Restoring Homes, Remodeling Lives: Local Nonprofit Meets Needs of Community
When it resonated on a local pastor’s heart that families in his community were losing their homes, he envisioned a way of bringing residents together to help their fellow neighbors in need. In 2011, this vision evolved to become Life Remodeled — a nonprofit organization headquartered in Westland, Mich., that strives to remodel lives, one family and one neighborhood at a time.
“It was in part in reaction to the amazing television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” said Chris Lambert, pastor of Ekklesia church in Westland, Mich., and president of Life Remodeled. “I heard stories that families were losing houses. Anywhere from 17 to 26 percent of families lose their houses in their first two to five years.”
Real Needs, Real Communities
Since its creation, Life Remodeled has built six new houses for six low-income families in Michigan, as well as provide them with counseling, financial training and spiritual guidance. “Giving a family a new home isn’t a good thing if it’s not combined with other factors that need to be addressed,” Lambert explained. The organization aims to give each family a complete, holistic transformation.
The giving didn’t stop there, as Life Remodeled also served the surrounding neighborhoods by renovating existing homes, boarding up abandoned houses and beautifying the local areas. “A brand-new house is kind of the centerpiece to each project,” Lambert said. “Surrounding the house, we’ve done a variety of beautification projects. For the neighbors, we mow lawns, trim bushes and build wheelchair ramps.”
To top it all off, Life Remodeled completed each of these projects in just six days. “The reason we do it in a week is that it builds intensity,” said Dom Morelli, vice president of Life Remodeled. “Mass amounts of people working together builds a wonderful community.”
Connecting large numbers of people to work for a united cause was one of the organization’s original goals. “The way Life Remodeled came about is I’ve been living by this phrase that I want to be like Jesus, and one of the things I realized is that Jesus traveled to where the need was and met those needs,” Lambert said. “He invited all kinds of people to be a part of the experience. He didn’t do it by himself. We want to meet real needs of real communities, and we want to do it together with all different kinds of people.”
To accomplish these goals, Life Remodeled has formed relationships with local businesses, churches and organizations and gained support from a variety volunteers and donors. All labor is done by various unpaid installation and distributor contractors. The organization has partnered with Faith Works Michigan, Central Detroit Christian, HOPE, Handyman Ministries, Allied Building Products, Barton Malow, Carrier, Alco Products, R.A.M. Residential, Blaze Contracting, National Roofing and Sheet Metal, A & Z Commercial Roofing, Priest Construction, Cousins Roofing, Bulk King, Dr. Joe Canu, Quicken Loans, General Motors and Ford — just to name a few.
While there are quite a few areas in need throughout Metro Detroit, Life Remodeled aims to assist those that are already being proactive. “We look for areas where there is a lot of need, but also a lot of hope and families that are clearly in need, but also live lives of determination and hard work,” Lambert said. “Where are people already working and doing great things? We can come alongside, support them and be a catalyst so that their work can go to the next level.”
One Family, One Neighborhood
The most recent project took place July 29-Aug. 4 at 700 W. Philadelphia in Detroit. “Our heart is really tied directly to the city of Detroit right now,” Lambert explained. “Central Detroit Christian has been down there for 18 years developing that neighborhood. It was a perfect fit because there were already people on the ground that we could partner with. What really excited me was learning that there are a lot of these kinds of people in Detroit. When we come together and work together, pretty amazing things happen. There’s a lot of hope.”
In less than a week, Life Remodeled built one new house, renovated 36 existing homes, boarded up 253 vacant houses and beautified 65 blocks, which surpassed its original project goals. More than 5,250 volunteers from local businesses, churches and organizations came out to help. “God provided people and resources, and it got even bigger than we were imagining,” Morelli said.
“We provided one life-altering transformation per home minimum,” Lambert explained. “Everything from wheelchair ramps to eight roofing projects, four brand-new roofs and four major roof repairs. A lot of porches were redone, some electrical, some plumbing. We cleaned out alleys and cleared out tons of brush — all in six days. It was wild.”
R.A.M. Residential Inc. of Shelby Township, Mich., donated its services for the new build. “I was in a position where I wanted to help someone out. I felt that God had blessed me financially, and I wanted to share it with someone less fortunate,” Owner Roger McCauley said. “We put the roof on the new construction, and we did the cedar-shake re-roof/re-deck for the house next door. I also found out that they didn’t have enough money for the driveway, so I found someone to do that. You can’t do a nice, beautiful house without a driveway.”
“One of the most difficult roofs was right next to the new build. An elderly woman had been praying for a new roof for three years and had no way of knowing how she was going to get it. It was a big roof, and market cost would be $15 to $20 thousand,” Morelli explained. “R.A.M. came in with a full crew, and it took them about four days to completely tear it off and replace it. The home was built in the 1800s, so they had to tear off all shingles and all existing wooden shakes beneath the shingles, and put on a new deck.”
“Roger really has a heart to serve and to give back,” Morelli continued. “His crew was just very excited to be there. They wanted to be on site. When they left they were disappointed because they really enjoyed it. So many people were thanking them. In our business, that doesn’t happen a lot on a jobsite. You get a contract, you get paid, and you do your job. Roofing is not an easy trade, and they were happy to be a part of it.”
According to Lambert, the participation was overwhelming and inspiring. “People came from churches, nonprofits and businesses,” he said. “Quicken Loans brought 1,300 people. General Motors brought out 750 people, and Ford brought about 150. GM and Ford even worked on some renovations hand in hand, and one of the coolest things was that some of the neighbors started coming out and helping.”
“Allied Building Products supplied a substantial amount of materials for the builds. They are very instrumental in working with us. When you’re doing all this in six days, deliveries are important,” Morelli added. “Dinverno Group supplied the dumpsters for all roofing projects.”
When the project was completed, Life Remodeled wrapped up with a celebratory barbeque on the seventh day and presented the deserving family with the keys to its brand-new house.
The Big Picture
Life Remodeled is connecting people, building relationships and providing avenues and opportunities to give back. While every project is unique, each one has proven to be a rewarding, life-altering experience for everyone involved. “In life, the biggest asset we have is time, and you realize that as you start getting older. You look back at your life and say, ‘Have I really given 100 percent? If I haven’t, what can I do? What talents and abilities has God given me that I can use?'” Morelli explained. “I have better friends and better relationships with family because of this. I encourage everyone to do that in their lives. I’m living, not just existing.”
“I am blown away by the transformation that takes place in real communities for the neighborhood when a huge number of people put aside their differences to come together for an amazing, common cause,” Lambert said. “We all change and grow in a variety of different ways. To be a part of this — there’s nothing I would rather do.”
Life Remodeled is gearing up for its biggest and most exciting project yet, as the organization plans to remodel a Detroit public school in the summer of 2014. All contractors, volunteers and donations are welcome. For more information or to get involved, visit www.liferemodeled.com.