Category Archives: Video Interview

Committed to Care

1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan is a building that has worn many hats over the years. From church to homeless shelter, the building is now home to a nonprofit center where multiple organizations operate under one roof- all with the purpose of helping those in need.

On Thursday, April 5 the center hosted an open house and presentation to announce their campaign launch and reveal the center’s new name: The William Strickler Nonprofit Center.

The center is named after Mount Pleasant community member William “Bill” Strickler, who died in February. His family made a leading donation of $200,000 toward the campaign to honor his memory.

“A few weeks before he died, I asked him how he would like to be remembered if he did pass away,” said Janet Strickler, Bill’s widow, who spoke at the presentation. “His answer came swiftly. He said he would like to be remembered for lifting people up and for his friendships. He spent his life giving a lift to people who were struggling and needed a hand. Bill would be so happy to have his name attached to this center that is lifting people up every day. It is also giving our family the opportunity to take a negative and turn it into something totally positive.”

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A picture of the nonprofit center hangs over the fireplace in the newly named William Strickler Nonprofit Center located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

The $1 million campaign aims to purchase the building outright from Victory Church who owns the building and leases it under a lease-to purchase agreement to the United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties.

“We want to foster strong collaboration among key social service agencies by developing a shared physical space and cooperative interactions,” said Amanda Schafer, Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation (MPACF) during her announcement at the open house. “First we want to address the most pressing needs of a large proportion of citizens in Isabella County living in or near poverty. Second we want to create synergies throughout the community so that we can reduce the poverty levels in Isabella County over time. We want to take it to that next level- how do we move people out of needing the services provided here at the center?  We need to continue our short-term support but also effectively implement programs to reduce poverty levels.”

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

According to Schafer, as of Tuesday, April 10, the campaign has raised over $647,000 toward this $1 million goal.

The William Strickler Nonprofit Center is home to the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH), Community Compassion Network (CCN), Clothing INC, and The Care Store.

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Renee Benner, a guest at the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH), greets visitors as they arrive for the open house at the William Strickler Nonprofit Center on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

The center offers access to groceries through CCN, clothing through Clothing, INC., home supplies and hygiene products through The Care Store, and day shelter services through the ICRH.

 

Ryan Griffus is the Executive Director for ICRH and has noticed a significant difference in efficiency since the organizations came together under one roof.

“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,” said Griffus. “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.”

For information on how to donate visit the MPACF’s website here.

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Smart, Sexy, and SASSy

Allie Baster, of SASS Burlesque, is a burlesque dancer and now burlesque teacher.

Allie Baster, who requested only her stage name be used, is a member of SASS Burlesque Revue, a burlesque troupe in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Recently she taught her first ever workshop on the sultry attitude and choreography of burlesque. Workshop participants learned the history of burlesque, common moves, choreography, and even how to chair dance.

BTP Fitness and Health Club in Lake Isabella, Michigan, hosted the workshop on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

“The point of doing it is to empower women to feel comfortable with themselves, their own body,” said Allie. “Some of them do that with ballet, some of them do that with Zumba, and some of them want to do it in a bolder way- and burlesque fits that bill. It’s a confidence booster. It’s sexy and it makes you feel okay with being sexy, with being powerful, with being sensual. It’s really something that gets you in touch with your own body and builds confidence. Confidence is the sexiest thing around.”

Allie didn’t start her dancing career with burlesque.

“I’ve been a dancer since I was a kid in more traditional ways,” said Allie. “I had planned after I graduated high school to go into dance. I had a knee injury in my junior year of high school and had to make a completely different life plan, because I was going to be a dancer.”

Years later she started taking belly dance classes and one of her instructors was a member of a former burlesque troupe in Mount Pleasant called The Pleasant Ladies.

“That was my first real introduction to burlesque. I saw some of her shows and thought it looked like a lot of fun,” said Allie. “I was at a place with myself where I wasn’t feeling as confident about myself. I had put on some weight, I’d been out of dancing for a long time, I didn’t feel like me. Belly dancing helped a lot. And then I took that next step and I auditioned for The Pleasant Ladies and I made it in. That troupe has since dissolved but some of the former members of that troupe got together and made SASS And we’re still going strong.”

“We didn’t want to be The Pleasant Ladies because we didn’t feel like we could own that name,” said Allie. “Others had established it and they weren’t part of it anymore. We came up with the Smart and Sexy Sirens- SASS burlesque. The more we thought of that name the more we loved it. We are smart and sexy. Smart comes first. Sexy comes after smart. Sexy comes because of smart.”

Allie said that burlesque has had a positive impact on her life and has increased her confidence.

“Dancing burlesque and hearing the audience love what you’re doing it’s a little bit of a rush, it makes you feel good,” said Allie. “You’re like I still got it. I’m not as young as I used to be, I’m not as thin as I used to be, but I still go it. And that carries over in my life. Having that self-confidence on stage lets me be a little more confident in, say, a professional meeting.”

The troupe’s next scheduled show will be Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Rubble’s Bar on W. Michigan Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. SASS is hosting “Smash the Patriarchy Variety Show” and proceeds will go to Women’s Aid Service and SAPA (Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates).

Freshmeat February

Each year Central Michigan Mayhem (CMM), a roller derby team in mid-Michigan, hosts a recruitment event throughout the month of February called Freshmeat February where those interested in trying roller derby can come to practice without the regular drop in fee of $5 for up to five drop-ins.

Kate Hewitt known also by her derby name Sly Vixen, is a blocker for CMM and is also the team’s head trainer.

“We host Freshmeat February as a way to recruit new skaters and teach them the basics in a setting that is a lot less intimidating because you got buddies,” said Hewitt. “We go through all of the basics like teaching you how to skate, teaching you how to fall, and teaching you how to stop.”

Though CMM accepts skaters all year, February is right after the team’s winter break so February is the ideal time for the team to recruit new skaters.

“We are not yet as super focused on our bigger tournaments such as Mitten Kitten where it takes a lot of energy to get our team to be cohesive,” said Hewitt. “We have that extra time to help bring new people in and teach them skills and give them our 100 percent, one on one individual attention.”

Hewitt said recruiting new skaters is crucial for the team because not everyone stays with the team.

“Sometimes it’s just not that time of life for people and they have to stop,” said Hewitt. “We’re constantly rotating in fresh faces, or we wouldn’t have a team. It’s a way to keep derby going. If we train 10 people when they come in and we only retain two that’s two more people out of 14 or 15 on a team that we can roster and it makes a huge difference to have two more people.”

“The hardest thing about it is just showing up and having the guts to just be here,” said Hewitt. “And after that, we get you all ready and there’s really no pressure to join the team. You gotta get used to it. You have to find out if it’s for you.”

CMM practices are on Monday and Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Hardwoods located at 1091 E. Center St. in Ithaca, Michigan.

Skaters must be 18 or older. For addional questions visit their Facebook or email at centralmichiganmayhem@gmail.com.

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.

Escorts of Michigan

***Names in the article and video have been changed to protect subject’s identities.

State and federal laws prohibit the exchange of sex for money, but in the adult entertainment industry those called escorts walk a fine line between legality and criminal activity.

Regularly included under the umbrella of prostitution, escorts are paid for their companionship and time rather than the sexual acts.

Escorting is not technically illegal as long as the service provided does not include sex. Hence the distinction between charging for time spent together and not the acts.

26-year-old escort Faith uses the umbrella term but makes the distinction of prostitution with what she called survival sex, having sex out of extreme need for money or even food or shelter.

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Faith shows some clothing she wears when she works as an escort at her apartment Sat., April 15, 2017. 

Faith has been working as an escort for two years.

“It’s more like a career,” said Faith. “You’re trying to build a business, a label, a brand based on your personality, the clients you accept, what you do, the way you present yourself, the photos you take, your website. All of these things that end up showing whether or not you’re obviously having survival sex or if this is what you’re doing as a profession.”

Faith works with the full support of her boyfriend Andrew, whom she is in a polyamorous relationship with. She is also a mother.

“I have no qualms about what I do. I’m very proud of it,” said Faith. “It affords me a lot of things for my 5-year-old that I could not if I didn’t do this, there’s no way.”

Though she is happy with her job she no longer speaks with her family.

“My younger sister told our parents what I do,” said Faith. “They told me I was a bad mom who was endangering the welfare of my minor child and that I should let my daughter be with them because I was such a bad mom.”

Faith said she finds the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding her work appalling.

“That I am sitting here 24 hours waiting for you to call and I am ready for you because I want you to come and show me things that I have never seen before. Like no, sorry I have to go grocery shopping, I don’t have time for your ass,” said Faith.

“America is one of the largest consumers of the sex industry and yet, we condemn it so intensely and so profoundly,” said Faith. “I think it was George Carlin that said, ‘Sex is legal. Selling is legal. Why is selling sex illegal?’”

Other than financially, Faith said that her work has helped her personally.

“It’s helped my confidence,” said Faith. “It’s in my ability to communicate my needs and expectations from other people, it’s helped my ability to set, and maintain, appropriate boundaries. It’s helped me immensely, immensely. I don’t regret anything.”

One of the reasons Faith likes working as an escort is making connections with people.

“There is one story that I’ll never forget,” said Faith. “It was a guy who was probably 450 to 500 pounds. Logistically I was like, alright. We’re going to have a good time. Afterward he asked me, ‘Do you know why I was able to finish? Because I usually don’t.’ and I asked why and he said, ‘Because I genuinely felt like you wanted to be here.’”

“It just makes me feel good to make somebody else feel good. I like what I’m doing and I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it,” said Faith.

Z, 45, and her boyfriend Doug, 53, are swingers and have been together for eight years. A few years ago Z, who normally does accounting and payroll work, was on unemployment.

“It started really as a joke,” said Z.  “I was on unemployment and that was coming to an end. He said to me ‘You know like those checks are going to stop in a month or two?’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah I guess I should look for a job. Maybe I’ll just be an escort.’”

Z said they laughed and walked away after the exchange and Doug asked her two weeks later about it.

“And I said ‘Would you be okay with that?’”, said Z. “And he’s like ‘Well I’m okay with all the rest, we’ve been swinging, why wouldn’t I be okay with that?’”

Z has been working as an escort now for six years and works primarily in eastern Detroit.

“After I started doing this I actually did go back to work for about a year and a half,” said Z. “I was doing this very part time and I was working full time and I really just hated being in a cubicle again.”

Doug is supportive of Z’s job, something she said he wanted to hear all about when she first started.

“The stories are all the same,” said Doug. “At one point I just said, this is repetition. It’s amazing how it doesn’t really vary. The guy comes in, they screw, she gets paid, they talk for a little bit, he leaves. Wow. That’s it. What am I going to get jealous about?”

Doug believes more people should take advantage of the services escorts offer.

“If people were a little bit more open minded when the guy said wow she looks cute and the woman goes, well go fuck her, get it out of your system and then come back to me type of thing, think about all the divorces that could be saved,” said Doug.

Wayne State University student and Detroit resident Eliza Fitzgerald has been working as an escort less than two years. The 22-year-old and has been using the job as a way to pay off school.

It is currently Eliza’s only source of income following her ex-boyfriend, whom she had worked with, revealing her as a sex worker.

 

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Eliza Fitzgerald, an escort based in Detroit, Michigan, before class at Wayne State University on Wed., April 19, 2017. 

“I had to quit that job. He was abusive and I was fearful of him,” said Eliza. “So all of a sudden I didn’t have a job except for sex work and I really had to lean on that. It was really difficult because I still hadn’t gotten the hang of the industry. You’d try to work safely but when the rent’s due you might make some decisions that weren’t as safe.”

Eliza’s rates for the Detroit area start at $350.

“It’s kind of feast or famine. You might make your entire rent in one or two days, and so the other 28 to 29 days of the month it can be really scary,” said Eliza.

Eliza used to use Backpage, a classified advertising website that has since been taken down after coming under fire that their adult services section was being used for prostitution and human trafficking, including minors.

Just before Christmas Eliza arrived at an appointment and discovered the man had brought a gun.

“They didn’t hold the gun to me or anything, but they made it very clear that it was in their pants,” said Eliza. “They were very aggressive. I kept telling them to stop biting me and I couldn’t really raise my voice as much as I wanted to. I just really wanted to kick them out of the room, but I didn’t feel like I could. It was kind of like a coercive situation. And that was kind of a turning point for me when I realized I need to work differently.”

Escorts use a reference system, a vetting service for people they meet for appointments. When a client contacts an escort looking to make an appointment the escort then asks for their references. If the client has used an escort before they provide the names of other escorts they have seen and the escort will then contact the previous escort and make sure they are a legitimate provider and that the client is safe to see. If they are a first-time client each escort has system that varies. The escort may ask for personal contacts, social media information, or meet the client publicly (and at the client’s expense).

“If I get a bad gut feeling about somebody, I don’t see them,” said Z. “It’s not worth it for me to go to jail and to spend thousands of dollars, then to lose $200. I don’t care.”

As a way of protection, escorts also have online websites where they share information about clients they blacklisted to warn other escorts from providing for them or letting them decide if they want to see that person. Clients may be blacklisted for, of course violence, but also for shorting providers on their fees or wasting the escort’s time with missed appointments.

Eliza believes destigmatizing escorts is important and encourages escorts who can be out to “be out.”

“Some of the stigmas people have is that we’re all trafficked,” said Eliza. “There’s also a lot of stigma that we have drugs. Like I have clients sometimes ask me if I have drugs. Not just weed, but like cocaine and things I didn’t even know were drugs.”

Danielle has over started in the adult entertainment industry 20 years ago. She began as a dancer at 24 years old as a way to pay her way through her biotechnology degree at Michigan State University and is now a traveling courtesan.

As a dancer, Danielle said she would have men come to the club and ask her out to dinner.

“I would say yes, but if you want to take me out to dinner on a Friday night you have to pay me whatever I would make that night at the club,” said Danielle. “So it was that kind of transaction. It wasn’t like a previously thought out plan, it was like oh okay, yeah sure take me out but I still have next semester and book to pay for so if you give me $500 we can have dinner.”

Danielle said she liked working in a lab but she loved dancing and traveling and being an escort allowed her to do that.

“If I was contracted to do a project in a lab I would have to be there all the time,” said Danielle. “It’s not like a 9 to 5 job. If your bacteria is going to mutate you have to be there to see it happen. The uncertainty of having work was really scary. Where of course traveling and dancing and being an escort was job security.”

Danielle tours for about two to three days a week, three weeks out of the month.

“If I’m on tour in a certain city I’ll put up ads a month ahead of time,” said Danielle. “I book in advance; I get deposits and then I go. I sometimes schedule my tours intentionally around events that I would enjoy.”

Danielle’s rates normally range from $500 for one hour to $2,500 for eight hours. When she is touring exclusively her charges $3,000 for 12 hours to $15,000 for the week in addition to travel expenses.

“I always think that’s interesting when they’re (the client) like hey do you mind flying with this airline because I have points here,” said Danielle. “Ironically it’s usually Delta.”

 

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Danielle checks in with her travel agent at AAA before going on a tour on Wed., March 22, 2017. 

“A lot of escorts know a lot about travel,” said Danielle. “Be a member of every hotel chain and every travel discount thing you can be a part of because it all works together. AAA discount saves me a ton on hotel and travel. And restaurants, people don’t always know that.”

Danielle is a feminist but feels frustrated that as a sex worker she’s not allowed her own agency.

 

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Danielle walks into an airport in Lansing, Michigan on Wed., March 8, 2017. 

“They want women to look pretty and be smart and have jobs, but they don’t want to acknowledge that I would want to have sex or want to take my clothes off,” said Danielle. “They don’t want to admit that that’s my choice. And on the other side of it, the far left feminist groups are more constantly thinking that I need rescuing and that I’m a victim. I’m not sure what they think I’m a victim of. It makes it very difficult to be a strong independent woman who wants to be a leader when both sides are telling me that I’m a victim and I need rescuing or that I’m completely brainwashed by the patriarchy.”

“Stigma is alive and it is real,” said Faith. “If one person destigmatizes sex work because of this I would be very happy.”

 

 

It’s your rite (to be Wiccan)

Glenda Bartel along with her best friend Melissa Collingham opened up the Livingston County Spiritual Center (LCSC), an alternative and holistic health service, to educate, inspire, and heal others.

The two provide services such as Reiki attunement, tarot and medium readings, and chakra and aura healing. They also teach classes and host workshops at the center.

One of the classes is Wicca 101.

According to Thea Sabin in her book “Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice” Wicca is an evolving religion and a Wiccan is a person who has either formally or ritually declared themselves a Wiccan or simply is following the Wiccan religion/spiritual path.

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Glenda Bartel teaches the Wicca 101 class at the Livingston County Spiritual Center in Pinckney, Michigan on Sunday, February 12, 2016.

Bartel is a medium/clairvoyant and though she no longer follows Wicca religion she still identifies as a witch and enjoys educating others about Wicca.

“I wanted to share my knowledge with people, because I know what it did for me,” Bartel said. “So why can’t this be for other people?”

Bartel said she first realized she was a medium when she predicted her grandmother’s death when she was 12 years old. At age 14 she saw her great-grandmother’s spirit, an encounter she described as “bloody frightening.”

As for being a witch, Bartel said she didn’t really know anything about Wicca until she was 22 years old.

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Faye Sweeny takes notes during the Wicca 101 class taught by Glenda Bartel.

“I noticed how sensitive I was with the moon phases,” Bartel said. “I paid attention. But I’m also a triple Scorpio.”

Howell resident Faye Sweeny attended the Wicca class to learn about the religion and satisfy her curiosity.

“It may sound selfish, but to get a better understanding of myself. What am I doing here, where am I going, what’s my purpose,” Faye said. “I think this will help.”

Bartel believes Wicca is a great stepping stone for spirituality.

“It gets you in tune with Earth,” Bartel said. “It gets you in tune with the elements, it gets you in tune with the universe. It makes you respect all living things. These are essential things to know and learn on any spiritual path, not just Wicca.”

Two years ago Bartel decided to stop following Wicca and explore other religions and her own spirituality. Wicca is still a fundamental part of her though due to her being a witch.

“I was looking for spiritual awakening, spiritual enlightenment,” Bartel said. “And that takes a lot of work outside of Wicca. And because it is a religion you do have things that you have to follow.”

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Faye Sweeny takes notes over “Wicca: The Complete Craft” by D.J. Conway, a book Wicca instructor Glenda Bartel recommended for beginners to Wicca.

The religion of Wicca is based on a simple moral code called the Wiccan Rede “An ye harm none, do what ye will.”

According to Sabin’s book, the earliest church documents mentioning witchcraft is in the “Canon Episcopi” which could date as early as 906 AD. “The Canon said, essentially, that witchcraft was an illusion that originated in dreams, and to believe in it was heresy, or against the teachings of the church,” Sabin said.  So ensues the witch hunts and trials.

It wasn’t until about the 1950s that Wicca popularized. Followers began to make their own form of it and the faith made its way to The United States. Wicca made its way into popular witchcraft-based books and television shows, such as Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Popular media featuring witchcraft is still prevalent but strong stereotypes still exist such as Halloween dressing up as the ugly witch with the face warts or calling someone who is being nasty a witch.

When asked about stereotypes and what people think about her being a witch, Bartel had a quick and firm answer.

“I don’t base my life on other people’s opinion because that means they control my life, not me,” Bartel said. “And I’m not giving people that kind of power.”

The Livingston County Spiritual Center is located in Pinckney, Michigan but Bartel and Collingham plan to relocate. Updates can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/livingstoncountyspiritualcenter/.

The Living Canvas

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to follow make-up artist and world renowned body painter Andrea O’Donnell for the day leading up to film her artistic process for the Gala Grandiosa at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Andrea opened up her home to me, a complete stranger, and without her kindness and my seemingly far fetched daydream of filming a body painter this video wouldn’t have been possible. And though it isn’t flawless, I know the lighting could be better and the audio is a bit rough, it is a learning experience and that’s really what doing these videos is all about.