Ladder’s story began in 1990 in the hearts and minds of parents who were struggling with how to help their adult children who were suffering with mental illness. In the midst of the tears and frustration at the lack of support and appropriate housing for their children, a challenge was issued to them by the local housing agency—well, what are you going to do about it? Parents, families, future residents, and community members came together to translate that challenge into a reality and that reality was the “first chapter” of a vision which God has sustained throughout the years.
A home—a haven where one can feel safe and accepted, where people can be encouraged and empowered to become all that they can be—this is the thesis of Ladder’s story. Affordable, quality, appropriate, and safe houses is the first step, and over the years Ladder has acquired, in addition, two 4-plex apartment buildings for women and children, and married couples, allowing housing to be provided for over 20 residents. Support for the residents comes from the staff, who serve as case managers and friends, helping in whatever way may be necessary to empower each resident to be as independent as possible and to become a productive member of the community. In addition we have added a free Outreach Program which provides case management services for people who are not residents of Ladder, but who need the support we can provide to live successfully. Together the community volunteers, the residents themselves, the Ladder Homes Board of Directors, and the support staff form the heart of Ladder. Out of this heart, houses have been transformed into homes and strangers into families. In such an environment, those who too often have experienced rejection and pain, stigma and misunderstanding can grow and blossom into the special, worthwhile people they are.
The residents of Ladder are intelligent, capable, creative people whose mental illness has robbed them of their dreams and the life they had planned to live. In the continuing chapters of Ladder’s story a tale is being told of an awakening hope for meaningful lives. A prolific artist has his work showcased in homes, churches, galleries, and local businesses. Two residents have co-authored a book on their experience living with schizophrenia. A number of gardeners have vegetable and flower gardens for their enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. One resident serves as the Ladder Maintenance Supervisor, working with volunteers to maintain the houses and yards, while several others use their “jack of all trades” skills in several of the homes. Many of the residents hold down part-time jobs, work as volunteers in the community, or attend school. In all of this, their earlier dreams are gradually being replaced by new dreams, and lives without hope are finding new meaning - all of this made possible because of a home, a family, and support from people who caught God’s vision and recognize in each of them the face of God.
The need for the type of supportive, independent living which Ladder provides is great. In Ottawa County alone, more than 2000 clients with chronic mental illness are served by Community Mental Health, many of whom are capable of living productive, independent lives with the right type of support and housing. But too often they live instead on the street, in the mission, with family members, in adult foster care homes, or in apartments, unsupported, isolated, and alone. These are God’s children, as worthwhile and special as you or I. Their courage in the midst of such a disabling illness deserves recognition rather than disdain. Our society continues to fail them in so many ways, but in one small way, in one little corner of the world, Ladder is committed to its mission of providing housing, support, and advocacy for those in our community with mental illness.