REALTORS® do much more than list and sell houses… they are invested in their local communities through volunteer service and activities. Please join us in applauding their efforts!

Jill Dover – Senior-Sing-Along


When depression creeps in and hopeless thoughts take over, it can be hard to find the light. Add to that dementia and the inability to live independently, and the sufferer can feel truly lost. While no one is immune to these afflictions, seniors and veterans are surely the most vulnerable.

Jill Dover has found a seemingly magic and deceptively simple elixir: music. Whether a familiar patriotic song, a swing tune, or a hymn, Dover recognizes that music can be powerfully rejuvenating for those accustomed to existing in dead silence or with the monotonous background noise of a TV.

Dover founded Senior Sing A-Long 10 years ago to bring music into the lives of seniors, veterans, and the disabled, some living out their days in nursing homes and assisted-care facilities. Her efforts are helping 8,000 people a month in Grand Rapids and eight surrounding counties to benefit mentally and physically through regularly scheduled musical programs.

Dover first witnessed the power of music when her late grandmother, Katherine Van Haaften, moved into a nursing home after showing signs of dementia and breaking her hip. The facility offered quality care, but that wasn’t sufficient to lessen her feelings of hopelessness.

“She had always been so spunky and never considered herself old. She would point to peers who weren’t as active and whom she delivered meals-on-wheels to and say, ‘Look; they’re not doing what I’m doing!'” recalls Dover. When her mental and physical capabilities dramatically declined, Van Haaften sank into a depression. “She didn’t want to live,” says Dover.

Then, one day, Van Haaften attended a piano performance, and it was as though it flipped a switch. “She had always loved music, and began singing, tapping her toes, and swaying to the songs from her wheelchair. She became the grandmother I knew,” Dover says. Other residents reacted similarly-clapping, moving their bodies, recalling tunes from the past, and in some cases dancing. “I realized that even if parts of people’s brains are destroyed, there are other parts that remain and connect them with music. These people should feel joy in their lives rather than think they’re in a place to die,” she says.

When Dover’s mother inquired how often the pianist came, she was told the facility couldn’t afford it more than once a month. Brainstorming with her parents and the family pastor, Dover decided she would start an organization to fund more performances at a greater number of facilities. Dover reached out to other nursing homes and inquired if they’d be interested in having musicians perform therefor a nominal fee. Everyone responded enthusiastically, so Dover went to work to line up an ensemble willing to be paid lower less than union scale. One day while at a donut shop, she heard an accordionist play, and asked if he’d be interested. He agreed, and before long, she had signed on five of his colleagues.

“With the sound of the piano music, she lit up, began singing along, tapping her toes, swaying in her wheelchair, and slowly became the grandmother I knew before her depression sank in.”
Boosting the number of musicians on board and the frequency of performances, has made a huge impact on the residents’ lives. One sixty-something veteran hadn’t spoken in three years and the staff assumed he was mute. But after a guitar player started strumming and singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. . .” the man uttered three words from the song. Jaws dropped. “A staff member called the man’s wife, and we thought she was unhappy s
ince the call was met with silence. But she quickly asked when the musician was returning so she could attend,” Dover says. “She did, and bawled as her husband spoke again. Music has the ability to stimulate memories other senses can’t.”

When Dover incorporated her organization as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, she had 20 musicians, and 15 facilities. Ten years later, she now has 125 musicians, including her broker, Paul Sherwood, GRI, who plays the drums in his band, BigBandBeat, plus a man who makes music with spoons, and singers skilled in hymns, iconic wartime songs such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and classics like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The musicians perform at 67 facilities, earning an average of $75 per group for a performance. “The money is almost secondary,” says Sherwood, whose group of 10 typically receives $120 for a nursing-home gig versus its customary $2,500. “It’s very rewarding. You see how people come alive when they hear us play,” he says.

And with grants from the Fremont Community and Keller Foundations, Dover hired her first paid staff member, board-certified musical therapist Libby Norris, last year. Norris has worked to expand programming and give seniors iPods with personalized playlists and noise-cancelling headphones. “Because the residents’ challenges are all different, their needs vary,” Norris says. For some, certain songs jog their memory. For others, they thrive by shaking a tambourine or simply by staying awake and interacting with a group.

Proof of success is that the performances often are the best-attended events at each facility. “They reach the broadest number of our residents,” says Susan Lamos, Life Engagement Director at Vista Springs in Wyoming, Mich., who adds, “Music helps those who are lonely or agitated. It gets them to smile and be involved.”

Such stories are sweet music to Dover. “I hope that the best life is available for everybody until their end. Music definitely helps to do that,” she says.

For more information and for a schedule of events visit the Senior Sing A-Long website.

Original article written by Barbara Ballinger of REALTOR Mag.



Harry Jones, GRAR Broker Member with Executive Group Realty, is a force to be reckoned with. If you have ever met him, you know that he doesn’t slow down even for one minute, and that’s just the way he likes it! Not only has Harry been a GRAR member for 37 years, but he has been involved with the Grand Rapids Lion’s Club, The Boy Scouts, and the Saladin Temple for nearly as long. He is also a faithful blood donor. Now, there’s no possible way to list all the manners in which Harry Jones and his wife of nearly 50 years, Lynn, give back to the community. If we were to do that, this story would be never ending! But to say that Harry dedicates most of his time to helping others, especially children, would be very accurate.

With the Lion’s Club, Harry has served as the past president. His mission within the organization is to collect eye glasses for families living in impoverished 3rd world countries. Harry says that they collect about 100 pair of glasses each year, and they also provide eye exams for families in need. The day I spoke with Harry, there was a truckload of much needed eye wear on its way to Guatemala! Harry has been involved with the Lion’s for over 35 years!

That’s not the extent of Jones’ charitable works… not even close! Harry is also the Assistant District Commissioner for Special Needs of the President Gerald R. Ford Field Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. What does that title mean,
you ask? In a nutshell, it means that Harry dedicates 10 hours each week to scout troops and their needs, and attends camp for one week each summer. He works closely with the Forest Hills Presbyterian Church and its boys. Speaking to clubs, both Lions as well as Boy Scouts, is just another donation Harry makes of his time.

Harry also saves lives. How? By regularly taking time out of his busy schedule to donate blood. In fact, he has been recognized as one of the top blood donors in Michigan, having donated well over 29 gallons!

Are you tired yet? Harry isn’t. The largest block of time that Harry donates to charitable organizations is definitely spent on his work as the Childcare Chairman for the Saladin Temple. The Shriners have 22 hospitals in the United States where they serve children, mostly burn victims, cleft pallet patients, and those with facial disfigurements among other orthopedic needs. Harry and Lynne have made more than 50 trips in the last two years to ensure that children have the reliable transportation required to seek care at the Shriner Medical Centers throughout the United States. In addition to transporting these families who are in need of critical treatment, Harry also took on the task of being a driver trainer for The Shriners to help guarantee safe travels to the patients. In one story, Harry tells me of a 3 year old little boy who was so excited to receive a ‘new nose’ and the emotion behind helping someone so reliant on others and innocent. Or the 19 year old girl who came into a center and laid her crutches on the counter, choked up, declaring that she didn’t need them any longer after first seeking care when she was only 4 years old. The Shriners treat over 200 orthopedic conditions. The inspiration for Harry to take part with The Shriners was past fellow REALTOR® Moses Hattem, whom Harry describes as a gentleman’s gentleman. Moses was involved in the organization and passed on his charitable spirit to Harry. This is so like Harry, as I was trying to learn more about his volunteer activities, he was applauding the efforts of others.

As November approaches and Harry anticipates his 50th wedding anniversary and his trip to Scotland with Lynne to celebrate this milestone, he tells me that the Lord has blessed him by allowing him to be 76 years old, in good health, and able to help those in need. Besides, he says, Lynne deserves this special trip for putting up with him all these years! With that, he gives a friendly wave and rushes out the door. He had stopped by GRAR before embarking upon a long 7-hour car ride to drop off yet another child for treatment. Once she is dropped off, he was coming immediately back to pick up another. It was to be a long weekend for Harry, but something tells me he’s right where he wants to be, doing what he loves for the kids that mean so much to him.

(June 2013 – Written by Heather Rus –



GRAR REALTOR® member Bruce Bylsma, broker with Eastbrook Homes, grew up knowing the meaning of a hard day’s work. While growing up, his parents owned two businesses, Bylsma Dairy and then Bylsma’s Pancake House. Starting in the 4th grade, Bruce helped out in the family business, contributing to his own tuition at Grand Rapids Christian to help make ends meet. The Bylsmas were fortunate enough to have a large cottage on the boardwalk in Holland. They owned the property with Bruce’s uncle and aunt and the families stayed there together during the summer months. Bruce’s uncle worked for Chris Craft, so there was always a boat at the summer cottage in Holland to enjoy. When the Bylsma’s weren’t working, they could always be found on the beach, in a boat, or just near the water in general.

nBruce took scuba lessons when he was just 15, a passion he has continued throughout his life. Water has been a constant for Bruce, no doubt. He served our country in the Navy and was stationed at the Submarine Base Pearl Harbor where he attended the University of Hawaii. While stationed in Hawaii, Bruce spent a large majority of his time surfing or ‘diving p’ (“protecting” the shores from potential enemies). He says, with a smile, that it was a really ‘tough’ job.

Bruce and his wife Jan passed on their love of the water to their children. Bruce has six children and one step daughter. Aside from working in real estate, Jan and Bruce also own The Bluff Banquet and Conference Center. They manage the business as a partnership, however Jan acts as the General Manager and handles the day to day operations of the business. Aside from their very busy professional lives, the Bylsmas attend MARS Hill Church and have been ushers for quite some time.

From an early age, Bruce has participated in water activities with his children; growing up with a pool and a boat made sharing his natural desire to be near the water easy. Teaching his sons how to ‘buddy breath’ and taking them diving from the time they were very young, Bruce has taught his family safety and awareness… a mutual respect for the water they so love.

It seemed only natural that Bruce and Jan, when discussing a desire to become more involved in their community, do something that included water, and water safety. The Bylsmas created the Go Swim Safe Program after reading an article in the Grand Rapids Press by Tom Rademacher about the importance of teaching our children how to swim. Tom later wrote a follow up column showcasing the Bylsmas and their contribution to promoting safe swimming in West Michigan.

The Go Swim Safe Program is the idea that Bruce and Jan developed to offer swim lessons to people who do not have the resources or funds available to learn how to swim. SWIM pays for and arranges swim lessons with instructors and facilities in the area. The Bylsmas say that the main force driving their need to make SWIM a success is the sadness that they feel every time they see that one of the children of West Michigan has drowned, and their shared desire to help prevent these tragic accidents. Since its creation, Go Swim Safe has helped countless children and adults alike, partnering with the Kroc Center, MVP Athletic Club, ISR of Grand Rapids, and the Visser Family YMCA. These locations provide the venue, while SWIM provides the funding to teach our community how to be safe in any waters, pools and lakes alike.

Bruce says that it is impossible to teach everyone, however finds it important for the lucky few that he is able to reach. He tells me this story in relation to making a difference in our community; and in hopes that others will see that it’s not the number of lives you change in a day, but rather the privilege to be able to touch just one. He says, “Like the kid who was saving starfish while walking on the beach. A man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the sea. As he came closer, he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed a young boy picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean. After watching the seemingly futile effort, the man said, ‘there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. It would be impossible for you to save them all. There are simply too many, you can’t possibly make a difference’. The young boy smiled as he picked up another starfish and tossed it back into the ocean as he replied, ‘it made a difference to that one’.

To learn more about Go Swim Safe, you may visit their website at

(November 2012 – Written by Heather Rus –



Bud Brasic, the broker/owner of Brasic Assoc. Realty Company in Grand Rapids, is no stranger to giving back to his community. He and his wife Susan have shared their time in the community for years as volunteers every Sunday cooking and serving the homeless through St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Division. They wake early and arrive at St. Mark’s by 6:45 a.m. to prepare for the doors to open at 8:00. From 8:00 to 8:45, when breakfast is served to the less fortunate in the area, Bud can be found at the stove in St. Mark’s kitchen playing the role of ‘cook’, which he says works well for him as it allows time for him to venture out into the dining area to mingle with the guests when his role is done for the morning. From musicians to college graduates, the people who visit St. Mark’s each Sunday to sample Bud’s pancakes and eggs are from every walk of life. Bud says times have been hard on people in the Grand Rapids area, forcing many to turn to drugs and alcohol, and eventually finding their way to St. Mark’s to share a story or two with Bud while they get, perhaps, their only hot meal of the week. In August of 2011, they were privileged enough to share more than just their stories with Bud;they also had the opportunity to meet Bud’s new companion, Kirby.

Kirby’s story begins with a Paws With a Cause® fundraiser in October of 2010. Bud and Susan were invited to take part in the event and accepted, not realizing the impact it would have on their lives and their hearts. Paws With A Cause® is a non-profit organization that trains Assistance Dogs nationally for people with disabilities, and provides lifetime team support which encourages independence for those who need that extra bit of help to make it through each day. Sometimes that help comes from people like Bud, working hard in his community to make a difference; but other times it comes from a furry friend with four legs and a willingness to please. While at the event, Bud and Susan were interested in learning more about how to adopt these service dogs and train them. And so began the process of applying to help raise and train a puppy named Kirby.

Kirby, an adorable Golden Retriever, was born on July 14, 2011. In August of that year, he made his way to Bud and Susan’s home to begin his first phase of regimented training and discipline to determine if he would be a viable candidate to be a service dog for Paws. He had another assignment in mind, unbeknownst to the Brasic household, and that was to completely win the hearts of Bud and Susan.

In some cases, the service dogs come from breeders specifically working with Paws. In other cases, they are purchased and donated from individuals or companies in the area. In Kirby’s case, he was born to a Paw’s breeder and both of his parents were service dogs, as well. Just because service was in his blood, Kirby required a lot of attention and dedication to get him on the path to making Paws his career. Kirby had Bud and Susan wrapped around his paw right from the start with his big brown eyes, always seeking approval and knowledge, Bud says. Unfortunately, training a service dog and taking them with you literally everywhere isn’t always a ‘walk in the park’. Sometimes it means cleaning up messes in the line at Meijers! Never-the-less, the bond that the Brasics made with Kirby is undeniable.

To hear Bud tell the story of working with Kirby is touching, to say the least. Bud’s eyes twinkled a bit while describing Kirby’s naps at St. Mark’s Sunday service under the church pew, or how he loved to go to local eating and drinking establishments in the area and was the only patron allowed to nap under the barstool. Bud is happy to announce that they didn’t encounter a single place of business that wasn’t welcoming and open to inviting Kirby in… including GRAR! I ha
ve to admit, it was the highlight of our day when Bud stopped in with Kirby to visit. Bud says that Kirby had a special place in his heart for ladies and we surely enjoyed him, as well! There was no shortage of attention and ear scratches for him at the GRAR office! Kirby’s favorite places to visit were Home Depot, Kent County Friend of the Court, the hardware store, and ‘Mom’s’ office. When he wasn’t trying to catch the Brasic’s cat, Max, he could be found eating his meals overlooking the city from the backyard and drinking from his water dish including his favorite treat of ice to make the water extra cold. Kirby even went on vacation to Treetops Resort for a golf outing! Though the resort strictly prohibits animals, he was a hit as usual! Even through his weekly visits to Paws with Bud to learn all of the skills necessary to graduate him to the next level of the rigorous training process, Kirby was full of personality. Bud and Susan took their commitment seriously, and worked with Kirby every step of the way to allow him to move on in his journey as a service dog. Bud describes in detail the honor it was to take Kirby with him nearly everywhere he went, knowing all along Kirby would go on to be a necessary companion to someone in need. How many Real Estate closings have you experienced where you can hear the snores of a Golden Retriever under the table?

This month marked the end of their 14 month journey together and Bud had the difficult task of returning Kirby to Paws for the next phase of his career, a ‘dog college’ designed to take his training up a notch. For Bud and Susan the adjustment period has been difficult; the seat next to Bud in the car no longer reserved for the Golden Retriever with the big brown eyes. They are happy to afford someone with a disability the chance to achieve a better life through Kirby’s presence; but saddened to say goodbye to their constant companion. Bud and Susan may have helped train Kirby for his next phase in life, opening their home and hearts to the experience along the way. But Kirby taught Bud and Susan something as well. Bud says that, when their roses were in bloom along their walkway at home, Kirby would always take a moment to stop along the path and sniff a bloom. Great experiences are all around us; sometimes we just have to open our hearts and stop to smell the roses along the way.

If you would like more information on how to become involved with Paws With a Cause®, you may visit their website at

(October 2012 – Written by Heather Rus –



In the fall of 2010, when Steve and Shelley Frody fostered the idea of holding a community charity event, they had no way of knowing the huge undertaking that they were embarking upon. Or that the timing could be so unfortunate. They knew that they wanted to have some sort of water slide/Slip n Slide type of event to bring their community together, and that they wanted it to be held at “Charlie’s Dump” in Jenison (Jenison Soccer Bowl). Participation from the local township, community businesses, police and fire departments would all be necessary, creating an environment where people in the Jenison/Hudsonville and surrounding communities could go to cool off on a hot summer day and zip down the giant size hill at ‘the dump’… on a huge piece of plastic! Imagine the Slip n Slide of your youth… on steroids! That gives a good idea of what draws in the crowd; kids and adults alike!

They went to their assistant, Laura Carr, and asked if she would help manifest their idea into reality not realizing at the time that they would be delivered some horrible news that would turn the
ir focus away from the event, and Laura’s attention fully toward the event! Steve and Shelley’s daughter, Shonta, was diagnosed with Leukemia in early 2011. When Laura asked The Frodys if they were certain that they still wished to go ahead with the event, they responded in true Frody fashion with a resounding ‘yes!’… Commitments had been made and they were sticking to it! It was important to Laura (also Shelley’s sister) to lighten the load for Steve and Shelley, but still live up to all of the ideas for the event that they imagined. And with that, the planning process began. From meetings with the township board, to researching waters slides, safety, and sponsorship; they worked out each detail and made the event a success! In 2011, the Saturday Slip-n-Slide raised over $11,000. In light of the event’s overwhelming success, it was decided to continue on and hold the event again in 2012 raising another $8,000 for charity! With approximately 300 volunteers the day of the event, it was no small task to pull off. Laura explains that it takes solid months of planning to ensure a successful outcome, fun for all, and above all else a safe place for the families of the community to bring their children. In 2012 the planning torch was passed to Lori Hoorn and was just as successful as its founding year! The event is completely vendor- funded, along with a raffle of donated items, and a small business expo.

Two years later, the Saturday Slip-n-Slide has become one of the most popular summertime events in the West Michigan area. With all proceeds going to Kid’s Hope USA, the Saturday Slip-n-Slide is not only a refreshing change of pace for a hot summer day, but also supports a very worthy cause! Kid’s Hope USA is a program for at-risk youth, pairing a mentor with an elementary aged child. KHUSA is a National program which was founded in Zeeland, Michigan. The focus of the program is for the mentor to show consistency for the child, bringing a positive influence to their lives from the 2nd grade until the end of elementary school… years which are truly pivotal for a child in a tough situation. For more information on KHUSA, you may visit their website at

With the love and support of Steve and Shelley, along with big sister Larissa (also a REALTOR? ) and their CITY2SHORE, Shonta is now in remission and was able to take her first trip down the hill at this year’s event! We continue to wish Shonta a successful recovery and many more trips down that slide at Charlie’s Dump!

If you would like to learn more about the Saturday Slip-n-Slide event, please visit!/pages/Saturday-Slip-n-Slide/174838915940910?fref=ts.

(September 2012 – Writen by Heather Rus –



Rocco’s Heart is a charity designed to bring awareness to a rare disease, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) is a rare heart defect. HLHS occurs in one out of every 5,000 births. Each year, approximately 1,000 babies are born with HLHS in the United States.

The cause of HLHS is unknown. In the womb, the left side of the heart does not develop properly, typically growing to just a fraction of the normal size. The easiest way to think of HLHS is that these children are essentially born with half a heart. Very often children with HLHS are otherwise healthy, although HLHS may occur in combination with other disorders or multiple defects.

If not treated surgically, HLHS is uniformly fatal in the newborn period. The surgical repair requires three surgeries performed at birth, at 4-6 months-of-age, and at 18-24 months-of-age. Dramatic improvements in surviv
al have been made in the past 25 years, from a universally fatal disease to one with current survivals of about 75% at five years. With repair, these children can be happy and relatively healthy kids, with an excellent quality of life.

In Crista Hines busy schedule as a REALTOR® with Realty Executives Platinum Group, she carves out time for HLHS since positively impacting the detection and treatment of the disease hold personal meaning to her and her family. Crista’s son Rocco was diagnosed with the disease while still in the womb. The Hines family was unfamiliar with the disease, and congenital heart defects in general. CHD affect approximately 1 in every 100 births; though they vary in severity, in Rocco’s case the outlook was bleak. Not only did their unborn baby have a CHD, he also had a condition known as Intact Atrial Septum. Although Rocco was safe in the womb, the condition presented a serious threat to his survival after birth. In an attempt to explore every available treatment, Crista and her husband Scotty (also a licensed Real Estate agent) traveled as far as Boston to learn more about the condition and its treatment, and would even endure an in-utero procedure known as Fetal Cardiac Intervention.

Rocco Angelo Wade Hines was born on October 21, 2007, and would spend three months in the Pediatric Cardio Thoracic Unit at the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Rocco and the Hines family endured two open heart surgeries and numerous procedures throughout his hospitalization.

Although Rocco tragically lost his fight with HLHS, the Hines Family decided to make a difference in the face of heartbreak. It was imperative to them that they bring awareness and assistance to other families battling the same diagnosis, and to educate other parents on what options were available to them. And thus began Rocco’s Heart Foundation.

To date, Rocco’s Heart has contributed close to $20,000 to the Rocco’s Heart fund at the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital. Their contribution is being used to fund research projects to aide in the fight against complex CHDs, and positively impact the quality of life and survival rate of all affected. These research projects offer support not just throughout Michigan, but across the globe. With the support of ‘the best of the best’ in this field, strides are being made to positively affect the chances for other families.

Rocco’s Heart has developed many ways in which the community may take part in creating awareness. Projects such as the ‘Support the 1’ Golf Outing (an annual event), Help Rocco’s Heart Pay It Forward, and Dominick’s Card Project are just some of the ways in which the foundation has dedicated their time and efforts to send an important message and provide inspiration.

Help Rocco’s Heart Pay It Forward is an online fundraising effort to warm the hearts of families in the hospital with children undergoing treatment. You may read more about this effort at!/events/114010292052297/. The initial event in January 2012 raised over $1,500 in a matter of days!

Dominick’s Card Project creates homemade cards for hospitalized children, and was the inspiration of Rocco’s brother Dominick. Dominick wrote a letter to his kindergarten class asking them to make Valentine’s Day cards for children suffering from CHDs, and has carried the tradition on each year since. Now a 3rd grader, Dominick continues to inspire with a weekly envelope of Thinking of You cards which are sent to Motts PCTU. Dominick welcomes other requests for cards, and is happy to send something ‘wherever a smile is needed’. Crista says that Rocco’s Heart provides the vehicle to produce the cards through donations of paper supplies and postage, but it is really the time and talents of local children in our community that make it all possible.

Local restaurants such as On the Bord
er Mexican Grille and Cantina, and even out of state eateries, have taken part in Rocco’s Heart’s cause with a percentage of sales for a day going to the foundation.

In the writing of this article Crista told me “This is just a tiny nugget of the impact we hope to have. The need is great and we are working every week with that in mind. Although it does not change the loss we suffered when Rocco passed away, it provides an opportunity for our family to grow and heal by sharing hopeful moments with other families and watching the odds steadily improve.” While writing our new series of Community Involvement articles, I find that I am endlessly touched by our members’ dedication to their personal charities. Some stories which have been featured, and some which are to come, will touch on causes that help to better our environment, are dedicated to helping children in need, or to finding the cure for rare diseases. This month’s article touched my heart as a parent, and speaks to the endless support provided to one another within our community and membership. This proves to me, once again, that REALTORS? are making a valuable difference in their communities in so many ways.

For more information on Rocco’s Heart, you may visit their website at, facebook page at, or twitter page at Direct contact may be made to: Rocco’s Heart – an HLHS Foundation, P.O. Box 857, Grandville, MI 49468, 616-422-5243, or email at Rocco’s Heart is a volunteer-powered 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in West Michigan.

(September 2012 – Written by Heather Rus –



Driving along Main Street in Georgetown Township, Ron Villerius, local resident and Associate Broker for Five Star Real Estate, couldn’t help but notice the shabby, worn-down appearance of the buildings at the Baldwin and Chicago Drive entrances. The auto repair facilities and gas stations lining the road, although occupied, were unkempt, with overgrown landscaping and outdated signage-not quite the welcome mat Villerius envisioned as making a great first impression on visitors to his hometown.

Villerius, a 33-year member of GRAR, has always taken pride in being a resident of Georgetown Township, having settled there in 1975 to raise his family and launch his career. Unfortunately the area’s plight in more recent years has been the plight of many towns these days-challenging economic conditions have made loans difficult for businesses to come by, and that means beautification projects often fall to the bottom of the priority list for private property owners who can’t afford to make the improvements themselves. The result? A slew of buildings all open and operating but looking too past their prime to attract much in the way of business or entice future real estate investors.

Enter Adopt-a-Property, a beautification program developed and implemented by Ron Villerius this fall to assist businesses in Georgetown Township with upkeep projects ranging from landscaping to outside building work, all in effort to improve the first impressions the township may make on visitors and potential investors. Villerius believes that by improving the appearance of the businesses along Main Street, the “gateway” to Georgetown Township, buyers will be inspired to invest in some of the abandoned properties in the area, resulting in an “upward spiral” of revitalization for the township as a whole.

The program began when Villerius approached
Georgetown Township leaders about the problem of unkempt businesses to see if anything could be done about it. When he was told that the township itself was unable to assist due to the fact that the properties were privately owned, he decided to take matters into his own hands and launch the beautification effort now known as ‘Adopt a Property.’ Using his own funds, he established a “model” for revitalization through Muffler Man on Main Street, sprucing up the grounds surrounding the business with eye-catching flowerbeds and other landscape enhancements. He then used that project as an example to show potential program sponsors how Adopt a Property could benefit not just a single building, but the township as a whole as well as the sponsors themselves.

“Helping to improve the first impressions of Georgetown Township through property facelifts is a huge benefit for real estate investors,” says Villerius. “By supporting area businesses, Adopt a Property helps promote Georgetown Township as a desirable place to live and fosters a sense of community pride, with the potential to boost existing real estate values and attract new businesses and families for the long-term.”

Since the establishment of the beautification model at Muffler Man, seven additional Georgetown Township businesses, including Pennzoil and Curious World pet supply store, have been “adopted” through the sponsorship support of Villerius working with City2Shore Real Estate (owned by GRAR members Steve and Shelley Frody) and the Jenison law firm Nicewander, Berens & DeVries PLLC. Currently the Civil Engineers & Surveyors firm Feenstra & Associates is sponsoring a beautification effort along the railroad tracks that run from Main Street to Cottonwood, with the grounds trimmed, litter cleared, dead trees taken down and replaced with new trees, and flowers planted. The project is being completed in memory of Ron Villerius’ friend, Brian VanEk, who passed away tragically from brain cancer.

In addition, two elementary schools have recently been adopted for beautification this upcoming spring-Sandy Hills Elementary, sponsored by RDI Companies (Robert Deppe); and Bauerwood Elementary, sponsored by Ron Villerius – Five Star Real Estate. That adoption project is unique in that the 4th, 5th and 6th graders at those schools, along with their parents, will be participating as part a Saturday volunteer workday lesson and curriculum lesson as well. To help the students gain a greater understanding of the science behind what they’re doing, a professional landscaper will visit the classrooms on the Friday preceding the workday to teach the kids about the fundamentals of landscape design, planting and growing.

Long-term goals for Adopt a Property include beautifying all of the buildings in Georgetown Township that are in need of revitalization, beginning work on revitalizing foreclosed and abandoned residential properties within the township, and eventually expanding the program to adopt properties outside of the area. The program is actively seeking sponsors to assist in these efforts and encourages local firms, individuals and companies to take advantage of a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life in the community as well as boost the business environment and investment opportunities.

For those who are interested, there are three main ways to help Adopt a Property:
1. Volunteer time by participating in landscaping and maintenance projects
2. Provide materials, such as trees and shrubs, for landscaping projects
3. Donate funds to make a beautification project possible (total monies needed to give the average business a complete landscaping face-life is around $2,500.00)

Companies who choose to Adopt a Property by way of monetary donation are thanked with a 4 x 4 foot sign with the company name as project sponsor, which is erected for 60 days on the grounds of the revitalized business. Names of each sponsor are also posted to the Georgetown Township website, with links connecting back to their own co
mpany website, and before & after project photos are displayed in the Georgetown Township lobby.

If you or your company would like to help or find out more about Adopt a Property, please contact Ron Villerius, project founder, at or (616) 340-4750.

(July 2012 – Written by Sarah Williams)