A Future Filled with Hope

Grouping of Diverse People

20 FULL & 28 PART TIME EMPLOYEES

2-6 INTERNS ANNUALLY

9 BOARD MEMBERS

1,000 PEOPLE SERVED THROUGH NEW LIFE SKILLS PROGRAMMING

9,000+ PEOPLE SERVED (THROUGH RENOVATION)

ORGANIZATION: Dégagé Ministries

PROGRAM: Can you Imagine? A Future Filled with Hope

GRANT: $200,000 to support expansion and renovation efforts at Dégagé to support more people in a more dignified manner by expanding shelter capacity, increasing the number of people receiving educational and career training, providing additional space for hygiene services, and serving additional meals to patrons each day.

2019 FEATURE STORY BY KATHLEEN O’BRIEN

A conversation on building relationships to foster a more equitable community, with Marge Palmerlee

Executive Director of Dégagé Ministries

Who are the people who are directly served by your work and what are the greatest challenges they face?

Dégagé serves people from a variety of backgrounds—from those who have lived in poverty all their lives to those who are experiencing homelessness for the first time, those with college degrees and those with a middleschool education, those with basic social skills and those who are unable to function independently.

According to the United Way 2019 Michigan Report, the cost of basic needs such as housing, food, health care, and transportation increased by 26% per person between 2010 and 2017 (while inflation increased by only 12 percent). With low-wage jobs dominating the Michigan economy and a significant shortage of affordable housing options, many of our patrons struggle to support themselves. Combine this with challenges such as a mental illness or a physical disability, and it’s an uphill battle.

What innovative ideas does your organization bring to meeting the needs of those people?

First, we create a personal plan for each person, based on the unique challenges they face.

We encourage work that builds dignity, prevents perpetuating dependency, and creates unity among our patrons and staff—more than 60 jobs are performed every day by the people we serve. Earnings can be used for basic necessities—to purchase a meal or do laundry—or to participate in other services we provide. Similarly, our Good Neighbor programs instill community ownership, build relationships, and support the livelihoods of our neighbors by paying individuals to clean doorways, shovel snow, and pick up trash in front of neighboring Heartside businesses.

And we’ve established a patron advisory council—so we can learn directly from those we serve how we can best meet their needs. We seek their input and empower them to be leaders in our organization’s efforts to improve inclusivity, diversity, and programming in our community.

Unlike the private sector, nonprofit leaders must galvanize passion and commitment from a broad base of people—paid staff, nonprofit allies, public officials, volunteer advocates, and more. Can you speak to this challenge and how you respond to it?

We strive to educate the public and overcome misperceptions and stigmas about the people we serve. When people fully understand the reality and obstacles of poverty and homelessness in our city, they understand the need to take an individualized approach for each person served. When we’re able to align that understanding with people’s personal interests, we see passion and commitment thrive.

Who are the people within and outside your organization who are vital to achieving your mission and how do you collaborate to achieve your mission?

We know the importance of collaboration and value community conversation and involvement. To that end, we develop our programs to complement the work of other stakeholders, address gaps in services within the community, avoid duplication, and maximize community resources We collaborate with numerous allied agencies and are actively involved in many Heartside Neighborhood groups. And we’re grateful to partner with supporting businesses that offer classes to our patrons.

Our capital campaign provides a wonderful example of the community coming together to help us achieve our mission. We've been fortunate to have engaged and generous donors such as the Steelcase Foundation support our future plans. And we've built partnerships with other nonprofits who play a critical role in our new and existing programs—collaborating with Family Promise, for example, to add private rooms for women and children in our expanded Open Door Women’s Center.

Thinking beyond those who directly benefit from your work, who are the people who indirectly benefit from your work and how?

Many people and organizations enjoy the indirect benefits of our work. The entire community benefits from our ID Program, for example, which helps people take the first steps to secure housing, find employment, and become more self sufficient.

Businesses benefit from our efforts to educate people through soft-skill workforce development classes. They also enjoy a more reliable workforce because we make it easier for people to get to work affordably though the distribution of more than 6,000 bus tickets annually. And, when we open the first daytime shelter to support third-shift employees, their employees can count on a place to rest between shifts.

What’s more, we’re reducing the load on our public health and health care systems through our dynamic wellness program, which improves people’s health and reduces the need for unnecessary emergency visits.

What role does fostering the civic engagement of people toward a common good play in achieving your organization’s long-term vision?

We rely on the skills and resources of countless volunteers, patrons, and donors to keep our programs operating. Last year nearly 1,200 people donated 26,000 volunteer hours at Dégagé! What’s more, our patrons performed more than 25,000 jobs to keep the facility clean and operating. We’re blessed with a diverse base of individuals, churches, businesses, and foundations working together to achieve our vision.

In 10 years, I believe the people we serve will…

Even if in 10 years we were able to solve systemic issues such as lack of affordable housing and gaps in mental health services, we know there will always be people in our community who need immediate support. But as we collaborate with people and organizations in the community who share our vision of ending homelessness, eliminating disparities, and building a more equitable community, we believe that in 10 years we’ll be part of a community where all are valued and can thrive!

As executive director at Dégagé Ministries, MARGE PALMERLEE serves our community’s most vulnerable men and women. Throughout her career, she’s been active on countless community committees and boards. Through more than two decades of leadership, the 53-year-old organization has grown under her care and today serves more than 5,500 people annually.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS:

24,603 VOLUNTEER HOURS

7000 ADULTS (4060 WOMEN, 2940 MEN) IN 2018

280 YOUTH

27,101 OVERNIGHT GUESTS

66 BEDS FOR SINGLE WOMEN—11,852 OVERNIGHT STAYS

79 WOMEN HOUSED 2019

12 BEDS FOR MOTHERS AND CHILDREN

1000-2000 PEOPLE SERVED THROUGH RESPITE CARE

1000 PEOPLE SERVED THROUGH NEW LIFE SKILLS PROGRAMMING

72,000 COOKIES FROM SOCIAL ENTERPRISE “PAUL’S MOM’S COOKIES”

90,000 MEALS ANNUALLY

“When people fully understand the reality and obstacles of poverty and homelessness in our city…when we’re able to align that understanding with people’s personal interests, we see passion and commitment thrive.”