The Story Behind Her Art Tells Tale of Paying it Forward

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Karen PetchauerKaren Petchauer stands near the two pencil drawings she created for ArtPrize Nine. The two color pencil drawings Karen Petchauer drew for ArtPrize Nine contrasts what Degage Ministries' building looked like in 1928 when it was the Moose Lodge and how it appears today.

But there's more to her artistic renderings than meets the eye when they were displayed on Degage's windows at 144 S. Division Ave. during the international art competition that ran from Sept. 20 to Oct. 8.

The drawings are homage to Degage Ministries when Petchauer found herself homeless and in need of positive ways to rebuild her life.

Degage there when she was homeless

Degage Ministries is a Christian mission in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids that offers vital programs to low-income men and women who are homeless or live in substandard housing. Some, but not all, are challenged by addictions, or mental and physical disabilities.

Paying it forward

Once she was back on her feet, Petchauer's relationship with Degage continued to hum with purpose, not as a patron, but as a volunteer coming alongside people whose lives also are in a quandary, as she formerly was.

"I wanted to celebrate with Degage their 50 years of ministry (founded in 1967) and tell the people what the building used to look like," said Petchauer. "A lot of people don't know the history of the building so I thought to bring it to the surface so more people will know more about it."

Petchauer's plight started in 2011 when she lost her third-shift job as a stocker for a Midwest retailer.

Unemployed, Petchauer bounced around from living with relatives for a time to living in her car, an experience she describes as "rough."

Open Door beginning of healing, hope

Fortunately, some friends from Covenant Christian Reformed Church encouraged her to connect with Degage in 2012.

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"I didn't know anything about Degage," recalled Petchauer.

That soon changed.

She moved into Degage's Open Door Women's Center in 2012, which provides shelter for women whose lives are in a crisis.

Degage helped Petchauer get a copy of her birth certificate, assisted her to receive Social Security disability benefits, get connected with resources for her healthcare and find an apartment after living at Open Door for a year.

"I'm very pleased how they helped me," said Petchauer. "I come back and help all the time."

Helping is key

Helping around at Degage is key for Petchauer.

She answered the phone for Degage's front office, joined its Women to Women Committee that plans events for women, worked in Degage's kitchen and became a Community Health Care worker.

Plus, she holds the distinction of hiring on as the first employee of Pauls' Moms' Cookies, a business partnership that raises funds by selling cookies for Open Door.

Karen uses her artwork to spread Christ's love to those around her, according to Bob Kreter, Degage's marketing manager.

She has the gift of encouragement, he said.

"Karen was one of our first patron volunteers who wanted to give back," said Kreter. "The relationships she has with a lot of folks is really special."

"I feel like I'm paying back for all the work they've done for me," said Petchauer. "I can help other people."

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http://www.degageministries.org/

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
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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