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Heidi Cate


The Reconnecting Disconnected Youth Project

3330 36th St, SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49512
Lighthouse Academy is the safety net for academically struggling and socially misplaced students. Superintendent Heidi Cate discusses helping those students readjust and achieve goals that some would call impossible.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Lighthouse Academy Superintendent Heidi Cate: I like the model of servant leadership, where you lead by example and by holding ambition in front of people. You encourage people, and hold them up when they feel discouraged. Even when you’re discouraged, you put on a face and encourage your people to go on. It’s all about serving; it’s not about me. If the kids are successful, I know I’m doing my job. If they’re not, then I need to step back and look at myself.
What is your dream for your kids?
There are all those things that everyone wants. A diploma, a decent job, and that they’re able to sustain themselves. But I
The more traumatic more family situations are, the more multi-faceted the responses for these kids should be.
think most of all, beyond that, I want them to feel the value that all people created by God have. I want them to feel that they have something worthwhile to pass on to others.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
One of the main things that could change significantly is very indirect. Maybe state and federally, the government could support us even more so. I think there could be ways provided for agencies to work effectively together. The more traumatic more family situations are, the more multi-faceted the responses for these kids should be. If the responses were coordinated, the impact could be so much more potent.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I could give you a macro and micro answer to that. The macro answer is that, our graduation rate has been very successful. So we know many students are committed to achieving their goals and opening doors to better opportunities in the future. The micro level is that these students know they have a place they’re always welcome. When they say we’re their family,
At the beginning they can be very guarded, but when they open up, we know we’re doing something right.
we’re know we’re successful. At the beginning they can be very guarded, but when they open up, we know we’re doing something right. At Lighthouse, even when they leave, they know they’re always welcome back.
What are you most proud of?
The students! For sure. I can’t get through a graduation without weeping. I think about them and how I would do if I was in their shoes. Seeing them getting their diplomas and knowing how they decided to achieve that goal and overcome so many barriers. I’m so thankful to be able to walk beside them on that path.
Reflecting on your career, what would you call your greatest professional learning experience?
It may sound a little cheesy, but stepping into this project I had no experience. But I stepped in and saw the need of these kids. I had to learn to grow the project and think outside of the box. We didn’t want to repeat what didn’t work for these kids before, so it forced us to come up with new ideas. When I started, I had no idea to go back to school – but I realized I needed to. It forced me to realize that I needed to be a life-long learner if I’m going to support these kids. 
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