Melody VanderWeide '99 and her family
One might not see an immediate connection between teaching high schoolers and running a business, and Melody VanderWeide ‘99 didn’t at first, either. But after an unexpected opportunity to transition from teaching to managing a business website, VanderWeide realized they were more correlated than she thought.
While teaching chemistry and physical science at Grand Rapids Christian High School (GRCHS) in 2009, VanderWeide was also in a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group at her church, serving as the social coordinator to find things around Grand Rapids that parents could do with their kids.
“When I was teaching, I found it difficult to keep up with [MOPS outreach], so I thought I would put the information I found for them on a website instead,” VanderWeide said. “After a while, I found that people who weren’t in our MOPS group were looking at our website, and businesses started asking me to tell people about them. It just grew from there—it was really organic.”
Managing Grand Rapids Kids
VanderWeide left her ten-year career at GRCHS and invested in her website, which she named Grand Rapids Kids. As the organization's creative director, she now staffs five employees and ten contractors for the website, and various mothers contribute to the website as well.
Grand Rapids Kids offers tools like a calendar of local events, helpful articles, travel guides and sponsorship opportunities. VanderWeide manages her team to help with troubleshooting and to maintain a common vision.
“We are helping parents figure out how to spend their precious time and money, and there’s a lot of trust there,” VanderWeide said. “We never throw anything out there that we don’t think is accurate and honest. Our community really appreciates what we do, and we thrive on that.”
With a decade of teaching experience, some of VanderWeide’s work for Grand Rapids Kids has come naturally. “I’ve found that teaching is honestly not that different from running a business: in teaching, you want to come up with creative ways to communicate with your students, and in my business I need creative ways to communicate with my readers,” she said. “Teaching prepared me to run a business and it was really fun to find that out.”
VanderWeide loves working with creative mothers that bring a certain understanding of parenting to the table. She also enjoys the creativity and flexibility of her responsibilities. “I love traveling and being able to pour into the community,” she said. “What I do on a daily basis is never the same, so I don’t get a chance to get bored, which is wonderful. We are constantly moving ourself to the next level.”
A love for teaching, in many forms
VanderWeide’s passion for teaching and leading others can be traced back to when she was in second grade, when she would sit her brother and sister down to teach them things. “Being a teacher was something I always thought I would be,” she said.
VanderWeide is thankful for her time teaching at GRCHS and for the teaching experience she has with Grand Rapids Kids, albeit its atypical style. She hopes the company will continue to grow so that she can pass the torch along to someone else when she is no longer a mother in the young-family demographic.
VanderWeide plans to continue running the Grand Rapids Kids website, service in women’s ministry at her church as the communications director, and spending time with her three children and husband, Derek VanderWeide ‘98.
“I’ve learned that your life is an adventure, and if you would have told me ten years ago that I would own a website, I would have laughed,” VanderWeide said. “Have an open mind and let the adventure come to you. You can have ideas of what you want to do and where you want to go in life, but just be open—the skills you learn might be used for things that don’t even exist yet.”