Mustard Seed: Transforming Lives from Homelessness to Hope
Episode 1469th February 2024 • Total Michigan • Cliff Duvernois
00:00:00 00:25:59

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Leona Sullivan, one of the founders, and Amy Bartels Roe, the executive director of Mustard Seed Shelter, a resource for women and children experiencing homelessness. Based in Saginaw, Mustard Seed provides a supportive environment for guests to rebuild their lives, offering help with life skills, housing assistance, and opportunities for healing from traumas and substance misuse. The shelter operates under the principle of 'radical hospitality', ensuring every guest receives new belongings and is treated with dignity.

Amy and Leona also discuss some upcoming fundraising events for Mustard Seed.

Links:

The Mustard Seed Shelter Website: https://themustardseedshelter.org/

Upcoming Events: https://themustardseedshelter.org/events/

Show Notes:

00:00 Warning and Personal Story

01:10 The Mustard Seed: A Place of Hope

02:43 The Mustard Seed: A Closer Look

09:03 The Founding of Mustard Seed

04:45 The Journey of Mustard Seed

08:29 Amy's Involvement with Mustard Seed

10:51 The Unique Approach of Mustard Seed

18:21 Transitioning from Mustard Seed

14:46 The Role of Mental Health and Trauma

15:23 The Importance of Time in Recovery

16:23 Funding and Support

18:26 The Importance of a Comfortable Living Space

19:40 Community Support and Sponsorships

23:47 Upcoming Events and Ways to Help

Transcripts

Cliff Duvernois:

Hello everyone, this is Cliff from Total Michigan.

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Today's episode is going to contain

some really tough subject matter.

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If you have any aversion at all to

subjects of abuse or neglect or anything

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that might involve little kids, you

will probably want to skip this episode.

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If you've got a huge heart, if you

are driven by compassion, then this

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episode will speak to you and I

ask that you let it be your guide.

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Freedom: The circumstance that

brought me was, um, she had a twin.

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Um, she passed away in November,

so, um, that loss kind of caused a

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whole shake in my world and hers.

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So, we hit a rough patch.

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And the entire last year we

kind of lived in that loop.

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Couldn't stay stable.

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Couldn't keep a job.

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Was afraid of losing her so bad.

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But then um, I said we gotta do

something different with this.

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Cause we can't keep going couch

to couch and not being stable.

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And an opportunity came and my friend

said, Hey, we want to help you.

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There's this place

called the Mustard Seed.

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Can we, can we call them on your behalf?

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And I said, sure.

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And on the day that she passed,

November 28th, I got the

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call that I could come here.

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And we came through the doors with

all the clothes we had on our back,

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some coats and a dirty car seat.

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And now we have so many different things,

like they've found me grief counseling.

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They've helped me rebuild.

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I don't go through the

periods of depression alone.

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Because there's somebody

to come in and check.

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Because I'm going through the

stuff with her, there's that

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friendly reminder that says, Hey.

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You know?

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Uh, gives you more structure.

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Gives you a chance to breathe.

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Take a moment to heal from yourself,

from what's going on around you.

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Cliff Duvernois: Hello everyone

and welcome back to Total Michigan,

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where we interview ordinary

people doing extraordinary things.

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I'm your host Cliff DuVernois.

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Today I am in Saginaw.

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I love having, real big

success stories on the show.

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But we also have to remember, too, that

there are people out there that, are

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having a little bit of trouble in life.

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And I love it when people

step up and say, I will help.

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And more than anything, in doing

all the interviews, a name kept

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popping up again and again and

again, and that is the Mustard Seed.

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Um, out of Saginaw.

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So, I reached out to the

ladies over at Mustard Seed.

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And we've got them on the show today.

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We've got Leona Sullivan, one

of the founders of Mustard Seed.

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And we also have Amy Bartels Roe, who's

the executive director of Mustard Seed.

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Amy, just take a minute and

tell us what is Mustard Seed?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Mustard Seed is a

home for women and women with children

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who are experiencing homelessness.

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We have, roughly 8, 000

square feet of space.

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Two, sides of our building, one for

women and their children, moms and kids,

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and another space for single ladies.

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We welcome our guests who come

to us often from living in their

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cars, living on the streets, from

couch to couch, shelter to shelter.

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And we welcome them, to our beautiful

home on Cherry Street in Saginaw and

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allow them to come in and feel safe and

dignified, and provide them with a warm,

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place to lay their head as they begin

to unpack the stories of their lives

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and what maybe led them to homelessness.

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Cliff Duvernois: I'm a big believer in

vocabulary and the words that you choose.

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And it's interesting that you chose

the word when our guests come to us.

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How important is that?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: It's extremely

important And it truly is.

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Those, the folks that come to

us, we do treat them as guests.

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It's a common term.

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And, these folks have been

case managed their whole life.

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They've been a client.

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They've been participant.

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They've been a, consumer, which are all

very, institutionalized terms if you will.

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And that idea of, of welcoming, a guest.

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we have guests over for dinner.

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We treat them in a certain way.

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We bring out the fancy dishes.

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We make sure the house is

cleaned when we have guests.

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And that's exactly what we

do here at Mustard Seed.

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Cliff Duvernois: Leona, where are

you from and where did you grow

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up?

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Leona-MustardSeed: up

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I grew up in Detroit.

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Cliff Duvernois: Now, what

brought you to Saginaw?

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Leona-MustardSeed: Bishop Buntner.

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I was a religious at the time.

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And he wanted a new director

of Christian service.

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And so he called me up and said,

I'd like to take you out for lunch

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and, interview you for the job.

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And so he came to Detroit and

we went out and that's how I

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Cliff Duvernois: What was it that made you

decide or to start pursuing or going after

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creating Mustard Seed in the first place?

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Leona-MustardSeed: It was

a calling that I felt.

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I wanted to be a little bit more

experiencing living with the poor.

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And living with people who

are on the margins of society.

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I had thought of working

in a homeless shelter.

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And one day I just, at the retreat, I

said, Oh, why don't I just start a place?

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That's how it began.

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And I, when I came back,

I had a friend I was with.

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She said, Oh, you gotta talk to this

sister at, Day House in Detroit,

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which was a, a homeless shelter.

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When I went there, then she introduced

me to, well, I didn't meet her, she

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just told this other woman that I

was interested in starting a shelter.

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That woman called me up two

weeks later and said, Leona, I

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want to start a shelter also.

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And I'd love to do it in Saginaw.

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I said, well, you and

I better get together.

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So she came up.

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And then she was a psychologist,

just a lovely woman.

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She had also, struggled with

alcoholism and was ten years clean.

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And she also had struggled with, bipolar.

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So she understood you know, what

most of our women go through.

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So that was wonderful.

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Because I did not have

that in my background.

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And so then I said, well, there's somebody

else I talked to about five years ago.

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So I called her up and I told her

we were, we wanted to do this.

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Would she like to do it too?

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She said yes.

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That was Rosalie Regal.

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And she was teaching at Saginaw Valley.

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Then I called the bishop.

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And I said, Ken, three of us want

to start a It was a Catholic worker.

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It was the kind of shelter

we wanted to start.

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And, he said, oh, great!

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He said, I've always wanted a

Catholic worker in my diocese.

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That was how it began.

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Cliff Duvernois: Well I ask the

question because starting a shelter

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And I can't help, but to think there's

easier things to do in life like

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brain surgery or something like that.

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that.

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why start?

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Leona-MustardSeed: Well, well,

because it, it was, a response to

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living more radical Christian life.

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We did not take money.

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So we were not paid.

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We just did this.

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Cliff Duvernois: open the doors?

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When was your, when did you first open?

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Well,

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Leona-MustardSeed: well, we

lived together for three months.

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And actually the bishop asked us to

keep a couple, a missionary couple.

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And then we had to go

through the zoning board.

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So the doors really opened

in:

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Cliff Duvernois: And why don't you talk

to us a little bit about some of those

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challenges that popped up along the way to

actually get this, get these doors opened.

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Leona-MustardSeed: The

zoning was one of them.

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And so we, because we were

in a single family home.

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And it was zoned for that.

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We went door to door.

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And we had people in the neighborhood sign

that they were willing to have a shelter.

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In their, yeah, in the neighborhood.

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And so that made a big difference.

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And then we had somebody who said

they would like to come and speak

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before the city council in our favor.

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And so that was the first

big hurdle big hurdle

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Cliff Duvernois: Now Amy you came

onboard at the Mustard Seed about when?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: in

:

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so I was 20 years old, and,

I was a student at Saginaw

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Valley State University.

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And I had a part time job as the

youth minister at, the cathedral St.

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Mary Cathedral here in Saginaw,

where Leona was a parishioner.

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And, so we just were all connected.

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And so Leona was getting

ready to start Mustard Seed.

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And so I think there were a few days when

I would take kids over to the Mustard Seed

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and to tear out carpet and paint walls

to get the house ready to welcome people.

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So really from the very beginning and

then, I, then I went away to college to

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finish my education for a couple of years.

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And when I came back, I was involved

sometimes a little bit more and sometimes

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not so much throughout those years.

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There was a time when Leona

invited me to be part of a team of

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people who would train volunteers.

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But then, I became the director in 2014.

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Around 20 10, 20 11 Mustard Seed,

the board of directors began to

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start planning for the future.

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I think Leona, um, knew that she

had, she lived at Mustard Seed

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until she bought a house in 2009.

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Leona-MustardSeed: Once Amy

was going to come on staff, my

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bedroom needed to be her office.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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So, I said, alright, And I had asked

the board too, I said, I don't want to

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wake up when I'm 80 and find out that

I can't do it and there's no plan.

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One of the men said when

would you like this?

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I said, well, maybe by the time I'm 75.

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If we could have a

director, it would be good.

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The day before I turned 75, Amy

was signed in as the new director.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Yes, yes.

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October of 2014.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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Cliff Duvernois: Now, where

are you from originally, Amy?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: I was born

and raised in Saginaw.

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Cliff Duvernois: Sacramento.

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Oh, okay, so you're total local.

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Yeah.

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I'm a For our audience, we're going to

take a quick break and thank our sponsors.

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When we come back, we're going to learn

a lot more about, Mustard Seed and what

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it is they're doing in the community.

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We'll see you after the break.

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to

Total Michigan, where we interview

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ordinary Michiganders doing some

pretty extraordinary things.

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I'm your host, Cliff DuVernois.

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Today, we are at the

Mustard Seed in Saginaw.

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And I've got Leona Sullivan as well

as Amy Bartell Roe here with me today.

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And what I would like to talk

about first off is, we talked

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about what Mustard Seed is.

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I know there's other shelters

that are in the area.

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So what is it about Mustard

Seed that makes it different?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: So for one thing

Mustard Seed we serve a a pretty

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specific population and that is

just women and women with children

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who are experiencing homelessness.

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We are very blessed in Saginaw to

have a great group of roughly six

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to seven organizations who are

doing the work of serving those

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who are experiencing homelessness.

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And each shelter has its own

niche, if you will, which is

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really a blessing in our community.

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So for example, there's another

home which is Emmaus House, and

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they serve just women, just single

women, who are coming from drug or

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alcohol Treatment or jail or prison.

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And they have a very

specific program for them.

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It's it's transitional living from that

those institutional settings and you know,

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until they are able to, be on their own.

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If there is a mom who is coming from

jail or prison or drug or alcohol

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rehab, Mustard Seed is the place

for her because we accept children.

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And so.

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so really our shelters are all very

unique and we work extremely well

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together to make sure that folks are

off the streets and in, in our shelters.

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And so when we are able to welcome

them from that situation or any other

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situation for that matter, the important

thing is, is that they find a soft

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place to fall here at Mustard Seed.

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And then are able to take a deep breath.

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Um, feel love and mercy and compassion

and care from our staff and our

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volunteers and really from each other.

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Our women do a great job of

coming together with each other

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and supporting one another.

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One of the important questions

that we ask oftentimes, is, What

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is your role in our community?

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Where are you going to fit in?

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Are you going to be a

worker at McDonald's?

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Are you going to be a student?

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Are you going to be a volunteer somewhere?

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You know, What is your purpose?

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And that's a really good

framework from which to build.

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Just the other day I had, one of our

moms said I'm ready to go back to school.

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I want to get finished my education.

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It was interrupted I had all

these kids and, And now I'm ready.

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I had, this is the number of

credit hours that I need toward

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a degree in criminal justice.

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So I'm able to hook her up with one of

our board members has an organization

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that he's part of called Bridge the Gap

that helps with, education, money for,

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toward, law, law enforcement education.

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Yeah.

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So there are just really great things

that happen really on the daily basis.

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Cliff Duvernois: when, when the women

do come here and they're staying here

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is there some kind of a transition to

try to get them out onto their own?

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Can they stay for a

certain period of time?

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How does that work?

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Definitely that

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Definitely

that is the goal.

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so once they're here for a couple of

days, we meet with them and start talking

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about, where were you before this.

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you're here now, and, and

where do you want to be?

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And so sometimes, and it's

different for every person.

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That is something that sets us

apart is we really do meet each

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person right where they're at.

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versus, a program where it's like.

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Fill this box, fill this box,

fill this box, you know, and

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maybe you'll get here, right?

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But we meet our people right where they're

at and really listen to their stories.

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We find out what barriers they might have.

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Like, for example, do they have

their birth certificates with them?

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Do they need to get a state

ID or a driver's license?

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social security cards, things like things

that you need to be able to access,

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really anything including housing.

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Sometimes our guests have not been

to a medical doctor in a long time.

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Maybe they have, mental health

issues that they need to address,

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substance use disorder issues.

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and So we really, work to get

to the bottom of all of that.

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and I know Leona mentioned it just a

little bit, perhaps the most common

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thread of what, what causes homelessness

would be untreated mental illness and

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untreated substance use disorder issues,

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Leona-MustardSeed: And sexual abuse.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: trauma.

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as well on, addressed trauma and so

we know that we need to give our folks

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the time to address those issues to

get into some good work And to really

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begin to heal so that then they

can successfully function in a job.

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Therefore then pay for an

apartment, et cetera, et cetera.

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Leona-MustardSeed: And that's one of

the things that does make us different.

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If the person needs a little longer

time, in order to get some of these other

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things under their belt before they start

moving out, then, we give them that time.

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Yeah,

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Amy Bartel-Roe: so, and

that's very important.

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So the average length of stay,

we would say the average is

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usually like three to six months.

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But some people are shorter than that.

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Sometimes people have gotten a job.

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And they just need a few weeks to

save money for a security deposit.

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Right.

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So they're just here for a few weeks.

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We help them save the money

and, and then they're off.

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They go Able?

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off they go.

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Yep.

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But but for the most part,

the average length of stay

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is about three to six months.

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The way that we are able to do

that because a lot of places

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will say it's 30 days or it's a

hard 60 days or a hard 90 days.

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But, because of the way we fund

ourselves, we are able to, have a

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little, have really leniency with that.

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So, so we are 100 percent privately

funded, with the exception of

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a very small grant that we get

through the city of Saginaw.

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But they're very easy to work with.

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Part of the reason, the main reason

why we don't take government funding

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for our day to day operations is

because it is a lot of red tape.

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Leona-MustardSeed: but but

we do get a lot of HUD money.

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And that has been a great blessing

because having women get help with

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shelter when they move out was a

real game changer when we began that.

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Yes.

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to have a, a future with hope.

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To know that you could

get help with housing.

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Sometimes, they just didn't make enough

money to possibly be able to rent a

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house, raise kids, do all of that.

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that just has been a great,

a great thing for us.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Yes, what Leona's

talking about is our permanent

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supportive housing grants.

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So, basically, for Mustard Seed,

we have our day to day shelter,

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our everyday, our shelter program.

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And then it's a separate program

called permanent supportive housing.

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So, we manage money from HUD.

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It's a good government program.

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As she said, it, it, people can be

in it for as long as they need to be.

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We have people who then work it

so it goes for rental assistance

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and utility assistance.

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So the participant in that program pays 30

percent of their income toward their rent

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and utilities, which is extremely fair.

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that's what a financial advisor would

tell anyone that you shouldn't be

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spending more than 30 percent you

know toward your living expenses.

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So, so it's very fair.

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And we have people who work themselves

off of that program which is wonderful.

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So they take the assistance

while they need it.

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But again, so that is that's

Good government money.

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And not that the other is the that

the other is not supportive at all.

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It's just Um,

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Leona-MustardSeed: don't want a little

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at times.

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We don't want the program to

be run by what the goals of

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the government funding is.

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Cliff Duvernois: So one of the

things that really struck me when

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I came in here, especially the

first time, how nice this place is.

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Talked to us about your approach to

having just a really nice living space.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Well, we both could

talk about this for a long time.

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But I think, Leona mentioned it.

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part of her early work, and the vision

and the, uh, the mission and of what

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the mission was formed on is, if you can

imagine the term, radical hospitality.

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So not only do we want to be hospitable.

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We want to be radical about it.

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So we just, we, we say very proudly

that we practice radical hospitality.

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What do you need?

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You know, we just, I, we

just welcomed a woman today.

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She, and this does not happen every day.

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But her worker from community

mental health, I was in

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another part of the building.

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And someone said, there's someone here.

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And I looked and I said,

I don't have anything.

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I don't have an appointment or anything.

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But I came out and it was a community

mental health worker and this woman.

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And I said, hello, you know, she

just said I need a place to stay.

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And it so happened that we

had a room that we had that

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someone had moved out yesterday.

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So we had a volunteer here.

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We were able to turn the room around

and get it, you know ready for her

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Cliff Duvernois: have a facility

like this, because we've talked a lot

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about how it just looks so nice on

the inside from a sponsor standpoint,

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It has just got to be, I would, I

would think that they'd be pleased

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with what it is that you're doing here.

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Because this really is raising the bar

as far as how we're able to help people.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: Absolutely, We are

very blessed to hear, that people

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are all in with Mustard Seed.

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And that they appreciate and recognize,

the things that we've talked about.

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And then in turn want to be part of it.

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Mustard Seed is a community here at 1325

Cherry Street, but it also is a part

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of the larger community, and that has

really grown naturally as we've grown.

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Because we went from in 1995 serving

seven or eight people, right?

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Roughly a few more, yeah.

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And then in 2002, moving to our current

location where we could serve 15 to

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17 people, women, women with children

to now, since:

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an expansion, we are now serving on

a daily basis, 35 to 40 individuals.

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So as Mustard Seed has grown, so

has the response from the community

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and the support from the community.

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Because it makes such a difference.

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It saves lives.

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Yes.

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The work that we do here.

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So back to sponsorships a little bit.

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As I said, our, we are, blessed and

grateful that our community supports us.

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And it is amazing that,

when there's a need.

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without even thinking about it,

without even asking for it, it comes.

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And and I we have to believe

that that's a God thing for sure.

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I'll give you an example.

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We have a big connection with

Saginaw Valley State University.

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So we provide their students

a lot of opportunities to gain

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experience and things like that.

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We have a group of occupational

therapy students right now.

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And in any case, so they're going

to do some life skills classes with

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our guests and things like that.

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But one of the things we've

talked about for a long time

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is having an outdoor play area.

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And that's a great occupational therapy

thing to do for them to design what

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equipment we would want, what they need.

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So they're going to work on that.

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And I wasn't quite certain how

exactly we might pay for that.

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But I'm like, go ahead.

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Do it.

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We'll figure it out.

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I got a call from a Rotary

Club in Frankenmuth.

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And they said, we don't want

to be for profit, but we have

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a lot of extra money right now.

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And so we want to, we want to dwindle our

bank, you know, just so that we're not,

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so that it's being used in the community.

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And I said, how would you feel

about supporting a playground

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project for Mustard Seed?

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And they said, Consider it done.

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I know, right?

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Right?

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Cliff Duvernois: so cool.

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I love

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Amy Bartel-Roe: emailed the

occupational therapy students and

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I'm like, Go for it, you know?

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The sky's the limit.

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And they were like, really?

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You know, they were very excited.

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So it's little things like that.

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And then we have a great

small business community.

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A lot of our small businesses

in Saginaw will do a pick

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up little fundraiser for us.

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Because they care and they

want to be part of it.

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Lots of individual donors.

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We have a program called

Friends of Mustard Seed Shelter.

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And, if anyone would like to learn more

about that, they can visit our website, at

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w, it's, well, it's themustardseedshelter.

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org.

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That's a great way to be a monthly donor.

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if someone is interested in that.

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We have so many other

ways to help out too.

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As I said, Mustard Seed

is all about community.

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I mean, if we had to say the

number of guests that we've served

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over the past almost 30 years.

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It'll be 30 years next year.

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We would be getting

close to probably:

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But if we looked at the number of

people, who have volunteered, donated,

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been part of Mustard Seed in some way.

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We're talking tens of thousands of

people, yeah, that have, yeah, that

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have come together to support and,

So it's a pretty special, thing.

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Cliff Duvernois: One of the things I do

want to talk about here before we wrap

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up is this concert that's going on.

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Tell us about the concert.

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How can people attend the concert?

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Who's going to, who's going to be there?

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Amy Bartel-Roe: There's

a band here in Saginaw.

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They're excellent.

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They're called Stone Street Revival.

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Many people know about them.

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Donnie Brown is their leader.

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And they have a great host of other

musicians that make their band up.

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And they have chosen Mustard

Seed to be a benefactor of these

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concerts that they're doing.

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This year on February 17th at the

Court Street Theater in Saginaw.

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They are doing a show.

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It is called Flatbed Ford.

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And if anyone out there is an Eagles

fan, that is a line in an Eagles song.

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Anyway, it is a tribute to the Eagles.

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Really great music.

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:

There are two shows for that day.

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One is at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

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And then an evening show at 7 o'clock.

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Tickets are extremely reasonably priced.

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The matinee show is $15 and

the evening show is $20.

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:

And these guys are good.

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They're really good musicians.

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So if you're not doing anything.

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Or if you need a, if this, I don't

know when this is going to air,

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but if it's not Valentine's day,

it's a great Valentine's Day gift.

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You know, but anyway.

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We're grateful to, to all of the people

involved in that for supporting us.

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Danny Dog Productions is the

name of the, production company.

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yeah, so that's February 17th.

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I will say one thing.

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We are in the process of really working

to increase the number of emails we have.

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We're going to start doing

monthly email blasts.

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Just a quick little, email

that says what's going on,

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what our current needs are.

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So if you have a church group or a

school group or some sort of group

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:

that's looking to do some sort of

collection, we always have ideas for that

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:

of things that we, legitimately need.

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Cliff Duvernois: if people want to

learn more about the Mustard Seed and

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what it is you guys doing, maybe get

some more information on the concert.

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They can do that at your website.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: it's

themustardseedshelter.

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org

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Cliff Duvernois: Leona, Amy, it's been

great having you on the show today.

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Thank you so much for talking to us about

Mustard Seed and what it is you're doing.

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Amy Bartel-Roe: you.

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Thank been a pleasure.

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Cliff Duvernois: you.

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can always roll on over to TotalMichigan.

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com and click on Amy's interview and get

all the links that she mentioned above.

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We'll see you next week when we

talk to another Michigander doing

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some pretty extraordinary things.

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We'll see you then.

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