Mary Ann Franks finishes setting granola bars out on the counter and looks up as the first guest walks into the
Isabella County Restoration House welcome center. The Central Michigan University senior is serving as the intern for ICRH, which provides immediate, temporary housing to homeless individuals in Isabella County.
Franks goes over and greets the guest by his first name. He smiles and greets her by her first name. They know each other — he's been staying at the shelter for several weeks.
Empowering people such as the homeless is exactly what Franks — a Newaygo, Michigan, native — is working to do as a
community health education major and a
cultural and global studies student ambassador.
"I've studied abroad and traveled to various countries, and everyplace I've gone I've noticed that so many people are getting pushed under the rug — like they're voiceless and don't have an advocate," said Franks, who has studied in Mexico, Ecuador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. "When I learned about ICRH, I was like, 'Right here, right where I go to college, there are people around me who are voiceless.' For me it's about being that voice."
As the ICRH intern, Franks is focused on incorporating her education and experiences into a holistic approach to building a community among the homeless and further connecting them to their Mount Pleasant community.
"Studying community health, it is that keyword 'community' that is creating a safe place for people who live all around us and who you'd have no idea are homeless," Franks said.
ICRH runs from early November to early April, and guests check in each evening at the welcome center hosted at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church. They then are bussed to whichever local church is serving as the host site that week.
In addition to developing plans to help ICRH guests maintain their health, Franks helps ICRH Executive Director Ryan Griffus write grant proposals and increase financial and community support through public presentations.
Such a public presentation is how Franks first learned about and got
involved with ICRH. Franks was a member of the
Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center's advocacy and outreach board that invited Griffus to speak on campus for cardboard city — an
annual event to increase homelessness awareness. Franks was so moved by the presentation, she approached Griffus about establishing an ICRH
"For me that identified right off the bat that she's passionate about the work we do," said Griffus, who graduated from CMU in 2004. "Homelessness is very real in Isabella County, and Mary Ann has brought so many fresh ideas as far as service providers and new initiatives that we can start to implement."
According to Griffus, ICRH opened for the 2016-2017 season on Nov. 6, 2016, and to date has housed 98 individual guests. This includes nearly 20 children and approximately five families. ICRH is averaging 24 guests per night this season, an average increase of 10 guests per night compared to last season.
"I'm not here to save anybody but to try and make a difference and make an impact on somebody to be more than what they already are," Franks said.