Throughout the years, two University of Detroit Mercy alumni have earned many different titles: pastor, entrepreneur, teacher, community leader, student. But “giver” has been the headline on nearly every article the two have been featured in, and for good reason.
Rev. Deidric Tupper, pastor of New Faith Temple Church of God in Christ and CEO of the New Faith Temple Community Development Corp., alongside his wife Natasha Tupper, founder of The Polished Institute, have dedicated their lives to the service of others.
The small ministry located in Grand Rapids, Mich., has managed to create big change within their local community.
“We do the things that we’re called to do,” Natasha said.
Their imagination holds no bounds when it comes to giving back. In spring 2022, the nonprofit organization raised nearly $500,000 worth of new clothes, toys, household items, décor, crafting tools and more that they gave away to the community through a wallet-free shopping experience they’ve coined #NFTGives.
“When we hear the stories of the direct impact that our programs are making within the communities we serve, it only makes us want to provide more — give back more,” said Deidric.
Through partnerships with companies such as DTE Energy, Grand Rapids Public Schools, the State of Michigan Governor’s Office and many more, the duo has been able to facilitate numerous initiatives, including running after-school programing, a food pantry and providing free furnace tune-ups to help their community.
They are especially proud of a driver’s license restoration clinic they coordinated thanks to those partnerships.
“Something that seems so basic to most is an enormous obstacle for those without,” Natasha said. “An expired license could hinder employment; a mom can’t volunteer at her child’s school. Having a valid driver’s license means economic empowerment.”
The clinic provides a one-stop-shop of resources for residents to help resolve any qualifying issues that fall under Michigan’s Clean Slate legislation. Volunteer lawyers and Secretary of State representatives help residents walk out of the New Temple Faith ministry with a valid driver’s license.
“When you see people who haven’t had their driver’s license for 10, 15, 20 years, quite naturally, you’ll know that in many conditions and circumstances they’re still driving to work, they’re still going to the supermarket, still taking their children to the doctors and going to school,” Deidric said. “How the system is currently designed causes a domino effect. You lose your license you can’t get a job; applications say ‘do you have a valid driver’s license,’ those people have to say no and that may determine if they get the position or not.”
None of the services or partnerships they provide have any cost associated with them.
“When people are hugging you with tears in their eyes saying thank you for what we’re doing, that gratification is unmatched,” Deidric said. “The direct impact that our programs are making within the communities we serve, it only makes us want to provide more — give back more.”
The impact they are creating within the Grand Rapids area hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the two were recently chosen to preach at a church in need just a 35-minute drive south.
“We have a holistic approach with our ministry,” Deidric said. “We have our church and nonprofit, and I’ve recently been appointed to pastor another church in Kalamazoo, The Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, where we started the Tabernacle Community Development Corp., another nonprofit. It’s important that we also be impactful there.”
The additional location has increased the duo’s giving power, raising another $500,000 worth of items that were given away.
After years of philanthropy, the Tupper team seem to have narrowed down their algorithm to improve, facilitate and administer programs and services throughout their communities. But they didn’t do it alone.
The Detroit native’s devotion to giving back didn’t reveal itself overnight, but rather it was demonstrated to them during key moments throughout their lives, even prior to finding each other.
Natasha recalled the pivotal preteen experience that changed the course of her path and inspired her to build her business that focuses on empowering girls and women through confidence training.
“I was causing trouble in school and to avoid punishment, I ran away to my girlfriend’s house to vent to her, but she didn’t have time to listen. She was in the Explorer program and she had a meeting that night and instead invited me to come along,” Natasha said. “I must say that from that point on, it caused a tremendous change in my life.”
Almost immediately, Natasha became deeply involved in the Explorer program, an extracurricular designed to give teenagers and young adults hands-on law enforcement experience through volunteer opportunities and group outings.
“I was able to link up with some fabulous mentors that changed the entire trajectory of my life,” she said. “I learned things that I had never even heard of.
“That one moment in my life, running away from a punishment, turned into a life lesson I wasn’t searching for. It had a large impact not only on my life as a child, but now as an adult I can turn that into a teaching moment for others.”
The more involved Natasha became, not only in the Explorer program, but within her community and church, the more she understood what her neighborhood went without.
“I could literally see the issues that these communities were facing,” Natasha recalled of her adolescent years. “I saw the devastation, I saw the need, but I’m thankful that I also had people that helped me see beyond my own situation and showed me that I could do whatever it needed to be, to be a solution.”
Being the solution would become a fundamental theme in Natasha’s life and years later she would see that same value in the man she now calls her husband.
“One day we ran into each other at our church in Detroit, got to talking and found all these hidden connections,” Deidric said while recalling the pair’s first encounter.
They soon found that their similarities outweighed their differences, and their combined drive to make a difference in people’s lives, made them inseparable.
“We worked together at city hall, we went to church together, and then we decided to embark on our educational journey together,” said Natasha. “It made the journey all that more exciting.”
Their Detroit Mercy education may not have sparked their drive to serve others, but it stoked the flames.
In 2007, they both earned their Bachelor of Arts degrees from the College of Liberal Arts & Education, Deidric in Economics and Natasha in Religious Studies.
The two recall their main draw to the University was the mission that blended the intellectual with the spiritual sides of education, solidifying their decision to enroll.
“It was a huge draw that Detroit Mercy was a Jesuit and Mercy institution. I come from a strong Christian background, as does my wife, and I wanted to be at an institution that had those types of values,” Deidric said. “I liked that we had the opportunity to interact with our professors more due to the class sizes and engage with those around us.”
The Tupper pair say they owe a lot to the educators of Detroit Mercy for teaching them not only how to successfully dedicate their own lives to serving, but how to inspire others as well.
“I can remember a lesson after finishing a community project serving food to the homeless, my professor at the time discussed how we aren’t that far removed from those we help, and the things we have in common outweigh the things we don’t,” Natasha said. “That lecture — it changed the way I served.”
Although the two were pursuing different concentrations, they remember the courses that focused on community outreach — the ones they happened to take together — most fondly.
“It was community projects like that, that made us expand our reach,” Deidric said. “We would bring back the lessons we learned to our places of work and inspire others to do outreach, but not just by devoting time, but also by opening a dialogue and talking about what they felt. It’s during that time that it turns into meaningful work because it begins to change your attitude, your mindset and you approach other areas in your life and career differently.
“That’s the mind connections that we made going to Detroit Mercy. The focus is not only one of intellect, but it also reaches the ethical and spiritual. It’s a holistic approach to student development.”
Life of service
Key moments within the lives of the Tupper couple have allowed them to learn from mistakes, find their intrinsic motivation and ultimately create a life that revolves around the welfare of others.
“I’ll never forget one Bible study in particular, during a time in my life where I had been losing faith in my elected officials, my pastor began to talk about Joseph from the Bible, how he became the highest appointee and how this young man stood in the gap for his people.
“That moment was so transformational for me at that time,” said Deidric before a long pause. “I realized that even just one person can stand in that gap and make a difference.”
He choked back tears recalling the memory and without hesitation Natasha finished the thought.
“We strive to be those people who stand in that gap,” she said. “We provide an open door for the people who need it the most.”
— By Vicki Taylor