Tag Archives: Central Michigan University

Drag Beginnings

Neal Austin Primm debuted his drag persona Lavender Hazze during her first show at the Broadway Theatre in Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

The emerging drag queen from mid-Michigan said that drag has been interested in drag culture since he was in high school and discovered LOGOtv and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“There’s so much creativity and art behind drag if you put your mind to it, and that is something that captivates me,” Primm said. “This is my opportunity to show people that you can do anything you put your heart into.”

The show was hosted by PowerDiva Production,  a drag-focused community organization based out of west Michigan.

I first worked with Neal about two years ago when he was still new to the drag community. We did a drag themed fashion shoot, the first for Lavender Hazze, and to be able to come full circle and document her during her first performance was such a privilege. Lavender has come from being shy and new to make-up to this confident and outgoing drag queen.

For the video some of my biggest hurdles was the audio and lighting. I recently made the jump and purchased a MOVO wireless lavalier microphone system. I thought that I might need audio that Lavender could move with and I wouldn’t have to worry about the audio if she changed the direction she was talking, like I would have to if I used a shotgun microphone which is my go to. I ended up using the lavalier mic for only the interview and I’m quite pleased with the sound.

For lighting, I was nervous because I’d never been to the Broadway Theatre downtown and had intended to find a place in the front row I could film. I ended up finding a spot in the balcony that worked perfectly and used my telephoto lens. For the performance video I had to follow focus the subjects as they walked from the stage and through the audience because I wanted to avoid the stutter and clicking the autofocus makes during the video and ended up ignoring my wide angle lens entirely.

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Student and Business Owner Serving Uncommon Coffee

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When Joshua Agardy and his wife Rachael opened their business in downtown Mount Pleasant, Michigan in Sept. 2014 they wanted to contribute something to downtown that wasn’t already there- a coffee shop.

“Growing up in Mount Pleasant there was not a single coffee shop in the downtown area,” said Agardy. “I figured a good way to start my experience in business was to open a coffee shop where there was a need for one.”

Pleasant City Coffee (PCC), located on Broadway Street in Mount Pleasant, serves coffee roasted by Uncommon Coffee, a coffeehouse and roaster located in Saugatuck, Michigan.

“I learned everything as I’ve gone throughout the process,” said Agardy. “I didn’t know how to do anything more than make a cup of coffee before I opened.

Inspired by opening the business, Agardy is pursuing a finance degree at Central Michigan University (CMU) and is taking one course each semester. His wife is a full-time geology professor at CMU and the couple has four children all under the age of 10.

In addition to school, Agardy invests 60 to 80 hours each week into PCC and owns and maintains rental properties in town.

“Any time that I’m sitting here looking out the door waiting for customers to come in is time I can be forwarding my momentum toward my degree, so it’s not wasted time,” said Agardy.

Linda Weiss is a familiar face at Pleasant City Coffee and visits the shop nearly every day.

“The coffee is the best in central Michigan, the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, and the customer service is superior,” said Weiss. “I’m glad to be supporting a local small business in our downtown, and thus helping support our city’s economy.”

Through the month of February, the coffee shop partnered with Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) a rotational homeless shelter located in Mount Pleasant. For each bag of coffee sold at Pleasant City, $1 will go to ICRH.

PCC frequently hosts live musical performances from local artists and pop-up boutiques. For business hours and a list of upcoming events, visit their Facebook.

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Joshua Agardy poses behind the counter of Pleasant City Coffee which he co-owns with his wife Rachael. Agardy holds a bag of Zalmari Estate coffee beans roasted by Uncommon Coffee Roasters which provides the coffee for Agardy’s shop.

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Customers of Pleasant City Coffee enjoy their beverages inside and take advantage of the spacious tables in the coffee shop on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

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Pleasant City Coffee, located at 205 W. Broadway St. in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, was opened in Sept. 2014 by Joshua Agardy and his wife Rachael.

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A customer pays for a honey cinnamon latte at Pleasant City Coffee on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.

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Joshua Agardy, a finance major at Central Michigan University, studies in between taking care of customers at Pleasant City Coffee on Feb. 21, 2018.

This post is the culmination of a picture package project for my JRN 320 class. The project needed photos, a layout, and a short story. This project was difficult for me in the way that I needed to think of a story that I could do that was close to home (due to car issues) and was still worth telling.  I wanted to capture the relaxed nature of the coffee shop and how Josh does time management yet still balances all his responsibilities of operating the coffee shop, taking classes, and being a father of four.

Lighting for this assignment was really important and I knew I needed to capture the light and open feel of the coffee shop. Additionally, my dominant image is a portrait photo which needed to be well lit but I also wanted to show a bit more of behind the counter and a bit of the coffee shop so I just used put the speedlites I had brought aside and used the existing lights overhead which cast a nice backlight and left the window light to light the front. That was the largest challenge because I wanted a strong portrait to set a tone for the story but I was hesitant to bring in my own lighting because I didn’t want to disrupt the customers in the shop and I wanted the image to be strong yet natural. Luckily I didn’t need the additional light!

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.

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.