April 9 2012 12:00 AM

Local nonprofit helping to renovate local recovery houses

After serving in Vietnam, Taylor Swan brought back home with him combat stress. And years later, he found himself battling dependency on drugs and alcohol. In a quest to get sober, Swan went to a rehabilitation center for war veterans in Grand Rapids. Then, in 2001, he came to Lansing to Holden House, where he was given a gift that he is continuing to pay back today.

“I had my life back (when I got sober),” Swan said. “I had good friends, community and love and support from people. Because of that, I had gratitude. I thought somebody ought to do something, and God put in my heart that I was that somebody.”

So, the 61-year-old retired office furniture salesman decided to give back to the place that had helped him win his life back. In 2007, Swan started and is now the president of The Gratitude Group, a non-profit organization working to improve the condition of two local Lansing rehabilitation houses: Glass House at 419 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Holden House at 330 S. Pennsylvania Ave.

“My condition was deteriorating using drugs and drinking,” Swan said. “I couldn’t work anymore, and all I could do was get high and stay high.”

Holden House serves 200 people a year and has twice the national average success rate of patients staying sober, Swan said.

“I had been blessed because I was one of the statistics that got to stay sober, but I was also given pretty good tools,” he said.

But Holden House struggled with deteriorating conditions, and during his stay, Swan took note of how he might be able to help.

“It started with being in there and thinking, ‘this place is shabby.’ It would’ve been easier to not sleep in a broken bed,” he said.

Though his nonprofit is almost four years old, work on rehabilitating the houses was not able to start until January 2009.

“There was just a few of us then, and it started very small,” Swan said.

By the end of 2009, membership reached 124, and the Gratitude Group was able to complete about $33,000 in renovations to both Holden and Glass houses in one year. The group painted, replaced floors and carpeting, bought new mattresses, furnaces and office furniture, installed new window coverings and repaired the exteriors of the houses.

Local Lansing businesses such as North Winds Heating and Cooling, Capitol Bedding and O’Leary Paint have donated to the cause.

“That’s the kind of generosity you find in this community when you’re able to reach out to them,” Swan said. “Once they know what we do, people step up in ways we don’t expect.”

Bob Hapeman, treasurer and chief financial officer for The Gratitude Group, said to forget the numbers — the focus should be on the people.

“The real story is the volunteers,” he said. “All of these projects, there’s time, a lot of time, people spend doing it. The carpet doesn’t go on the floor itself.”

Betty Shaheen, a residential specialist at Glass House, experienced the changes firsthand.

“The house being updated and remodeled has brought positive changes. It’s absolutely helped (the residents). They take pride in their living area,” Shaheen said.

The renovations to these houses were late to arrive because the National Council on Alcoholism of the Lansing Regional Area (NCA/LRA), which operates the houses, simply did not have the resources.

“We’ve struggled to keep revenue to keep services and utilities updated. The money just isn’t there,” said NCA/LRA Director Pat Wheeler. “The Gratitude Group has recognized that dilemma, and they have the skills to help. It’s been a good partnership to get the needs met.”

Wheeler is thankful for the work The Gratitude Group has done where — even a fresh coat of paint is a big help.

“A big part of it is helping other people and to create a family that is functioning and supporting. We need to show clients that we value them,” she said.

Swan had a larger-than-life vision facing him and required the assistance of others to proceed.

“I’ve never done this before, so I was pretty clueless,” he said. “I’m just a guy who follows his heart, and I transfer my passion to other people.”

Swan and The Gratitude Group have a list of renovations planned to be completed for this year, as well.

“I really believe we’ll get all of it done,” Swan said.

One plan for this year is an event called The Gratitude Group Super Draw, a raffle will take place with prizes totaling $50,000.

“This event is very important to us,” Swan said. “The whole point is to tell our story.”

The event will be 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 23 at the Causeway Bay hotel in Lansing.

The Gratitude Group’s efforts will not stop anytime soon in helping Holden and Glass Houses.

“We’ll continue this work every year to keep the houses running as long as they have services to provide,” Swan said.

Swan also hopes to one day expand The Gratitude Group’s efforts even beyond the Lansing area.

“We hope to be able to do this one day in every city across the state,” he said. “Everybody wins when we do this work.”

And Swan is not the only example. Lansing resident Jody Cooper spent summer 2009 in Holden House, is still sober today, andbecame a member on the board of directors with Alano Club South, an AA meeting place in Lansing.

“Their program has saved and changed my life,” Cooper said.