UCOM benefit concert a ‘great way’ to discover what it is all about, according to director

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



United Church Outreach Ministry, or UCOM, is the secret that is not a secret, according to its Executive Director Dr. Bruce Roller.


For more than 30 years, the organization has provided resources to those in the community who are low income, “trying to give them the hand that they need, whatever that hand is, to help them move to a better quality of life,” Roller said.


For the clientele, what UCOM provides is no secret. This has included providing food and clothing for immediate needs along with programs such as financial, health, and workforce development. One of those programs has been “tutoring and mentoring in public schools so that the children get the eduction they deserve and are able to move on in that next generation,” Roller said, adding that could include perhaps going to college, which for some may have not been an option.


However, for those not in need or having never needed services like what UCOM offers, the organization may seem like the “best kept secret in town.”


“I don’t really like to say that,” Roller said with laugh, “as it is my job that it isn’t.”


Julianne Howe-Bouwens, seen here rehearsing for a Grand Rapids Civic Theatre production, will perform at this year’s 14h Annual Friends of UCOM Benefit Concert. (Photo by now.wktv.org)

One of the best ways UCOM representatives have found to share with its community about its mission and work is through the 14th Annual Friends of UCOM Benefit Concert which is Sunday, March 12, at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4010 Kalamazoo Ave. SE. Tickets are $25 with the event starting with a silent auction at 5 p.m. and a concert following at 6 p.m.


“This is a good place for people to jump in and begin to see what we do, Roller said. “They may begin to want to get involved in the work that is going on here.”


“This fundraiser, this effort, these people are so amazing,” said Julianne Howe-Bouwens, a local actress and singer who will be performing at Sunday’s Friends of UCOM Benefit Concert. “They help the community in so many ways by providing for people who are in need and it is such an honor for me to be a little part of that effort.”


Howe-Bouwens, who starred in Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s “Sister Act” last year, will be joined by the area’s longest continuing choir, The Schubert Male Chorus. The entire program is coordinated by Phil Pletcher, who has lended his expertise to all of the benefit concerts these past 14 years, according to Roller.


The Schubert Male Chorus

UCOM was started in 1969 by the women of Smith Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ. The group began with a food collection and hot lunch program for students at neighboring Hall Elementary School, now Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School. As the group learned about its community needs, the program expanded and changed to fit them, with UCOM becoming what it is today. UCOM is now located 1311 Chicago Dr. SW, Wyoming and is part of the All County Churches Emergency Services System (ACCESS), serving those in southwest Grand Rapids, Grandville, and Wyoming.


Roller said he hopes through programs like the benefit concert that UCOM will continue to expand its efforts to meet the needs of those it serves.


For more about the 14th Annual Friends of UCOM Benefit Concert or UCOM, visit www.ucomgr.org.