Seminary neighborhood focus of massive volunteer cleanup blitz

Volunteers from the 2016 Life Remodeled Project work to clean up the Denby neighborhood in northeast Detroit.

Life Remodeled hopes to attract 12,000 volunteers to transform blight, improve lives

Detroit — By changing a neighborhood, a project next month in Detroit hopes to change lives.

Spearheaded by Life Remodeled, a Detroit-based nonprofit that has coordinated large-scale urban cleanup efforts since 2011, the neighborhood surrounding Sacred Heart Major Seminary is expected to receive a major facelift July 31 to Aug. 5 through the efforts of thousands of volunteers.

Partnering with the Archdiocese of Detroit and other community groups to refurbish the area, Life Remodeled hopes to attract more than 12,000 volunteers to help clean up 360 city blocks of blight and beautify the area surrounding Detroit Central High School and Durfee Elementary/Middle School, located on the corner of Tuxedo and Linwood streets.

To help jump-start the volunteer blitz, the Archdiocese of Detroit is calling on all 220 parishes in southeast Michigan to send volunteers – a goal of 5,000 – to participate in the project, cleaning up debris, mowing lawns, whacking weeds and building a spirit of goodwill among area residents.

“I’m excited to partner with the Archdiocese of Detroit,” said Chris Lambert, CEO of Life Remodeled. “It means a lot for them to jump in with a huge goal. If they achieve that goal, it’d be the single largest group in Life Remodeled’s history.”

It’s a strategy that’s worked in the past; starting in 2011 with building a single-family home in six days, last year’s project saw more than 10,000 volunteers clean up 303 blocks of urban blight in the Denby neighborhood in northeast Detroit, Lambert said.

Anne Graves, evangelization coordinator at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, hopes the project can serve as a uniting force in the archdiocese for all parishes, from Temperance to North Branch.

“This is the first year we’ve done something like this for the entire archdiocese,” said Graves, who’s worked with Life Remodeled on past projects and is helping coordinate the archdiocese’s volunteer efforts. “Right now we have a few parishes signed up, but we’re making a push for all 220 parishes to come and work throughout the week.”

Besides the seminary, two Catholic parishes are also within the project’s boundaries: St. Moses the Black on Oakman Boulevard and St. Charles Lwanga on Livernois Avenue.

Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, from mowing lawns and painting to helping with lunches and coordinating registrations. In the neighborhood where the Detroit riots started in 1967, leaders hope the project will begin a new chapter 50 years later.

“Everyone agrees, blight is bad and needs to be removed,” Lambert said. “When blight is removed and homes are repaired, it becomes a community asset that benefits everyone.”

Lambert said Life Remodeled chose Durfee after originally wanting to work on Central High, but after learning Central underwent renovation in the early 2000s, the focus was shifted.

“The original version of the project was to build a business incubator at Central High, to close the proximity between high school students and entrepreneurs,” Lambert said. “We wanted a place where entrepreneurs can be successful, teach and hire students.”

After taking the idea to the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Lambert learned the district was planning to consolidate Durfee into Central High, a school built for 4,000 students but now has an enrollment around 300, and agreed to turn Durfee into a community innovation center.

Lambert said the innovation center, coupled with the neighborhood cleanup, has the potential to create lasting changing for the people in the surrounding Boston-Edison neighborhood.

“Where you see vacant houses, you see drug use, prostitution, human trafficking; crime is directly tied to blight,” Lambert said. “But blight also is an attack on self-esteem, on pride. These 12,000 people who are volunteering are going to make a real impact for the people living in the community.”

It might be easy to see the project as just another neighborhood cleanup, but Lambert and Graves stress the impact of neighbors helping neighbors.

“This project is about rebuilding lives as well,” Graves said. “It’s about bringing hope and love in the community. It’s not uncommon for one of the home owners to step outside their home and join us. It’s amazing to see the hope that it brings.”

Further, the project serves as a personal growth exercise for the volunteers, showing no matter where they live, all share a common bond.

“We usually have a very high percentage of people living out of the city who volunteer,” Lambert said. “But we found there are a lot of people in the suburbs who love Detroit, who can’t wait for opportunities like this. They make relationships with Detroiters, and Detroiters get help from people from the suburbs. It’s a great way to see people in a new light.”

How to volunteer

Volunteers are needed to help with yardwork, painting, removing debris, boarding up houses, performing home repairs and other projects during a six-day cleanup blitz in the neighborhood surrounding Sacred Heart Major Seminary from July 31 to Aug. 5.  To learn more about the Life Remodeled project and how you can help, visit aod.org/liferemodeled.