Desneige VanCleve is the founder and executive director of Grace Place Ministry, Inc., a nonprofit for homeless mothers in Sumner County that everyone seems to be talking about. In fact, the majority of the people I had Good Pour conversations with this year mentioned Grace Place as an organization near and dear to their hearts. I’ve had multiple people request that I talk to Desneige, a few even offering to pay an admission price. Ha! Before I talk about Grace Place and all her success there, I don’t want us to miss learning about D as a person. So here are some fun facts:
- She is a wife and mother to three children and three dogs.
- She is originally from Pennsylvania.
- She loves snow.
- She loves the Golden Girls.
- She is usually in bed by 8 pm.
- She gets up early – like 4 am early – to work out.
I just met Desneige this past year in Leadership Sumner, and I have absolutely loved her mix of boldness and vulnerability. She asks for what she wants, and she isn’t afraid to take risks. She is high energy, easy to talk to, and just plain fun.
And with that, let’s talk about Grace Place.
After learning about the at-risk population of women and children through her work Long Hollow Baptist Church, Desneige started Grace Place Ministry in 2015. But really, the seed for this ministry was planted back in Desneige’s childhood as she grew up in a broken home with exposure to food insecurity and housing instability. So, she had experienced the need as a child and then saw the overwhelming need in Sumner County. From that point forward, she answered a call to obedience from the Lord, and we have all witnessed the fruit.
Yes, we know Grace Place as a treasured nonprofit helping women and children, but I like to look at it as a dream factory. Grace Place moves women from survival-oriented to future-oriented. They become more aware of what is available and attainable for them. These women now have a space to ask themselves questions like “what am I good at?” and “who do I want to be?” It is a place where Desneige, her team, and all her volunteers can notice the talents of others and speak into those talents when words of life and love are most needed.
Desneige’s Advice to Nonprofits
I often hear people asking how she does it, how she did it. How has Grace Place become so well known, so loved so fast? And, how can other nonprofits do it too? And so I asked her, and here is what she said:
- God – she listened to a calling.
- The people of Sumner County – she is very quick to say give thanks for our love and support.
I knew she would say those things (didn’t we all?), and they are true – thank God. But I knew there was more, so I pressed her again. So here is her advice to nonprofits (and really for us all):
- Give a part of yourself away.
- Teach others how to be comfortable sitting in someone else’s pain.
- As a leader, you will make mistakes. Take those opportunities to reflect and reevaluate.
- Be in the trenches. That is the only way to get past your preconceived notions and assumptions. People in need and the problems they face are far, far more complicated than we assume. “You can’t treat people like they are a problem to be solved.”
- Remember that people have to be healed before they can improve; they have to be free before they can grow.
- A nonprofit is a business. So you have to ask business questions and be a good steward of the money you are given.
- Stay focused. Nonprofits tend to “mission-drift” and solve the immediate need rather than focus on the larger problem.
- Never stop learning. Find a mentor. Read a lot, especially about leading others.
- Grow your board to be more supportive than you can ever imagine.
- Work your butt off.
What is helping her right now?
- Her friends, especially Jamie Abbott, who she says sees her and loves her anyway.
- Her mantra: “If it isn’t a 100% YES, it’s a NO.”
- She says she is very protective of her time and doesn’t compromise on self-care (see her sleep and workout schedule above).
What is an organization near and dear to her heart?
- Grace Place (of course)
- Hendersonville Morning Rotary
- Leadership Sumner
What is a movie, television show, podcast, writer, song, etc., to add The Good List?
- John Piper’s teachings
- Book: Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders by Joseph M. Stowell
- Book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas