Alumni Profile • Jim Tuinstra '64
Seeing abilities

Jim TuinstraIn 1984 Jim Tuinstra ’64 was the state director of Michigan’s disability program — a discouraged director. “What got discouraging was to see the deterioration, the downward spin of so many people we put on the disability rolls,” he said.

Then Herb Start, a 1955 Calvin grad and the founder of Hope Network in Grand Rapids, asked Tuinstra to become the chief program officer of that organization. “I was impressed that Hope Network was looking at a person and saying, ‘What can you do?’ while the state’s program was saying, ‘What can’t you do?’ When you look at abilities rather than disabilities, you see a totally different person.”

In the 21 years Tuinstra has worked there, Hope Network’s budget has grown from $5 million to $90 million. What began as a sheltered workshop on the campus of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services has expanded to offer vocational training, rehabilitation services, day programs, clinical support, housing — both residential and independent — transportation services and, since last October, highly specialized care for those with neurodevelopmental difficulties, from autism to various forms of mental retardation. Some 7,500 people are served annually in programs at more than 190 locations throughout Michigan.

Hope Network has grown rapidly not simply because the population it serves has been moved out of institutions and into the community, but also because of Tuinstra’s philosophy; he is a social worker with a shrewd eye for the bottom line. In his words: “I’m always thinking, ‘How can we provide better care for the same or fewer funds?’”

At a typical nonprofit, for example, administration costs consume 30 percent of the budget. At Hope Network, that figure is nine percent. Thus, many Michigan organizations serving people with disabilities have found it in their interest to merge with Hope Network. Not only do these organizations stay solvent, but they also gain resources otherwise out of reach — such as the services of neuropsychiatrists. In its brain-injury program Hope Network has access to more neuropsychiatry hours than any other program in the state. And 85 percent of its patients return to work. The industry norm is 35 percent.

Increasingly, this has meant that state and community mental health boards have come to Tuinstra when they have a particular need. That’s how the new Institute for Neurodevelopmental Differences came into being. “The state was paying $500-$600 a day to warehouse kids suffering autism with no therapy,” Tuinstra said. “We developed a program that offers state-of-the-art assessment and treatment for less cost.”

Hope Network’s commitment to enhance the dignity and independence of people with disabilities and/or disadvantages is founded on the belief that every person is created in the image of God. As a result, the spiritual needs of participants also get careful attention.

In fact, five years ago, when Tuinstra became the organization’s CEO, he made it a priority to rethink that dimension of service. From its beginning Hope Network has employed chaplains to nurture the spiritual life of participants in their residences and in work and treatment centers — where church members don’t see them. It’s time, Tuinstra believes, for churches to see people with disabilities and to welcome them into full community life.

A team, including Tuinstra, has drafted a proposal for an Institute for Church Partnerships that would prepare churches to “actively embrace and enfold persons with disabilities.”

“The people we serve are society’s most devalued ones,” Tuinstra said. “But if our church families could see them as worthy of encouragement and support, we’d all be the richer.”