Much like stubborn weeds growing between breaks in the sidewalk, Detroiters simply will not let their city fall away into disrepair or allow buildings to stay abandoned.
Case in point is the former Larned Elementary School in Northwest Detroit in a devastated neighborhood. Boarded up for years since its closure in 2002, it was vacant until 2009. At that time the doors were opened, sun shined through the windows, and the new owners Pastor Ray and Toni Anderson renamed it "The House of Help Community Center."
It's about as modest as it gets - a weekly food distribution program feeding over 150 families, after-school mentoring and summer camp, church services and potluck dinners and an assistance program to help the low-income with utility bills and emergency relief.
Pastor Anderson describes the journey. "For the last six years, we've been an anchor in northwest Detroit, but have a vision to do so much more. We've been in discussion with the city to purchase the abandoned school we operate out of...to revitalize the community."
"We began to partner with the Detroit Workers and Builders (DW&B), an offshoot of the Detroit Water Brigade which had been helping many of our community members get emergency aid after water cutoffs and financial assistance with their water bills. Together, we made a commitment to raise $100,000 to make a dream a reality."
According to spokesperson Justin Wedes, one of the founders of the DW&B, monies raised will be used to formally purchase and then to renovate the building to create a full-fledged community center and empowerment zone for the surrounding neighborhoods.
$42,500 and We'll Finally Own the Building
Along with the problems that go along with ownership, of course. Although the city of Detroit is delighted to see urban transformation of this sort, it is also a landlord. It will watch carefully as an additional $30,000 is raised to keep the lights on and water running to see if they will have to - as they have done in the past - turn off the power leaving the occupants to resort to flashlights and candles.
"When the utility company cut the lights for the Center for nonpayment," Pastor Anderson describes, "we held after-school tutoring programs by flashlight and prayed for help. In the past year we have seen a spike in the number of people seeing our help and - at the same time - our charitable support has declined with the economy. So, we do more with less."
The City of Detroit has a stake in keeping hopes alive at this fledgling center, as their plans also call for an additional - ready for this? - $20,000 to be raised to fund a job training and employment operation. In a city with over 100,000 unemployed (and 16,000 homeless), any program promising to get people back on their feet deserves embracing.
Let's Not Forget the Additional $27,500 for Staffing
Yes, you have to have an executive team - even if part-time - to oversee this magic. And, it will take some magic to raise the $100,000, invest in professional development, and chart the path for long-term sustainability.
"We can do this," Wedes asserts, "and if we raise more than $100,000 we will immediate begin gut renovating the building, employing and training local talent to do the work through the Detroit Workers and Builders program."
He also concedes that this will be a tough row to hoe.
In an Indiegogo campaign for the $100,000 - which will end in early July - only $5,301 has been raised to date. Nonplussed, the community intends to keep reaching out for people to show the same heart they have, but with resources greater than they possess.
"We need Detroiters, former Detroiters, and concerned citizens across the U.S. are to visit the fundraising site and give what they can."
Pastor Anderson adds, "We are full of hope for the future of the Motor City, but without the backing of our whole country (and international support, too!), we won't be able to put Detroit back to work.
We are working to reverse decades of divestment and abandonment by revitalizing this important community anchor to once again serve current and future generations of Detroiters."
Yes, much like stubborn weeds growing between breaks in the sidewalk, this group of Detroiters simply will not let their city's peoples and properties remain abandoned. But, no matter how stubborn, even weeds need nourishment.
With due respect to the Pastor, you can only do more ... with more.
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