Transforming lives and restoring hope in the Heartside community, Dégagé Ministries is a Christ-centered non-profit organization that offers valuable programming and services to homeless and disadvantaged individuals in Grand Rapids. To commemorate its impact on the community, the ministry is hosting this year’s “Celebrate Dégagé”— an annual event that celebrates its patrons and its programs.
“Celebrate Dégagé” takes place on Friday, Nov. 16 at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The event will feature a catered meal, fellowship with Dégagé partners, a video and a ministry update presented by Marge Palmerlee, executive director of Dégagé.
While the event is always an opportunity to highlight all that Dégagé has to offer, it’s not just about the ministry. Bob Kreter, marketing manager at Dégagé, said the real focus is on the patrons.
“We always give an update on a few things, but the whole event is focused on our patrons,” Kreter said. “It’s not about us—it’s about them sharing how we have helped them. And we want people to hear them and feel moved by them.”
This year’s program will feature the stories of four different patrons whose lives have been impacted by Dégagé. These individuals will have the chance to share their stories and to showcase some of their talents, which include poetry and playing the saxophone.
“It’s going to be an amazing opportunity to see the talent that some of our patrons have and just to witness how our ministry has transformed their lives,” Kreter said.
Dégagé has been transforming lives since 1967 through programs that meet immediate needs and assist with navigating obstacles. One of the most well-known aspects of Dégagé’s ministry is the Open Door program—a women’s center that provides a safe haven during overnight hours for adult women in crisis.
The program can provide shelter for up to 40 women a night, and staff are available during the day to assist with setting goals and exploring options for securing permanent, sustainable housing. Kreter said that the program is important because it offers safety during dire circumstances.
“It’s critical because sometimes it’s the middle of the night and someone maybe had to flee from their home due to abuse,” Kreter said. “They can show up here and they’re safe because that’s the most important message from the Open Door: ‘Come here. We love you. And you’re safe.’”
In addition to the Open Door program, Dégagé has a dining room that also functions as a community center. Located on the first floor of the building, the dining room allows patrons to come in for breakfast or dinner meals seven days a week.
Kreter pointed out that some people who aren’t familiar with Dégagé tend to think of the dining room as a soup kitchen. While it does provide meals to patrons for free or at a low cost, it’s operated like a restaurant to help foster respect and dignity.
“We are an actual restaurant where patrons order their food and we bring it right to them,” Kreter said. “We’re the only service in Heartside that’s a mission or a ministry that does that. You can come in here and be treated like anyone’s treated in a restaurant—we call out your name and we bring it to you, which says a lot I think about how we operate the ministry.”
This type of service helps encourage self-sufficiency and responsibility, as do some of the organization’s other programs. The Dégagé Dollars program gives patrons the opportunity to perform basic custodial jobs around the facility, and they are paid in bus tickets or vouchers that can be redeemed for meals or services at Dégagé.
If there’s a basic need that needs to be met, from food and shelter to other necessities such as laundry, showers, haircuts and mail services, Dégagé does its best to ensure that it happens. And the response from patrons has been overwhelmingly positive.
“When I’m doing an interview and I’m asked to have a patron join me, I don’t ever coach our patrons about what to say because I don’t have to,” Kreter said. “They truly are thankful for what we do for them. It just comes out in volumes when they speak, and that’s more power than anything that I could ever say.”
Above all, Dégagé Ministries seeks to reflect the love of Christ and continue to show compassion to everyone who comes through the door.
“We have a mission statement that we don’t just say—we really live it,” Kreter said. “It’s in everything we do.”
*Photos courtesy of Dégagé Ministries