GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Downtown Grand Rapids homeless shelter Dégagé Ministries announced that longtime Executive Director Marge Palmerlee will retire effective this month.
Thelma Ensink has been named to succeed Palmerlee as Executive Director and has already begun working in her new role.
Palmerlee’s influence can be felt in nearly every aspect of the Heartside community. For more than 20 years, she has fought to advocate for those without a voice.
Palmerlee joined Dégagé 27 years ago, first as a volunteer and then as Executive Director for 23 years. She has shaped Dégagé Ministries into the organization it is today by encouraging staff and volunteers to create and offer programs that first and foremost foster dignity and respect for every patron.
Under her leadership, the organization has grown to serve more than 500 people each day, employs 50 staff and has a budget of $2M. One of her most significant contributions to the Heartside community is the Open Door Women’s Center (Open Door), which she spearheaded in 2003, at a time when safe overnight crisis services were not readily available for women. Since then, more than 4,800 women have stayed at the Open Door and numerous women have been relocated into sustainable housing as well.
Over the years, Palmerlee has tirelessly advocated for issues affecting the most vulnerable in Grand Rapids such as panhandling and shelter for those struggling with drug addiction and mental health, among others, and has worked to promote dignity for all people. She has worked on countless committees and boards addressing a variety of needs within the Heartside community, seeking to collaborate with both business and nonprofit leaders, to make an impact on Dégagé’s patrons and the community at large.
Palmerlee’s greatest accomplishment is leaving Dégagé positioned to meet the needs of patrons well into the future with the organization’s $6.7M capital expansion project, “Building Dignity through Christ”. Fundraising for the expansion and renovation project has already reached more than $4.7M and construction has begun.
“It has truly been an honor and a privilege to be a part of Dégagé Ministries,” Palmerlee said. “As I reflect on the past 23 years, I stand in awe at all the people God has brought together to further His kingdom. I have had the joy of working with courageous board members, compassionate staff, committed donors, and faithful volunteers. But it is the amazing patrons we serve who inspire me every day! Words cannot describe the blessings I have received knowing we have walked this journey together, obediently following the Lord’s leading. It is a joy working with bold staff who dare to dream big dreams and step out in faith to make them happen”.
New director brings heart for the vulnerable
Thelma Ensink was selected to be Dégagé’s new executive director. After an extensive search, she begins her role at an important time in the organization’s history as Dégagé seeks to address increased community needs.
Ensink brings a wealth of leadership experience with her to the executive role, most recently in positions with Grandville Calvin Christian Schools. Most notable about Ensink is her passion to walk alongside the marginalized, which began when she was a young girl growing up in South Africa during apartheid and continued when she immigrated to the United States and worked as a paramedic in Grand Rapids for American Medical Response.
It was her work as a paramedic that first introduced her to the patrons at Dégagé. Other careers, including managing a rural Ionia County medical practice, developing curriculum programs for students and cofounding Ambassador High School, continued to highlight the needs of those in poverty for Ensink. It is these experiences, as well as her faith, that led her to Dégagé.
“God’s been moving my heart to work directly with the most vulnerable people in our community,” Ensink noted. “I’ve been fortunate to have leadership opportunities in a variety of areas, and personal experiences that have taught me to see all people as created in the image of God, filled with gifts and the potential to positively impact their community. I couldn’t be more excited to begin walking alongside the patrons who are served by Dégagé and continue Marge’s and the Dégagé team’s work to make sure all have a place where they feel safe and can experience dignity and respect.”
Ensink received her undergraduate degree from Calvin University and her master’s degree from Grand Valley State University. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Safe Haven Ministries and is a certified trainer for the International Institute for Restorative Practices.
“I am so pleased that Thelma Ensink has been chosen to carry on the mission of Dégagé,” Palmerlee added. “Faith is the foundation upon which this ministry is built, and I am confident that Thelma will continue that heritage. She shares my values and commitment to keeping Christ at the center of this ministry”.
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