A Space to Bloom
Deja Cooper is a creative, energetic force. Never one with close family ties, she was surprised to find family through outreach programs in St. Louis.
She found safety and skills there, too.
Deja participated in the Outreach Program through Perennial, a nonprofit that teaches creative skills by reusing materials to make something new. Perennial partners with local programs supporting women in transition, such as former prisoners or survivors of domestic violence or homelessness.
“When we started Perennial, I had done work that served former prisoners and homeless vets. I found it was a fundamental tie to what they were going through – trying to rebuild their lives and transferring that into fixing something and being creative with it,” says Perennial Founder and Executive Director Jenny Murphy.
When Deja first started coming to the shop, she knew exactly what she wanted to make.
“She has really great ideas. Often times, we have people who are more timid. She was ready to create,” Jenny says. With the help of Jenny, Deja made a colorful display for her sunglasses.
“The Outreach Program is a safe space,” Deja says. “With the life experiences I’ve had, I’ve been searching for places I could feel safe. That’s exactly what Perennial is for a lot of women.
“Honestly, it’s going to sound clichéd, but everyone at Perennial is family.”
Jenny founded Perennial as a way to provide a space for people to reuse old, broken, castoff materials and make something new and useful with them.
“My background is in art, so I had this foundation of experience that allowed me to find uses for discarded materials. Without much money for resources, I could make spaces and clothing I wanted,” she says. “There’s so much trash, so I wanted to find a commercial application for it where it’s a community project to educate people and teach those skills.”
Perennial hosts classes for a slew of DIY projects – from home and garden to sewing and fashion to woodworking, upholstery, textiles. Not only do participants get a great piece they made, they can take those new skills and apply them elsewhere.
“Everyone comes from different backgrounds there, but you would think we grew up together. We find common ground and that makes us realize we’re not that different. We all love art,” Deja says.
“Perennial, in so many ways, has saved me. Being from this city, it’s something I never knew was here. It makes me look at my city completely differently. We do have these amazing programs and now I know that. I’m grateful, eternally grateful, for what I’ve gotten out of this program,” she says.
Perennial received a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist® grant in 2018 to help impact more lives in their community. Part of the State Farm Neighborhood of Good® initiative, State Farm Neighborhood Assist is back for its eighth year in 2019. The program awards $25,000 grants to 40 nonprofit organizations to help fund neighborhood education, safety and community development projects.
Cause submissions will be accepted starting June 5 and will end once 2,000 submissions are reached. The voting phase will follow from Aug. 14-23, where the public can vote for their favorite cause from the list of 200 finalists. The 40 winners will be announced Sept. 25. To submit a cause, visit the Neighborhood Assist website.