‘Dreamers’ Casts Degage Patrons in a New Perspective

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Degage ArtPrize 1 235(left to right): The community God fashioned: Thomas Carpenter, Samantha Schmitt and Michelle Cuppy.ArtPrize 2016 has drawn to a close but the fulfilled dreams of four Degage Ministries' patrons depicted in Michelle Cuppy's photographs live on.

Cuppy titled her ArtPrize entry "Dreamers" to emphasize that people struggling with life's challenges may have their ambitions sidetracked, but they can be resurrected.

And that there is always hope.

Cuppy's photos will be on display at Degage, 144 S. Division Ave., through Oct. 13.

Dreams instilled by God

"These dreams and passions are in us when we are born, instilled in us by God," said Cuppy of Ada. "A person may feel like their dreams are lost, but no, there's always redemption and their dreams can still be fulfilled."

Degage ArtPrize 2 235Michelle Cuppy’s photograph of Samantha Schmitt.Cuppy's portraiture photos and accompanying mobile (along with a video that conveys the backstory of people's dreams) shed light on a different facet of the homeless, she said.

In essence, they are more than people struggling with problems caused by extreme poverty, or alcoholism, unemployment, mental and physical health problems or acute traumas in their lives.

They are loved and cherished by God.

Dreams still can be accomplished

"Originally it (Dreamers) was more about bringing awareness of what we can do as a community to help out, but it's also about the (Degage) patrons themselves, what hopes and dreams can still be accomplished," said Cuppy.

Degage ArtPrize 3 235 Cuppy’s mobile featuring Thomas Carpenter."I've always had this idea in my head we're all born with this inner compass with dreams we have that follows us through adulthood."

The people who had their dreams fulfilled are Samantha Schmitt who received a makeover, Thomas Carpenter who experienced the joy of being a train conductor and professional musician and Jennifer and Charles who watched their first Lake Michigan sunset at Port Sheldon Park. The couple's last name was not available. They were whittled from 40 surveys taken in June inside Degage's dining room, said Bob Kreter, Degage's marketing manager.

They worked hard

"Bob and I talked about who would make a good fit and that included people who had worked hard either for sobriety or people who have moved forward in their lives in some other way," said Cuppy.

Degage Ministries is one of several urban ministries based in the Heartside District, an area in downtown Grand Rapids that's bounded approximately by Fulton and Wealthy streets and Grandville and Lafayette avenues.

According to the Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness, 700-800 people are considered homeless. Many more go unaccounted for as they sleep on the streets, in cars, or double up with family or friends.

In January 2010, the Brookings Institute reported that 25 percent of the individuals living in Grand Rapids are in poverty. This number reflects the highest increase in the poverty rate in the U.S. among all 95 cities studied.

Who Degage helps

According to Degage's website, http://degageministries.org/whoweserve.html, many of the men and women it serves are challenged by addictions, as well as mental and physical disabilities. They may live in low-income housing that does little more than provide shelter. Some spend the night at one of the city's missions or remain outdoors wandering in search of a place that's safe and warm.

Then there are people who are new to the streets, such as the recently unemployed, or those struggling after a major life event such as the loss of a loved one, foreclosure, a divorce, and working poor who don't earn enough to pay their bills.

Even so, their dreams haven't died, said Cuppy, just derailed.

Personal connection to Degage

Cuppy personally understands the longing to fulfill one's dreams. She worked for a time as a nurse but when her and husband Bill started a family, she found her work hours were no longer compatible with her life as a mother.

Plus, photography has always been of keen interest to her but then she decided to turn her hobby into a successful business.

The connection to Degage started when her son, Alex, needed to complete 1,200 hours of service hours before graduating from 8th grade at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School.

Alex's job for several months was to accept patrons' money who purchased a cup of coffee, while Cuppy poured the coffee.

She continued to volunteer in Degage's kitchen after her son earned his service hours.

"I just enjoyed it and kept taking on more hours," said Cuppy. "I enjoyed interacting with the patrons, seeing the smiles on their faces. It gave me a new perspective.



Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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