Grand Rapids (WZZM) - A local woman is using her artistic talents to help prevent homelessness in West Michigan.
Meghan Boot is an interior designer who specializes in working with commercial and office spaces at TowerPinkster in downtown Grand Rapids. Last year, the company moved into a building on East Fulton, an area where the city's homeless congregates frequently. Boot soon found herself witnessing the realities of homelessness like she had never before.
"I had been to the downtown area frequently, but not to the point where I was seeing it as intimately as I do now," she said. "We cross the street into our building every day and I am faced with homelessness. You kind of know in the back of your mind that homelessness is an issue, but until you are seeing it every day it doesn't really strike you. And, it did strike me seeing the struggles that people are going through."
Unable to ignore their plight, Boot decided to do something. She came across an email for a national contest called "Design for a Difference." The grand prize winner gets $25,000 to make over a space for a local charity. Boot chose Well House in Grand Rapids.
"Really, to see the impact that it can have on this organization is what I am most excited about," she said. "I've become aware of Well House's mission and that really brought to light that people are trying to turn things around. Some just have some past struggles that are keeping them from doing that."
Well House offers affordable housing to people and families who are living on the streets or are in shelters. Executive Director Tami VandenBerg says they accept many people who who have been turned away by other organizations and are out of options.
"People who experience homelessness a lot of times, for a lot of different reasons, have lost their support systems," said VandenBerg. "By the time they get here they tend to be a little bit isolated. One of our goals is to work with folks to reconnect and to rebuild with their natural support system but also with the people here."
With that goal in mind, VanderBerg and Boot discussed giving Well House a complete kitchen make over. It will include making the area brighter; adding a prep island; adding a recycling and compost space and adding adding a large family style kitchen table.
"It's really to give them a space where they can kind of get to know one another," said Boot.
VandenBerg says the new space would also encourage residents to get more involved food preparation.
"At Well House we have a pretty robust food growing program. We have lots we are growing food on and we grow food around all of our houses because one of our goals at Well House .
The winner of the Design for a Difference contest will be announced on August 1st. If she doesn't win the grand prize, Boot still has a shot at one of the four regional prize awards which will allow for a $2,000 makeover.
Either way, VandenBerg considers Boot a winner already.
"I think she is a phenomenal example of there is something that everybody can do. I hear all the time 'I just don't know what to do. I can't buy a house and start housing people.' This is a perfect example of somebody who has a skill and wants to give back," she said.