"I've never heard of it, the idea that you could ride a bike to create energy," Turner . She says most homeless shelters look institutionalized and it's her hope that the gym will make the people Cass helps more comfortable.
Beyond helping homeless people with their health, Cass employs many of the people in its shelters. The organization says many of the people it employs have mental disabilities and otherwise would not be able to find work. Fowler, who grew up on Detroit's east side, says she came up with one of the organization's employment methods by thinking of a solution to one of Detroit's problems -- blight. "I was thinking there are (disposed) tires all over the city," she . "Well, we'll use them to create jobs." And she did.
Cass picks up the tires and pays people living in shelters a small fee for making floor mats out of the tires. Cass also pays people in the shelter to destroy documents and recycle the paper. "Having people who can't read is a problem. We'll they can shred, because they can't share your confidential information," Fowler says.
Gregory Allen Turner, a 53-year-old man living in a Cass facility, attended the opening of the Green Gym. Turner is one of the residents employed by Cass to help assemble the mats. He punches holes in the rubber parts of the tires while others on his team finish the craftsmanship.
Turner was kicked out of his parents' house 17 months ago and ended up in a Salvation Army facility. There he learned about Cass and gave it a shot. He says it's a "blessing" to have ended up at Cass. Turner says he's grateful to the organization and hinted he's not recently had a job with a legitimate paycheck.
"It's exciting to be working for a corporation beside somebody that's paying under the table, and that's what I'm hoping for. Somewhere I can get paid by a paycheck stub." Turner says Cass has made a difference in his life. "I would like to actually stay here as long as I possibly could to get my spiritual growth going. My goal is to hopefully find somewhere I can make my own decisions."
Fowler is planning a contest for the residents who work out at the gym. She wants to throw a "Biggest Loser" competition modeled after the hit NBC show. It's not the first out-of-the-box event Cass has thrown for its clients. Each winter, Cass has an annual pageant for the women living in the shelters. The women show off their talent in a competition for the "Ms. Cass Crown."
"Everybody wants a legitimate shot," says Fowler. "We need a chance to contribute and a chance to be appreciated and a chance to be recognized and that's what we aim to do. I don't know anybody who doesn't occasionally need a pat on the back or an 'atta boy.' When we write people off society loses. Not only they lose, but we lose."