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2.13.20 – Club News

Club New written by Tom Mathison

The Rotary Club of Downtown Grand Rapids gathered at noon at Degage’ Ministries at 144 Division Avenue, S in Grand Rapids for its regular meeting. President Neil Marchand called this meeting to order at noon by welcoming everyone and announcing the line-up of events and future speakers for the Club:

  • 20th – Annual Community Engagement SASy Project @ University Club
  • 27th – Gerald Piro, @ Covenant House Michigan, 50 Antoine St., SW, Grand Rapids – RSVP required
  • March 5 – Club 77 @ Opera Grand Rapids, 1320 Fulton St., E. RSVP by Feb. 28
  • March 12 – Matthew Scogin @ University Club of Grand Rapids
  • April 2 – Club 77 @ Mercantile Bank, 111 Lyon St., NW, Suite 1025

President Neil invited Thomas, from Degage’ to lead us in our song for today, “Amazing Grace”.

Following lunch, President Marchand invited Dr. Jackie Taylor to the podium to introduce today’s speaker, Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director of Degage’ Ministries.   Jackie said that she has known Marge for 22 years, and that Marge is a believe in “Service Above Self”.  Marge is “the ideal team player” who is “hungry, humble, and smart”!  Jackie also said that her church, St. Mark’s, works closely with Degage’ Ministries.

Marge began her by telling us what Degage’ means:  it is a French verb meaning “to relax and be at ease”.  The Mission of Degage Ministries is to reflect the love of Christ to all who come through our doors by building relationships and offering programs that foster dignity and respect. 

Dégagé’s goal is to assure that every man and woman they serve knows that he/she is not alone. Many are homeless and low-income.  Many feel unworthy and hopeless, especially after society has looked down upon them or they have been rejected after repeatedly trying to move forward on their own.

Degage’ walks alongside its patrons in many ways:

  • By building relationships and providing a safe place where all are welcome.
  • By providing for immediate needs such as food, hot showers, prescription co-pays, a mailing address, storage for belongings and overnight shelter for women.
  • By walking alongside and affirming individuals as they navigate obstacles and work toward housing, jobs, sobriety, health, and independence.
  • By recognizing that individuals gain dignity when they contribute and by creating ways for everyone to do so.
  • By responding to gaps in services and needs in our community.
  • By reflecting Christ’s love in action and word.

Degage’ Ministries was established by Calvin College students in 1967 as a coffee-house ministry in the basement of the former Salvation Army building. Today, it is located in the heart of the Heartside Neighborhood and it serves 400-500 people every day.  Degage’ has 44 staff members and 1,200 volunteers.  They served 60,000 meals last year – Degage’ serves breakfast and dinner each day.  Lunch is provided by God’s Kitchen.  Degage’ has a daily job board, where people can get a day job to earn money.  There is a small charge for coffee and meals.

It is estimated that 700-800 people per night are considered homeless in Grand Rapids, and that 3,500 are considered homeless or at risk of being homeless in Grand Rapids.  Since 2015, homeless ness in Grand Rapids has increased by 85%.  Degage’ provides a way to help people to come together to address isolation.  Lack of affordable housing is a problem in Grand Rapids.

Degage’ provides overnight shelter for 45 women and is about to start construction on a new 3-story building behind the existing building that will increase the overnight capacity to 78.  When completed, Degage’ will have a wellness center, with a faith-community nurse on staff, as well as a a dining room 50% larger than the current dining room.  Over $4.5 million has been raised to fund the $6 million project.  Degage’ is also the home of Paul’s Mom’s Cookies, a business located at the ministry and which supports employment for patrons and for the ministry.

Funding for Degage’ comes from several sources:

60% from individuals

15% from businesses

6% from foundations

5% from churches

8% from State

Patrons can stay from 7:00 pm to 7:30 am each day, up to 90 days through a State program, plus the possibility of an extension.  For those in that program, the average stay is 68 days.

Following warm applause and a brief time of Q and A, President Neil presented Marge with a certificate saying that a water filter has been donated in her name to a family in Nicaragua.  He then adjourned the meeting.  Degage’ then provided tours of the facility for those who remained.

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