Category Archives: Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Coffee With Excellence

Barista for Twelve17 Coffee Roasters in Mount Pleasant, Michigan Anna Flanders talks about the shop in a brief video made as part of a video project for a class at Central Michigan University.

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Dalis: Rescue Mom

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Animal advocate Dalis Hitchcock, 39, has been a pet groomer for 16 years.

Eight years ago she opened up D Tails Dog & Cat Grooming in her hometown of St. Louis, Michigan. Five years later Hitchcock started a non-profit animal rescue organization called Dalis to the Rescue where she rescues almost 600 animals on average each year.

“Gratiot County is a poor county so a lot of times people get animals and then can’t take care of them any longer. We have a high kill shelter here in Gratiot County and that was the only place that you could really take your animals before I started,” said Hitchcock.

Dalis to the Rescue is the only rescue organization in Gratiot County that rescues every species.

“We have cat and dog rescues, but I rescue anything and everything from bunnies to rats, from birds to lizards and snakes. You name it, I’ll rescue it,” said Hitchcock. “I get them all spayed and neutered and then find them homes.”

Aside from her grooming business and the rescue organization, Hitchcock works with local schools to educate children on the importance of neutering and spaying animals, saying that vet bills for a single rescue cat can cost over $100 and that 99 percent of cats that go to local rescue end up being euthanized, which can be avoided by spaying and neutering.

For more information or questions visit Dalis to the Rescue.

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Dalis Hitchcock grooms a client’s dog in her shop D Tails Dog & Cat Grooming located on Mill Street in St. Louis on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. 

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A rescued cat lies down inside a cage of D Tails Dog & Cat Grooming on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

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Cups hold pens next to the answering machine inside D Tails Dog & Cat Grooming on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

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Jurnie Hitchcock, 18, holds an iguana inside D Tails Dog & Cat
Grooming on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

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Dalis Hitchcock and her partner David Garza talk at D Tails Dog & Cat Grooming on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. Garza holds a male puppy that was released to the shelter that morning.

This post was part of a picture package assignment for my JRN 320 class. I chose to do an assignment on an animal rescue organization because of my love for animals and to localize the need for more education about taking care of animals and being responsible.

This story was physically difficult for me because I do have an allergy to cats so I had to leave once I started having difficulty breathing and developing hives on my arms, but the owner Dalis Hitchcock really inspired me with her intense commitment. She has a family and works overtime, completely committed to rescuing and caring for these animals to whom it doesn’t matter if it’s her birthday, Christmas, or if she’s sick. And she does it almost single-handedly just because she’s passionate about it and I really admire that.

Hold Tight

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Catherine sits in the living room while Marjorie makes dinner in the kitchen of their home in Midland, Michigan on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. 

Marjorie, who requested their last names not be used, is a full-time caretaker for her mother Catherine, 100.

 

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Marjorie helps balance Catherine while she navigates her walker to sit down in the living room of their home in Midland, Michigan after picking Catherine up from an adult day care program on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. 

After getting a hip surgery 14 years ago where she had undergone anesthesia, Catherine, who according to the neurologist already had dementia which wasn’t noticeable yet, started to show symptoms.

“After the surgery she had changed. I no longer felt like she was really safe to be on her own,” said Marjorie. “At that point, she spent half of the year with me and half with my sister.”

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Marjorie plates up dinner for herself, her husband Frank, and her mother Catherine on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. 

Marjorie, who is originally from central Michigan and had moved to San Diego, California, has been living full-time in Midland, Michigan since 2013 with her husband, Frank, and her mother.

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Marjorie cuts up the noodles for the spaghetti she makes for dinner so that her mother, Catherine, can eat it more easily on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. 

“Things had just changed, and it was okay, she was still mom. It’s been a very gradual progression for her,” said Marjorie.

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Marjorie (right) puts gloves on her mother Catherine (middle) while Marjorie’s husband Frank helps keep Catherine balanced while picking her up from an adult day care program on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. 

Marjorie said they are not sure what kind of dementia Catherine has and have decided not to test to find out because results are generally inconclusive anyway and would prefer not to put her mother through that.

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Marjorie (right) eats dinner with her mother Catherine and her husband Frank in their home in Midland, Michigan on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. 

“It’s just not worth putting her through all kinds of tests just for them to tell me, yup, we don’t know what kind it is,” said Marjorie. “There are two kinds of medications for people with Alzheimer’s and what they don’t tell you is that they work for approximately 20 percent of people and all it does is slow the progression down, it doesn’t cure anything.”

Woman finds shelter and compassion at local homeless shelter

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Renee Benner smokes a cigarette outside of the Isabella County Restoration House on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.

Renee Benner is no stranger to sleeping in her car.

Homeless for the second time, the 53-year-old from Shepherd, Michigan hit hard times starting five years ago when the trailer that she owned was condemned.

The ceiling and floors were collapsing in the 30-year-old trailer that Benner owned.

“I’m old and I can’t do everything like they wanted it done in lickety split time,” said Benner. “We just could not get it up to code in the time frame they gave us. When they condemned it, where do you go? It’s November.”

After losing her home Benner lived in her car and continued working her midnight shifts as a Customer Service Manager for Walmart.

“I was still working full-time,” said Benner. “I’d most of the time park my car in the parking lot at work, sleep all day, get up, get ready for work, go into work, get out of work, and then go to the soup kitchen for breakfast.”

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Renee Benner and Gary Wisniewski sit together at the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 shortly after Benner got off of work from her waitressing job at Legends Diner.

Benner said she didn’t worry too much about where she parked to sleep though she said others have complained that police kick them out at night.

“I’ve slept in Mill Pond Park, one of the worst parks there is in this town,” said Benner. “I’ve slept there overnight and cops never disturbed me. They do at other parks because the homeless are not allowed there. The other parks close at 8 at night so they have to kick you out of them. I think the difference is they’re sleeping at night whereas I’m sleeping during the day.”

Benner continued that routine for two and a half months until she started going to the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) just before Christmas in 2013. She stayed at the shelter and continued working until she found an apartment in February of 2014.

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Renee Benner packages up the fixings for burritos and taco salad in the kitchen at the Isabella County Restoration House on Nov. 15, 2017. The food was transported to the overnight shelter where volunteers and guests were able to enjoy the meal.

The ICRH, located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, provides temporary shelter and assistance to those in need in Isabella County. It is a rotational shelter and local churches provide shelter overnight and the churches where guests stay changes week to week.

“The first day I was scared out of my wits, I’d never been in that situation before. And Ryan made me feel comfortable,” said Benner.

Ryan Griffus is the Executive Director at the ICRH and has experienced the struggle of living homeless firsthand. He fled from his abusive father at age 12 and was homeless until he was 18 years old.

“My biological father was a monster,” said Griffus. “He was an addict, as violent as they come. There were a lot of events preceding my leaving that made me go, but one particular week, my fifth fistfight with him that week was my sign that I had to go. I packed up a garbage bag and I bolted.”

Griffus said his experiences motivated him to pursue a double major in child development and psychology from Central Michigan University. He later went on to study management at Davenport University.

“There was no way I was going to let what I had walked through for those years left in vain and not utilize that experience,” said Griffus.

Before becoming executive director at ICRH he worked with Child Protective Services, foster care, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I felt limited so I decided to go get a grad degree. I chose business because I wanted to learn how I could affect a community and the population I care so deeply about on a more macro level,” said Griffus. “It was a perfect storm because all of a sudden the homeless shelter needed an executive director, all the things fell in to place.”

The 2016 U.S. Census Bureau reports that in Isabella County, 23.4% of the 71,282 residents are living in poverty.

Griffus says the night shelter currently has 33 mats, which are essentially foldable mattresses that the overnight guests sleep on. Recently ICRH was awarded a grant for $2,000 that Griffus said will go toward ordering new mats to replace the old ones.

“We have some that are still in pretty decent shape, but they’ve been around for five years and they’re just beat up,” said Griffus. “They’re pretty pricey so that $2,000 I’ll probably use on 15 to 16 mats.”

Griffus said the shelter prefers using mats rather than cots because cots are problematic.

“When we first started this we considered cots and cots were a logistical nightmare,” said Griffus. “We talked with other shelters, visited other sites and talked about what worked good and what didn’t. Cots broke down a lot faster and were replaced constantly. It just wasn’t feasible as far as moving and storing either so we elected to go with the mats that are pretty heavy duty, but they take a beating. If you’re moved every week, you’re slept on every night, you’re going to get worn out.”

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Renee Benner enjoys a cup of coffee, what she calls her lifeblood, at the Isabella County Restoration House on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.

Benner says her typical day when she hasn’t been working the night before begins at the overnight shelter.

Guests are woken up at 7 a.m. at the overnight shelter and the bus leaves for the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen (ICSK) at 8 a.m. Benner said the churches feed some sort of breakfast ranging from an entire spread to just breakfast snacks such as doughnuts.

The soup kitchen opens at 8 a.m. and guests can either stay there until the ICRH day shelter opens at 1 p.m. or go wherever they would like at that point.

Computers were recently donated to the day shelter so guests can use the computers to apply and check on job applications, check email, or just keep in touch with friends and family. There are volunteers there throughout the day that are able to assist.

“It’s so important for me the interpersonal care that we’re able to provide and I love that about our organization because you actually get to feel like you’re cared for,” said Griffus. “Then we start hitting the areas of need and services, but first and foremost we just got to love and welcome.”

Nighttime intake, or sign up for those who will be staying overnight at the shelter, begins at the day shelter at 4:30 p.m. and the bus comes to the ICRH between 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to take the overnight guests to the church. Once they arrive at the church, the guests are not allowed to leave, unless they have permission like Benner for work reasons. This excludes chaperoned smoke breaks.  The churches provide dinner for the overnight guests at around 7 p.m. and require lights out at 10 p.m.

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Renee Benner and another guest smoke outside the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2017. The ICRH is located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant which is leased from Victory Church.

During the summer of 2017 Benner found herself in hard times again when she broke her arm and was unable to work. Unable to pay rent, Benner decided to cash in $4,000 of her 401k, but she never received the check.

“There was nothing I could do to catch up. Somebody had gotten my check delivered to them by mistake instead of me and they signed the check and cashed it,” said Benner. “I took six months trying to track it down and they finally told me there was nothing they could do. I cashed in extra figuring I’d pay ahead. Well it didn’t work in that way. It worked in the way that somebody else got ahead and Renee got further behind.”

Benner appreciated her landlord who worked with her for as long as he could while she was unable to pay rent and attempted to track down her stolen check.

“I can’t blame him,” said Benner. “I mean six months with no money, what was he supposed to do? He didn’t evict me but he couldn’t keep letting me stay. I was paying rent but it wasn’t never going to get caught up. I hold no grudges against him. He could have taken me to court during all of this time, it’s been four months. He hasn’t. Sooner or later he’s going to want all of it, nothing I can do, I pay what I can. It isn’t much, but I pay what I can.”

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Renee Benner waits in the foyer on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017 while guests at the Isabella County Restoration House get onto the bus that will take them to the overnight shelter.

Benner now works midnight shifts as a waitress at Legends Diner in Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and has been there for just under four months. She lost her job at Walmart due to absences which accumulated because of illness, her broken arm, and hearing loss due to a bee sting to her ear.

The schedule of the rotational shelter is hard on Benner because she works midnights.

“It’s hard on the nights I work because unless I sleep in my car, most of the time I don’t get sleep,” said Benner. “Once in a while I can find someplace to curl up and sleep.”

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Renee Benner tries on shoes at Clothing, Inc. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 to replace her old shoes after the heels came off of them.

The building for the day shelter has couches, but there are no beds available for Benner to sleep. It is rented from Victory Church on a 3-year lease and they share it with other organizations such as United Way, Clothing, Inc., and The Care Center. Guests who come in to the restoration house and have need for hygiene products can find assistance at The Care Center and if they need clothing or a new pair of shoes Clothing, Inc. can assist them—all under the same roof.

“For the past two or three years we had been talking about what it would look like if we had the opportunity for all of us who deal with similar missions to not work in these silos anymore, you do this over here and you do this at that building,” said Griffus. “Last year I’d come in at intake, ask everybody what they need for clothing, take down these lists, drive down to the clothing closet across town, fill bags and bags of clothes and deliver them. It was labor intensive and cumbersome. That’s one example of how the creation of the center we have is so efficient. You get somebody in who has multiple needs and we can start to chip away within minutes we are addressing very emergent needs. What’s good about that is that it takes that initial worry off of the person who’s coming in, which is the most important, it makes them feel comfortable and cared for immediately, but also frees up our staff to be able to do different things now.”

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Volunteers at Clothing, Inc. show Renee Benner paperwork she needs to sign after picking out a pair of shoes on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.

Griffus said he would love to have a permanent shelter and rotate volunteers rather than buildings.

“When we were researching what it would take to a community of this scale, it is about a quarter of a million dollars a year,” said Griffus. “Currently we are operating at about $117,000 budget per year for this. Some work to be done.”

The ICRH accept donations through its website and also has a wish list of supplies needed on Amazon.

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Renee Benner protects her candle from the wind at a homeless awareness event at Central Michigan University on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.

As for Benner, she has an interview with EightCAP, Inc. on Tuesday, Dec. 4 to see about getting assistance for housing. EightCAP provides a variety of services for those in need, and housing for the homeless is one of them.

Benner said she was put at the top of the list because they prioritize housing assistance for those that are homeless, but it normally could be a five-year wait. She will find out during her interview if they will pay for a portion or all of the housing and will likely be in a home again within a few weeks.

From Army Life to Derby Wife

***Derby wife: A term coined by Kasey Bomber of the Los Angeles Derby Dolls in 2003. Urban Dictionary defines as “A roller derby soul mate, the woman who you knew from the first second that you’d been separated at birth, who will hold your hair when you throw up after drinking too much, arrange bailride in the ambulance with you and set your real husband straight on the Derby world.”
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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby hugs her 5-year-old Saint Bernard, Lady, while enjoying an after work beer on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

 

26-year-old U.S. Army veteran Cassi Ackels-Weatherby has always been a skater. As a child, she enjoyed inline skating and going to the skating rink. In 2009 Ackels-Weatherby decided to try roller derby.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” looks at her coach Chris Ryan “Thunder” during a training drill for Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan.

 

Ackels-Weatherby said her mother pointed out a flier hanging in the hallway of their workplace.

“She made a comment about how I should play because I’m a brute,” said Ackels-Weatherby. “I went to practice the next day.”

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby puts on her knee pads for roller derby practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Her roller derby career was interrupted shortly after joining the Central Michigan Mayhem team when she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. She was there for a year and worked as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, what Ackels-Weatherby said is just a fancy term for a truck driver.

She was deployed for a second time to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 2015-2016 and since coming back has active with Central Michigan Mayhem and is the head of both the fundraising and event committees for the team.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” laughs with Central Michigan Mayhem teammate Candice Roestel “Vex Machine” during a break from practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

After returning from her deployments Ackels-Weatherby settled on Battle-Scarred Beauty as her roller derby name. She said wanted it to be feminine but also to acknowledgement to her military experience, something that had been part of her life for eight years

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Central Michigan Mayhem roller derby skaters practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

During the day, she works as a Board Services Coordinator at the National Charter Schools Institute in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Ackels-Weatherby and her mother usually meet for lunch and sometimes carpool to work.

Since returning from her last deployment Ackels-Weatherby has been living with her mother while looking for an affordable place to live that will allow her to bring her 5-year-old Saint Bernard Lady, and her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Sheriff.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby talks to her mother while getting dressed for roller derby practice at their home in Sumner, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Ackels-Weatherby said she would eventually like to go back to school and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Sports Story Single

For a sports assignment for school I’m following Cassi Ackels-Weatherby, a roller derby skater for Central Michigan Mayhem. The story and additional photos will be posted next week.

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26-year-old roller derby skater Cassi Ackels-Weatherby skates backward during Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Brown Farms: Four Generations Strong

Since buying Brown Farms in Wheeler, Michigan in 1976 from his mother after his father’s death, James “Jim” Brown, 76, and his wife Phyllis, 75, have owned and operated the farm along with two of their four children, Matt and Darren, and a handful of hired workers. They farm cash crops and currently grow sugar beets, cucumbers, corn, soy beans, and black beans.

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Darren Brown carries material needed to mix in a tank to spray a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

According to their son, fourth generation farmer Darren, 47, he estimates Brown Farms now owns about 3,500 acres, a far cry from the 40 acres Jim bought in 1976.

Now a full-time worker on the farm, Darren started off as a residential truck driver and hauled propane until the day his daughter Ellie, now 14 years old, was born.

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Darren Brown holds the nozzle on a tractor equipped with sprayers after mixing fertilizer before spraying a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

He lives less than five miles away from Brown Farms with Ellie and Barbara, Darren’s wife of 17 years. Barbara is a teacher at Breckenridge High School and the couple have three children, two of which are from Barbara’s previous marriage: Benjamin, 24, and Lindsay, 21, both of which are working in Grand Rapids.

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Ellie Brown, 14, holds a picture of her showing her steer Bridget at the county fair in 2014. 

Ellie is a freshman in high school and an avid dancer with a passion for cows. She has shown steers for seven years and the family currently has 10 cows.

She hopes to attend South Dakota State University and work with cows.

“The cows outnumber the people in South Dakota,” Darren jokes.

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Darren Brown and his mother Phyllis Brown look through old photographs at her kitchen table on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. 

Darren’s parents Phyllis and Jim still live on the farm and Jim has yet to retire, still running for parts and driving the big tractor, but now taking off days to go golfing once in a while.

Phyllis grew up on a farm held an active role on Brown Farms and after marrying Jim.

“When the boys were little I used to drive tractors once in a while,” she said. “When they got tractors with cabs on them, I would put the kids on the floor on a blanket and they would sleep all afternoon while I drove. Back then, you took meals to the field. You packed the dinner and you took it to the field and all four kids, tried to keep them on a blanket so they could sit there and eat. There used to be more late nights then working, so sometimes that was when they saw their dad. They were in bed by the time he would come home.”

 

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Darren Brown (left), his daughter Ellie Brown (middle), and wife Barbara Brown (right) eat a quick dinner on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 before his wife and daughter leave for Ellie’s dance classes. 

Phyllis said she hopes to see the farm continue and became emotional about the uncertainty that her grandchildren will want to continue the farm.

“What do you do with the farm if your kids don’t want it? Or need it,” Phyllis said. “I think that’s basically what Jim’s worked for, is so that there’s something for them. We weren’t blessed with a lot of grandsons; we only have four. You can’t pick what the kids are going to do. As long as they’re happy, the ground is a good investment.”