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Designing furniture with a purpose

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INDIANAPOLIS—Businessman David Palmer wants to take workers who used to be homeless to the next level in the furniture business.

Purposeful Design, which makes handmade furniture, has opened for business at an old Indianapolis church. Its seven employees start the day with Bible study and prayer and then go to work on making five wood products: picnic tables, chairs, coffee tables, beverage carts, and accent tables.

Palmer has his own business, consulting for large food companies in marketing and research. He has taught the Bible at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis to homeless men. As a mission board member he saw homeless men making pallets at the mission’s Camp Hunt in rural Indiana.

Palmer and some of his friends brainstormed about how to offer more work experience for these men and came up with furniture. “Everybody’s created by God with purpose,” Palmer explained at a recent open house. “That’s the idea behind Purposeful Design.”

On the practical side, Palmer added, “A bunch of men were looking for work, and it’s hard for them to get a job.”

One example is Tony Trotter, 52, who got free of drug abuse through Wheeler Mission’s ministry for homeless men. Before joining Purposeful Design, he started at the men’s shelter and then graduated to the work program. He’s been through STEPS (Steps Toward Economic and Personal Stability) and Back on My Feet, the mission’s physical fitness program.

A growing faith in Christ has given him a new foundation in life. “It took me about 30 days to get into the Bible and start believing,” Trotter said. “They came up with this thing called quiet time. You study the Bible and write in your journal.”

He wishes he had come to faith earlier. “I was so stupid for not having that faith,” Trotter added. “I believed in Him, but I have real faith in Him now.”

At the mission the men learn about “put-offs,” such as discontent, disobedience and unfaithfulness, and replace them with “put-ons”: contentment, obedience and faithfulness.

“Nature hates a vacuum,” said case manager Matt Kunkel. “You have to replace a negative with a positive.”

Now making $11 an hour, Trotter plans to move out of the mission and into an apartment.

“We get their lives centered on Christ and give them life skills for the work world,” said case manager Anthony Baker.

Purposeful Design’s budget is small, with no paid staff. The biggest expense is salaries for the men in training. For woodworking skills, Palmer turned to Dan Mayes, a retired firefighter. Mayes also has a handyman business and has run summer work programs for teens.

“Men were designed to work,” Mayes says. “One of the most spiritual things God creates man to do is to serve others through work.”

Palmer and Mayes aren’t ready to claim a sweeping victory over the homeless problem in Indy through Purposeful Design. But they think the emphasis on work could fill a gap in response to the problem.​

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.


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