Tag Archives: Central Michigan

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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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.

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).

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.