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Remaking Detroit’s neighborhoods, one school building at a time

By: Daniel Cherrin

Chris Lambert left for college wanting to go to law school and eventually go into real estate. He ultimately became a pastor and started Life Remodeled (Est. 2010), a Detroit-based nonprofit that rebuilds neighborhoods by:

  • Remodeling a community asset;
  • Repairing owner-occupied homes; and,
  • Mobilizing volunteers to clean the neighborhood.

They are currently working on their most ambitious project to date – Durfey Middle School

Lambert’s organization was inspired by the DIY reality show, Extreme Home Make-over.  In 2011, Life Remodeled completed their first project in Westland, Mich.. They built their first house in six-days for a low income family.  They did not stop there. They provided the family with financial literacy and training to help them get back on their feet. Lambert also provided a psychologist to deal with any emotional and social issues and offered them spiritual guidance if they wanted it.

While that home was successfully constructed, Lambert and his team realized they were not building goodwill in the community by giving only one person on that block a brand new home. So they narrowed their scope and in 2013 they started focusing on neighborhoods located within Detroit’s city limits.

Lambert and his team also stopped building new houses and decided to do something that would benefit everyone — They found abandoned schools and not only remodeled and repurposed that school, they cleaned up the neighborhood and parks around that school.

In August, 2014, Life Remodeled completed a $5.5 million renovation of Cody High School. This included, remodeling the building’s interior, enhancing the athletic field and substantially adding value to their academic program. In 2015, they went on to Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood and made substantial improvements there as well, including Osborne High School.

Now Life Remodeled is transforming Durfey Middle School into a mixed use development and innovation center, complete with a remodeled interior, brand new gym and a co-working space. He expects his first set of tenants to move in in December, 2017. Tenants include:

  • Southwest Solutions providing early childhood education and Head Start Services;
  • Quality Designed Services will train students to program assembly line robots;
  • Tormino Pizza will train students in how to prepare food and also owning your own franchise; and,
  • Beyond Basic will help teach children how to read.

They will also have a co-working space, for nonprofits or for profits with a social agenda, such as Gingrass Global, a third party administrator for impact investing capital programs, funds, and investors.

The projects from Life Remodeled are funded through grants, corporate support and donations. To complete the Dufey project they are hosting a Crowdwise campaign. They ae also looking for volunteers, who want hands on experience in rebuilding a neighborhood, one school at a time.


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