Each summer, nonprofit LifeBUILDERS hosts its Build Week efforts to rehabilitate area homes that were abandoned and blighted.

Each summer, nonprofit LifeBUILDERS hosts its Build Week efforts to rehabilitate area homes that were abandoned and blighted.

Photo by Deb Jacques


LifeBUILDERS hosts annual Build Week to rehabilitate local homes

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published August 20, 2019

 Nineteen-year-old Aliine Sletten was among several volunteers from Norway who joined with local nonprofit LifeBUILDERS to rehabilitate several homes in the Regent Park neighborhood, such as this home at 15044 Bringard Drive, between July 15 and 20.

Nineteen-year-old Aliine Sletten was among several volunteers from Norway who joined with local nonprofit LifeBUILDERS to rehabilitate several homes in the Regent Park neighborhood, such as this home at 15044 Bringard Drive, between July 15 and 20.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Volunteers for nonprofit LifeBUILDERS help construct a butterfly garden in the Regent Park neighborhood of northeast Detroit.

Volunteers for nonprofit LifeBUILDERS help construct a butterfly garden in the Regent Park neighborhood of northeast Detroit.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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DETROIT — Each summer, nonprofit LifeBUILDERS gathers its volunteers to rehabilitate dilapidated and blighted homes in the Regent Park neighborhood of Detroit for its annual Build Week efforts.

The week of July 15-20 consisted of several projects including cleaning up and beautifying area homes, installing a butterfly garden in the neighborhood and rehabilitating three abandoned homes purchased from the Detroit Land Bank.

“Our mission is holistic,” said LifeBUILDERS founder Larry Johnson. “It involves three pillars: rebuilding the community, empowering our youth and building a strong community from the ground up. The young people are the ones who will be taking over all this one day and are the biggest stakeholders, really, so we are actually doing all three of those things here today.”

Johnson said that the work done during Build Week means not only beautifying the neighborhood and eliminating abandoned buildings that can facilitate crime, but it also allows new homeowners to come into the area and improve the local economy.

“For example, today (the volunteers) are working on a house purchased from the Detroit Land Bank by cleaning up the exterior of the property so it doesn’t become a haven for squatters or drug people,” he said. “They will work on the landscaping, cutting grass and bushes and clearing away refuse. We later will be working on the inside.”

John Hambrick, a developer and general contractor who has acted as a consultant for LifeBUILDERS for the last eight years, said such work is invaluable to efforts to improve an area such as Regent Park.

“The people at LifeBUILDERS, including myself, have always been strong believers in home ownership,” he explained. “When you rehab houses and make people homeowners, they take pride in their asset. We look at what each block needs, what its specific problems are, and you look at where the cancer is and you get rid of the tumor so the area is livable again. … The riffraff coming in and out of the houses gets cut down, which keeps them out of that neighborhood. There’s nowhere to hide anymore.”

Such projects fulfill the mission of the organization, which focuses its efforts on improving the Regent Park neighborhood, located between Seven Mile Road and Eight Mile Road and between Kelly Road and Gratiot Avenue.

Home rehabilitation projects aren’t just a matter of fixing a single home, but seeing how such actions can reverberate throughout the area.

“We have been working on funding for these homes for a year and a half,” said Hambrick. “The two homes on Fairmount (Drive) are strategic to the neighborhood by being on each corner and were abandoned and blighted, so we’re cleaning up a whole corner in the neighborhood, which is a catalyst for home ownership in the neighborhood, and they were the only blighted houses on the block. The one on Rossini (Drive) was also the only blighted home on its block, so we’re trying to maximize our efforts to repair individual houses that will help whole neighborhoods.”

Among the volunteers working during Build Week included groups from the Grosse Pointes, Grand Rapids and Norway.

“People affiliated with our organization have worked with LifeBUILDERS in the past, and they arranged the two groups teaming up,” said Pat Molison, area director for Grosse Pointe Young Life. “We have a group in from Norway this week, and they were looking for volunteer opportunities, so we thought this would be a great way to show them a way to serve in Detroit.”

The kindness of volunteers to work on these projects means groups like LifeBUILDERS can accomplish much more.

“Volunteers make projects like this possible because a lot of the time it just takes a lot of arms and legs to get it done,” said Mike Sielawa, the volunteer coordinator for LifeBUILDERS. “Because there’s so much work to be done, it’s almost impossible to hire people to come in and pay them to do the work, so volunteers coming in allow us to use the funds we do have to spend it on additional programs we run, such as helping senior citizens and teens, or just buying more supplies for home rehab projects like the ones we’re doing today.”

Those wishing to volunteer or find more information on LifeBUILDERS can go to www.life buildersdetroit.com.

“If people are looking for a way to make a difference in the Detroit community, we are looking for people to do any number of things, from outdoor work to tutoring kids to helping with clerical work,” Johnson said. “If people have a heart and want to make a difference, we have lots of opportunities.”

LifeBUILDERS has been in operation since 2005, and Johnson said the difference made in the community during that time is astounding.

“When we first came here, this park and the abandoned Tracy McGregor School that was here was a sign of the devastation that had struck this community in the early 2000s,” he said. “It was a reminder of the hopelessness in Regent Park. When we look around now after five years of development of a park and an early childhood education center, a butterfly garden and kids playing safely and riding bikes around a park, there’s a quality of life here now.”

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