, then to North Aurelius Elementary in Mason, Michigan. A move to the west side of the State brought her to Spring Lake Public Schools in 1989. While at Spring Lake, Sandy taught fifth grade and Special Education grades 7-12. In 1995, she became the Principal of Holmes Elementary. After several years in Administration, she returned to the classroom, where she created a spectacular program for students with disabilities. This program included work experience out in the community and a micro enterprise (The Laker Popcorn Company) in the High School. Business connections were made with The Spring Lake Country Club, Vandermill Cider Mill, Dollar World, Dollar General, The Holiday Inn, Jack’s Restaurant, Orchard Market, Discovery Montessori, Robbinswood Assisted Living and The Little Red House. Students in the program were recognized for their employability skills and gifts and talents and local businesses began to hire the students into paid positions. Several students, a decade later, are still employed at their positions! The program that Sandy created shifted paradigms in the community!
Sandy hasn’t stopped there! She is an Adjunct Instructor at Muskegon Community College where she created The Jayhawk Academy. This program invites students with unique abilities to gain employability skills, daily living skills and continued academic skills on the campus of MCC! Connections with all of the activities and opportunities that a college campus and state of the art building have to offer, will certainly benefit the students enrolled in the program. Students enrolled in Education, Social Work, Nursing and Psychology will have the opportunity to volunteer in the program.
Sandy hasn’t stopped there! She is a Field Coordinator for HOPE College and Grand Valley State University! She supervises and evaluates the Student Teachers completing their student teaching experiences in Special Education. She travels to districts throughout west Michigan mentoring and coaching beginning teachers in the field.
Sandy is a Board Member (Secretary) of Disability Network of West Michigan and a consultant to the Arc of Muskegon. She recently helped to create a resource guide of services for families of children/adults with developmental disabilities and is inservicing High School educators in Muskegon County about this guide.
Sandy is the mother of two boys – Eric and Adam. Eric is 22 and has Down Syndrome. Adam is 21 and is pursuing a position as a Corrections Officer for the State of Michigan. Sandy and Eric travel to local High Schools and Universities to publically share their story. They have presented at multiple events every year for over a decade.
Sandy is the chair of the Outreach Ministry at First Evangelical Church in North Muskegon. She is active in the community, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and Family Promise.
In June of 2014, upon retirement from Spring Lake Public Schools, Sandy began creating Gracious Grounds, a nonprofit organization developing housing opportunities for people with unique abilities. She researched other models, visited programs around the State and searched for properties from Grand Haven to Whitehall. It is just a matter of time before Gracious Grounds becomes a viable opportunity for individuals in the area!
One of Sandy’s many achievements was being nominated for the Lakeshore Athena Award. The event is presented annually to recognize outstanding lakeshore women who have demonstrated excellence in their business or profession, have provided valuable service by devoting time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in their community, assist women in reaching their full potential and who exhibit the spirit of regional collaboration.
Assistant Director: Montana Florea
Montana Florea currently serves as Assistant Director at Gracious Grounds. She has a never-fleeting passion for the residents and mission of Gracious Grounds and loves working side by side with Sandy Baker.
Her journey with Gracious Grounds stared several years ago when she was first introduced to Sandy, and her son Eric, at Muskegon Community College. As a student and employee at a local grocery store, spare time for volunteering was not on her side. However, several years later, God lead Montana to contact Sandy in hopes to become a volunteer. Montana served as a volunteer for several months before being offered a part time position with Gracious Grounds. Her talents and devotion has led her to quickly grow within the position. Montana states that, “It is so great to wake up in the morning and be excited to go to work! The residents and staff at Gracious Grounds never fail to make each day brighter!”
Among her position at Gracious Grounds, she is also a student at Grand Valley State University. She is currently working towards her bachelors degree of Social Work and plans to obtain her masters degree after that. She is a very busy individual who loves to serve others whenever possible!
President: Kevin Green
Kevin Green lives in Spring Lake with his wife Rachel and daughter Gianna. He has lived in the community since 1996 when he started working at Spring Lake Country Club where he is now the General Manager. He has worked with Spring Lake High School for over a decade to host off-site work and employability skills training for students with unique skills and learning needs. Kevin is active with the Rotary Club of Spring Lake serving on the Board as the Membership Chairman. He also serves on the North Bank Community Fund Advisory Board, the 100 Men Who Give Steering Committee and the Michigan Club Manager’s Association Board as Past President.
Vice President: Dennis Swartout
My wife Carol and two daughters moved to Grand Haven in 1985 and over the last three decades I have been engaged in a variety of civic activities above and beyond my career responsibilities. Presently, I serve as a member of Grand Haven’s Human Relations Commission. Prior to that I served on the City Planning Commission, Downtown Development Authority, the Lighthouse Conservancy and the Coast Guard Festival Board. I was also privileged to serve in elected office as both a Grand Haven City Councilman and Ottawa County Commissioner. I have been fortunate to hold leadership positions having served as Chairman of the DDA and for five years as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. Following my retirement as Director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum I joined Harbor Transit where I serve in the role of Marketing Representative. My true joy in life has come from working with others in helping to make our community and the people that live here the very best.
Member: Jennifer VanSkyver
As is the experience with all the members on our Board of Trustees, my heart led me to Gracious Grounds. My heart is named, Claudia Jane. But my ever-confident daughter will be the first to tell you she prefers to be called, CJ! She is almost 17 years old – in fact, her birthday is the same day as our fundraiser this year, April 27! (Lots of reasons to celebrate.) Her journey through life with cognitive disabilities has not been easy or certain. But, she’s charted her own path using an awesome combination of resolute determination and optimism. Her future is bright, and getting even brighter because of the inclusive, forward-thinking vision of Gracious Grounds. I look forward to serving this incredible mission in every way I can for her future, the future of her peer group, and the benefits that our work will bring to our entire community.
As the Chief Communications Officer for North Ottawa Community Health System I hope to initially bring to bear my resources and network from the health care realm, as well as my gifts to help widen the circle of influence and support of Gracious Grounds as we grow to meet increasing need. I wish to thank the Board and Sandy, for the warm welcome I have received. And, I wish to thank YOU, in advance, for your continued dedication to making our community a place we can all call home.
Treasurer: Lisa Ashcraft
Lisa Ashcraft is a life long resident of Spring Lake. Lisa attended Western Michigan University with a degree in Business Education. This year Lisa will celebrate her 37th anniversary with Chase Bank. She has worked primarily in Grand Haven and Spring Lake. She is currently the Branch Manager at Chase Bank in Grand Haven, Michigan. Lisa has been a member of Spring Lake Public schools Board of Education since 1996 serving on various committees and holding positions as treasurer, vice president and president. Lisa has always been involved in the schools and very interested in the education of all students. Lisa has been blessed with the ability to share her heart and skills with students and people with unique gifts and talents.
Member: Gay Cole
Gay and her family have lived in the Spring Lake area for over 30 years. Gay recently retired after teaching for 34 years. In retirement Gay appreciates having the gift of time to give to groups and causes she believes in, such as Gracious Grounds.
Gay has long recognized that a traditional housing model does not meet the needs of many young adults in this community. She has heard their dream of living independently. She has heard the pride in their voices when they talk of jobs, social activities and community involvement. Gay is proud to be part of the mission of Gracious Grounds.
Member: Katie Appold
Katie is a life-long resident of the Tri-Cities where she lives with her husband, Chad, and their two children, Grace and Graham. Katie joined Gracious Grounds in late 2016 when she resigned from leading a West Michigan nonprofit. Katie’s professional experience includes over fifteen years in marketing and fundraising in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. She owns and operates Grace Granted, a nonprofit consulting firm specializing in grant writing and development work.
Katie was recognized in 2008 as one of the Top Women in Marketing by MiBiz, has been nominated for the Lakeshore Athena award twice, and recognized as one of the Top 20 under 40 for the Tri-Cities in 2015. Katie serves on the board of the Tri-Cities College Access Network, the Lakeshore Pregnancy Center Advisory Council for Grand Haven, the Community Leaders Forum for the Tri-Cities YMCA, and serves as the Co-Chair of the Re-Imagination Station Capital Campaign Fundraising Committee. She also serves as the Executive Director for the Grand Haven Schools Foundation.
Member: Lauren Reenders
Lauren Reenders is a bright and knowledgeable young woman who grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan. She attended Grand Haven High School, Hope College, and recently graduated with her MBA from Cornerstone University in early 2017.
Currently, Lauren serves as the Director of Operations for the Assisted Living portfolio for Heritage Property Management, which is also her family business. She is one of five current 4th generation family members to work for the company. She started working in the kitchen at age fourteen and worked her way up through various roles. Her great grandfather, Arthur Reenders, stared the business in 1946. Arthur started building single family houses, her grandpa started multifamily housing, and her dad, uncle, and aunt got into senior housing twenty-three years ago. They currently have nine assisted living communities and six independent senior community properties located around the state of Michigan.
Lauren’s relationship with Gracious Grounds started in 2016. In 2016, Sandy Baker reached out to Lauren to see if Heritage Property Management had any employment opportunities for her residents. Through this process, Lauren and Sandy created a bond that would last for years to come. “I immediately fell in love with the organization and what Sandy was providing for the community” Over the years, Lauren has had the Gracious Grounds residents to her house for a summer fire, to her parents’ house for a swim and cook out, and to a Hope College basketball game. Grand Pines Assisted Living currently employs several Gracious Grounds residents and is in walking distance from Gracious Grounds. We can not thank Lauren and her family enough for providing such wonderful opportunities for our residents!
Lauren believes that she can be an asset to Gracious Grounds because her expertise with senior living can be applied to Gracious Grounds. “We both work with vulnerable adults that need a lot of love, compassion and care.” Lauren’s main desire is to help others; therefore, she feels honored to work in her daily job and feels that being a part of the Gracious Grounds board will fill her cup even more. “I can’t wait for this journey, there are big things in store!”
Member: Jeff Troupe
Jeff Troupe is currently a Special Education teacher for students with cognitive impairments at Grand Haven High School. He has been helping students become academically employable as well as gain the necessary independent living skills to live a life as barrier free as possible. He is currently in his eleventh year working for Grand Haven High School. Through his career, Jeff has established many partnerships with the business community and Grand Haven Area Public Schools that has allowed students to obtain on the job training experiences and job exploration opportunities that have led to gainful employment.
Jeff was born and raised in Grand Haven with loving parents who instilled a passion in Jeff for community service. Jeff’s father served as the superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and served on numerous boards and committees in the community. Jeff hopes to honor his fathers legacy by continuing to serve similar roles. Recently, Jeff was honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Reimagine Project committee. Jeff focused on ensuring accessibility for students with special needs in the design of the new playground. “It has been an exciting opportunity to bring my skills as a special education teacher and advocate for individuals with special needs to this project” ~ Jeff
Curently, Jeff and his wife reside in Belmont, Michigan with their three-year-old son. His wife works in the Housing and Homeless Services at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Jeff and his wife remain actively involved in the Grand Haven community and are both very committed to instilling the value of community service into their son just as Jeff’s parents did for him.
Member: Erin Lyon
Erin moved to Grand Haven immediately following high school where she quickly made it her home. Erin received her Bachelors and Master’s Degrees from Grand Valley State University and earned her Doctorate of Jurisprudence Degree from Michigan State University. Erin has been the owner of Jumpin’ Java since October of 2016, and she serves as the Corporate Compliance Officer at Sunset Retirement Communities in Jenison, as well as being a member of the Chamber Ambassadors. Erin is very active in the community and gives back as often as possible. She served as a Board Member of the Grand Haven Young Professionals for more than five years where she was the Director of the Salmon Run. She was a member of the Re-Imagination Station Capital Campaign Fundraising Committee and has helped with the Momentum Center Prom for the last two years. Erin is very much looking forward to offering her time and talents to Gracious Grounds.