It seems like just about every week you see another comeback story about Detroit, and while always great, in almost all cases, the story is centered around the 7.2 square miles that encompass the Greater Downtown area. While those less familiar with the city may see the downtown area as the engine driving Detroit’s comeback, some organizations are taking the fight to where it is needed most, Detroit’s surrounding neighborhoods and its long-forgotten communities. Enter Life Remodeled.
Made up of individuals from across Metro Detroit, the group is working toward the beatification and renewal of Detroit one neighborhood at a time. Tucked away inside Detroit’s Boston Edison neighborhood, the group repurposed the former Durfee Elementary-Middle School building into the Durfee Innovation Society, the headquarters of Life Remodeled and its tenants, and the beginning of something wonderful for Detroit.
“What this whole building [Durfee] is about, is it’s a one-stop-shop of opportunity where we’re moving in the best and brightest organizations in Detroit under one location.” Said Chris Lambert, CEO/Founder of Life Remodeled, “We’re essentially the developers and the landlords. To be a tenant here you have to move the needle on one of four areas of education, workforce, entrepreneurism, or human services.”
Through this development, the Durfee Innovation Society is made up of a diverse team of community organizations whose services range from Foster Care and adoption to electrician and carpentry apprenticeships. It’s also home to the 23rd location of Toarmina’s Pizza. After hiring local high school students, the chain is working on training them with the business skills needed to potentially open their own franchise one day.
Another building tenant is The Lawn Academy, a group that hires local youth to provide free lawn care services for veterans, senior citizens, or other individuals who may be unable to maintain their property. The organization also trains the youth it hires in IT and Cybersecurity year-round and provides mentorship support throughout the entire process.
While renovations are still underway, one can already see the beginning of a real change starting to form among the recently installed drywall and steel pipes. Sustainability is key for the project; the old gym floor was repurposed and used to create the walls that line the Life Remodeled office while the glass on some of the windows was used in the former school locker rooms.
Serve Electric, another tenant in the building, assisted with this renovation by offering an apprenticeship program to those that live in the community. Through this, those taking part were able to help with the installation of the light fixtures that have been recently installed inside the building.
While there is endless opportunity inside the Durfee Innovation Society, much work is focused on what happens outside the center. Specifically, through the redevelopment and strengthening of its community while also helping with clean up efforts in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Ultimately what sets Life Remodeled apart from some other community organizations of the same nature is the way in which they go about conducting their mission.
“Our mission is to bridge people across divides to help transform each other’s lives, and the way we do that is we go into a neighborhood where we’re invited, and we find out what the community wants for the future.” Said Lambert, “To achieve their vision, we bring people together from the city, the suburbs, different races, different religions, different socio-economic backgrounds, and in the process of working shoulder to shoulder on something they all agree on, people begin to realize that they like and need each other, and this creates the opportunity for sustainable development.”
Coming off of its Six Day Project, Life Remodeled and the tenant of the Durfee Innovation Society have put this idea of bringing people together into practice. From August 6-10 the group cleared out debris and blight from every alleyway within a four-square-mile radius surrounding Durfee, while at the same time offering a summer camp and a family fun day for the local community that featured the world’s largest bounce house.
The highlight of the Six Day Project was its ability to bring together a diverse group of volunteers to continue the work it has been doing since 2017.
“What’s happening now with the Six Day Project is you’ve got people from every race, every religion, city, suburb, you name it, and they’re all working on something they agree on.” Said Lambert, “This is what the residents want to see happen, nobody wants blight in their community.”
At the end of the day, Life Remodeled and the Durfee Innovation Society exist to help the people that need it most, a community that seems to have been forgotten in an increasingly changing Detroit. By working to build bridges and bring people together, Life Remodeled is working to sow the divisions that have to lead to less than ideal times for many people.
“I’m convinced that urban poverty in America doesn’t need to exist, yet it exists mainly because we have not learned how to play well with each other. There is so much racial division, and political, emotional, you name it. All that division is so real, and it gets in the way of why we’re here on earth.” Said Lambert, “Once we start to build those kinds of bridges, then peoples economic situations change dramatically.”
While its Six Day Project has come to a successful conclusion, there is still always a need for volunteers.