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ReCreate Café is an artistic haven for the homeless

The Salvation Army ReCreate Café Arts Program offers creative opportunities in acting, painting and drawing to the homeless community from a central location in downtown Chattanooga.

The café is also an outlet that local professional artists can use free of charge for concerts, rehearsals, events and meetings.

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Salvation Army ReCreate Café artists stand in the café where “Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ” is being presented Dec. 14-18. From left are Robert Nunez, Mike Vaughn, Salvation Army ReCreate Café artistic director Tenika Dye, Jesse Presnell, Lorraine Presnell and Martin Collier.

“The homeless know they can come here for help,” said Salvation Army ReCreate Café artistic director Tenika Dye. “I want what I do to restore dignity to them. How do we give the community hope again? A lot of art comes from pain and a crisis you are going through. It’s through art you get a new perspective in life and it helps you make sense of the chaos.”

She said ReCreate Café is open during the day for the homeless to take shelter out of the elements. Inside the same building, they can also take showers, receive mail and search for jobs in the computer lab. Dye focuses on the arts programming.

The ReCreate Café art class meets Tuesdays with instruction from the Hart Gallery. The homeless can create paintings and drawings in class to be displayed throughout the entire Salvation Army building.

“The art students create statues with their bodies to show their oppression in life,” said Dye. “We talk about what causes the problem [of oppression] and what are the solutions to the problem.”

Art student Lorraine Presnell said she learned that other people have the same problems, but might deal with it differently.

“We volunteer a lot,” said Jesse Presnell. “We try to give back for all the help they’ve given us. It’s the least we could do.”

Formerly homeless carpenter-by-trade Mike Vaughn now resides and works in the Salvation Army 614 building. He helps build the stage for acting productions and constructs shelves and other woodworks for the Salvation Army. Vaughn said he remembers sitting on corners with a tarp over his head. He suffered from depression after his son passed away and his wife left him.

“I could not satisfy man,” said Vaughn, who also lost jobs due to his depression, “so I decided to work for the Lord.”

Dye said she teaches an acting class for both the homeless and the housed. The first production of “Behold the Lamb” in 2009 led to the art program, which is preparing for the fourth annual showing of that same producatoin.

Once the “Behold the Lamb” production wraps up in late December, the next big ReCreate Café Arts Program project will be an acting production titled “A Walk in My Shoes.” The actors will swap their real stories that led to their homelessness and let a fellow actor tell their story onstage. The arts program is the recipient of the Community Cultural Connections Grant.

“People view the homeless differently through the arts program,” said Dye. “We all enjoy the arts. We clean the ReCreate Café all the time and put up Christmas decorations. We try to restore the dignity and hope to their situation.”

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