Staff Spotlight: Brian's Story

Brian Bigelow’s favorite event at Mel Trotter Ministries is Graduation Day. Guests don caps and gowns, and are honored for their achievement in graduating from one or more of the programs offered at MTM. Programs such as Job Readiness, Housing Readiness, Step-Up Recovery, and Pilgrimage.

“I really felt a calling here,” said Brian. “I job shadowed for a day to make sure the job was a fit. I talked with a lot of the guests and saw myself in them; I built rapport with them and knew this was the place I wanted to work.”

Bigelow started his job as the Step-Up Recovery advocate on Feb. 1, 2019. He’s case manager for each person in the program, overseeing their recovery and the program as a whole. Step-Up Recovery has capacity for 16—eight men and eight women—though the Covid-19 crisis caused numbers to dwindle. There are currently nine guests working through the 90-day program aimed at those who experience homelessness due to substance abuse.

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“I like the fact that Mel Trotter himself was an alcoholic and contemplating suicide when someone pulled him into a place just like this,” said Brian. “I feel connected to that story because it’s very similar to mine.”

“I really felt a calling here,” said Brian. “I job shadowed for a day to make sure the job was a fit. I talked with a lot of the guests and saw myself in them; I built rapport with them and knew this was the place I wanted to work.”

Brian Bigelow is a combat veteran with service in Operation Desert Focus and Operation Southern Watch. He suffers from PTSD and when he got out of the military he continued his moderate drinking. Between suffering in silence with PTSD and increased drinking, Brian lost everything: his home, marriage, job, and daughter.

He finally discovered seven years ago the many programs offered by the VA for veterans suffering from PTSD and who have other struggles. He did a rehab stint in the Battle Creek, Mich., veteran facility, then started going to therapy for PTSD and substance abuse. He became a Peer Support Specialist and started volunteering at the Grand Rapids VA.

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Brian lost the hearing in this left ear, which made him eligible for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program for Disabled Vets. He was able to get a degree in psychology with an emphasis in behavioral analysis, with a minor in substance abuse treatment.

He interviewed at several different places, all of whom wanted to hire him, but he felt a real calling at MTM.

“I like that the guests live 10 feet from my office. I get to see them every day and help with everything they need,” said Bigelow. “I get to see them from day one when they enter the program at their lowest and see the changes in them up to graduation day. It’s very fulfilling.”

Bigelow recalls one MTM guest much like himself: a veteran, alcoholic, and opportunistic drug user. The guest did very well in the Step-Up Recovery program, but “had a fear of success that I understood,” said Brian. The guest graduated from the program and got a job, but the day before he was to start, he started drinking and did drugs. That was six months ago, but the man is now back in Step-Up and working hard.

Brian’s understanding of homelessness has changed dramatically since he began working at MTM. “I thought, incorrectly, that the majority of people who are homeless put themselves in that position, but that’s simply not true,” he said. “There is a lot of mental illness, addiction, and bad luck. So many live paycheck to paycheck, and when the car breaks down they have to choose between feeding their kids and the job. They choose their kids and lose the job because they can’t afford to have the car fixed too.”

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He hasn’t thought of homelessness the same way since coming to MTM. “When these folks fall, there is no one to step in to help,” he said. “But we demonstrate Jesus Christ and his compassion by keeping in mind the kind of man he was and his ideals,” said Bigelow. “We don’t care how much you make, what color you are, whether gay, straight, or trans. We simply want to help those who are unable to help themselves, and that’s what Jesus is all about.”

For Brian Bigelow, his job at Mel Trotter Ministries is more than just a job. “Being needed and helping is part of my own healing process,” he said. “I’m not going to walk out the door on someone who needs to talk. Guests meet me at my car in the morning and walk out to my car with me in the evening.”

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