Visual Impact Systems Helps “Life Remodeled,” Pro Bono, With Final Six-Day Project Around Cooley High School
We spent an entire week (October 2-7, 2023) in Detroit—specifically in the Cooley High School area—to help, pro bono, the non-profit Life Remodeled with executing their planned week-long project to “remodel” the surrounding neighborhood. We were responsible for some graphic design and capturing the project photographically. Most of the graphics work was done before the ‘project week’, and most of the photography was done during the week-long ‘campaign’.
Their 2023 “Six-Day Project“ focused on clearing blight from vacant properties and beautifying many of the homes in almost 300 city blocks around the school. All of this happened with an army of 4,500 volunteers from businesses, churches, and other nonprofit organizations.
COOLEY HIGH SCHOOL/NEIGHBORHOOD
In December 2020, Life Remodeled publicly announced their intent to transform the Cooley High School into their next “Opportunity Hub.” After nearly two years of listening and sharing, they have heard clearly what many Cooley residents desire to be done with the High School. After that, they received invitations from hundreds of Cooley residents and alumni—indicating strong unity in the community—who are ready for Life Remodeled to join the Cooley Community in a ‘partnership’.
Life Remodeled received survey responses and petition signatures from more than 1,000 Cooley residents and alumni, and more than 30 letters of support from key Cooley community leaders and several of Detroit’s most influential civic leaders, who say they are ready for Life Remodeled to begin the repurposing Additionally, Life Remodeled has signed Letter Of Intent agreements with nine dynamic organizations who have committed to lease more than 80% of the building and deliver impactful opportunities directly requested by Cooley community members.
It was Life Remodeled’s goal to ‘transform’ Cooley High School into an “Opportunity Hub” for Detroiters of ALL ages—just as they had done at their current ‘hub’, the Durfee Innovation Society, but would adapt to the ideas, hopes, and dreams of Cooley community residents and alumni.
[ Life Remodeled’s Proposed ‘Transformation’ of Cooley High School ]
HOWEVER, ‘SADLY’ after months of discussions with the “Detroit Public School Community District” (DPSCD), on March 8, 2023, Life Remodeled’s two offers were unfortunately, and remarkably rejected, despite fervent pleas from neighbors and Cooley alumni. As a result, this formerly grand building will continue to be in a state of decay for the foreseeable future rather than becoming what the School Board’s constituents have enthusiastically stated they have wanted—for more than a decade—to become.
Even though Life Remodeled had SADLY ‘walked away’ from doing their proposed ‘Hub of Opportunity’ in the Cooley High School neighborhood, they still wanted to bless the neighborhood they had grown to love. So, they honored their commitment to the community and went ahead with the “Six Day Project” they had previously planned for the neighborhood.
So, during the first week of October 2023 (October 2-7), Life Remodeled brought together over 4,300 volunteers from businesses, churches, and other community groups to focus on removing blight on vacant properties, beautify 293 city blocks—that directly affected at least 500 neighborhood homes—and distribute 1,000 Mum plants to homes in the neighborhood.
The Six Day Project primarily focused on a two-square-mile area south of Puritan Avenue, east of Greenfield Road, west of Wyoming Road, and North of Grand River Avenue and Jeffries Service Drive. [ Note: Some volunteer groups also worked on some small ‘projects’ in the city’s Denby neighborhood, on the east side, where Life Remodeled had just announced plans—just a few weeks earlier—to repurpose its second opportunity hub in a former school building. (More about that below.) ]
Chris Lambert, CEO and founder of Life Remodeled, said that “We appreciate the support of so many business and community group volunteers from across Metro Detroit as we celebrate our relationships with neighborhoods who want to benefit from our hubs of opportunity. We are happy to be back one more time in the great Cooley neighborhood. We had hoped to create a permanent hub here and will always value the trust that residents have shown in Life Remodeled.”
The “Presenting Partner” for the project, Amazon, contributed $100,000 toward Life Remodeled’s mission, in addition to sending many volunteers. Ian Conyers, Head of Community Engagement at Amazon, said that “There is no better partner when it comes to wellness and neighborhood revitalization, and Amazon is excited to be partnering with them as the presenting sponsor of the Six Day Project and providing hundreds of volunteers who will be investing their time this week beautifying the Cooley neighborhood.”
Other major corporate support came from companies that had been supporting Life Remodeled for many years: BASF, Cummins, General Motors, Masco, L&L Products, Rocket Mortgage, and Taubman.
The following photos show a few select typical ‘activities’ that happened during Life Remodeled’s 2023 Six Day Project:
[ Life Remodeled’s Six Day Project Partners ]
[ Going Out Into The Neighborhoods ]
[ Getting Instructions ]
[ Removing Trash ]
[ Beautification ]
[ Beautification ]
[ Mowing Large Empty Lots ]
[ Mowing Lawns ]
[ Removing Dangerous Trees ]
[ Distributing Mum Plants ]
[ Detroit Police Kept Volunteers Safe ]
[ Cleaning Up All The Trash ]
[ Over 4,300 Volunteers Did A Great Job ]
[ They Caught Me Taking Pics Of A Volunteer Hydrating (Absopure supplied all the water for the Project.) ]
[ NOTE: To see many more pics of the volunteers, click on the following link to see more than 4,800 pics:
WILL NOT ‘GIVE UP’!
Life Remodeled’s mission to provide life-transforming opportunities to children and families in Detroit by creating one-stop-hubs of opportunity designed solely around their priorities remained a ‘focus’ after their rejected final offer for the Cooley High School property—and an opportunity ‘fell into their lap’ just a few months after that!
They announced plans to acquire a 7.55-acre site in the Denby neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, which had been the site of the “Winans Academy of Performing Arts” (previously the home of the “Dominican High School” from 1940 to 2005).
The building, located at 9740 McKinney Street, offers more than 87,000 square feet, including more than 50,000 square feet that will be leased by Life
Remodeled’s nonprofit partners to bring afterschool youth programs, workforce development initiatives and health and wellness resources to the Denby community.
FROM SADNESS TO ‘JOY’!
At their on-site press conference—on July 11, 2023—Life Remodeled’s founder and CEO, Chris Lambert said that “Denby is the ideal location for our first hub on the east side. It is a neighborhood that is engaged, invested and close to the heart and soul of Life Remodeled. In 2016, we partnered with students and community leaders for one year to work toward revitalization together. This new hub will continue that commitment in ways that will make a broader and deeper impact for the long-term.”
[ VIDEO: Life Remodeled Press Conference Announcing Purchase of the Marvin Winans Academy of Performing Arts (11 JUL 23) ]
The thing is, this is kind of a ‘homecoming’, since Life Remodeled partnered with the Denby community in 2016 to bring to life a vision of a park next door to the Denby High School. They worked with Denby High School students to enhance Skinner Park and volunteers removed blight on 303 blocks and boarded up 362 vacant houses.
[ FYI: For more details about the original Six-Day Project Life Remodeled did in the Denby neighborhood, view this previous post: https://visualimpactsystems.com/visual-impact-systems-helps-life-remodeled-pro-bono-denby-project/ ]
Life Remodeled has said that it is eager to serve alongside the Denby community so it will thrive and benefit more Detroiters—as it has in the Durfee Innovation Society—where more than 22,000 residents take part in programs every year. Residents of Denby’s zip code, 48224, are challenged with significant poverty and lack access to opportunities related to educational attainment, job opportunities and health and wellness resources. Collaboratively, Life Remodeled and the Denby community aim to foster an environment that genuinely transforms the lives of Detroit’s children and families through this equitable and sustainable development project.
Lambert said that Life Remodeled is honored to pick up the ‘baton’ and help move the neighborhood forward just like they did in the Central High School neighborhood with the Durfee Innovation Society (DIS): “The Winans reached out to us when they found out about our model and they said, that’s the kind of legacy we want to continue with this building. And so, we were very, very honored to be invited into this incredible space.”
Lambert added that “When the Winans Academy asked us to consider repurposing their building, the Denby Neighborhood Alliance leaders told us loud and clear that they wanted to partner with us to turn this beautiful school building into a hub of opportunity similar to our Durfee Innovation Society. We are inspired and encouraged to move forward.”
The Marvin Winans Academy of Performing Arts, which closed its doors after this past school year, was a kindergarten through eighth grade public charter school with a specialized performing arts curriculum and traditional academic coursework that follows Michigan Department of Education standards. Founded in 1997 by Detroit native, Grammy Award- winning Gospel singer and actor Marvin Winans, the school offers courses in orchestral and contemporary music, voice, dance, drama and art. The school produces a yearly winter and spring concert. Students have traveled and performed nationally and internationally, winning first place at Walt Disney World and Cedar Point Music in the Park competitions. Marvin Winans Academy is located on two campuses—a kindergarten through fifth grade campus and a nearby sixth through eighth campus.
Lambert said that he is proud of the Winans Academy’s work and the building’s historic roots: “So for us to be able to fall in that tradition of two institutions that were really beacons of hope for academy, athletic and social advancement, and we carry that on now by making those opportunities available, not only for children but for residents of all ages.”
Lambert continued saying, “Our three specialties have always been youth programs, health and human services, and workforce development. And those are actually the top three things that the Denby Neighborhood Alliance said they want in this space.”
The moment was bittersweet for Pastor Marvin Winans of Perfecting Church Detroit said that “It is sad because we had plans to be here forever. We’ve been a school for over 25 years and this was a difficult decision to make, but it was necessary. But we still have Rutherford Winans Academy on the west side.”
Now, while the academy kept the building in good condition, Life Remodeled is planning to do a bit of renovation and updating. There is no opening date for the hub yet, but Life Remodeled plans to have the facility reach near full capacity by the end of 2025. The building is more than 87,000 square feet and at least 50,000 square feet is expected to be leased by nonprofit partners.
Plans for the new hub include a significant presence for arts and culture programs, to continue the tradition of the Winans Academy and also to build upon neighborhood priorities for those programs, supporting the development of the Whittier Corridor as a destination for art and technology.
Sandra Turner-Handy, the president of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance, said during the press conference, “Thank you, Life Remodeled for coming back to support the work of transforming our community through raising the quality of life for our residents. The residents and businesses are invested in continuing the amazing work started with Life Remodeled years ago. We are honored to welcome and continue to support through actively working with Life Remodeled in planning and designing what will become a vital and much-needed resource space in our community.”
Pastor Marvin Winans said that “We are happy for the acquaintance of Life Remodeled and excited for what they will add to our community with momentum and focus on children, families, and culture. We are confident the community will welcome them.”
“This is huge for Whittier and for the Denby (Neighborhood) Alliance,” Kenzie Current, a business liaison for the city’s District 4 said during a building tour after the formal press conference ended. “It’s a lot of great things coming this way and I’m excited to have been a part of such a passionate community and business community.”
One of the residents in attendance for the press conference was Norma Danzie, a 69-year-old member of the Denby alliance, who has lived in the community for the past 25 years. Danzie said she worked with Life Remodeled in 2016 and is glad to have them back in the neighborhood: “When they were at Durfee, they remodeled and did all kinds of things with that building. The kids in this neighborhood really need a place that’s close. We don’t have a recreation center in this immediate area and I’m hoping that there’ll be chances for them to get into different activities and keep them busy and occupied.”
Alonzo Marable, 56, who has also worked with Life Remodeled in the past— volunteering with cleanup projects in Cody Rogue, Denby, Osborn, and Durfee, grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Denby High School. He commented that “I’ve seen the work that they’ve done and I believe in them.”
At the end of the conference, Lambert said that “We want to make sure we get it right, based on the continued feedback we are receiving from the community.” Life Remodeled said that they want to coordinate with the vision for the Denby Neighborhood Alliance: “Serving the community with health, human services, and workforce development.”
The neighborhood hub will be similar to Life Remodeled’s “Durfee Innovation Society” on the west side, offering after-school programs, community resources, and health services. Life Remodeled said that they will also continue the tradition of the Winans Academy by providing arts and culture programming.
Life Remodeled will raise funds via philanthropy to complete the needed work on the building and property, but has not yet finalized financial requirements. This project will create life-transforming access to educational youth programs, workforce development initiatives, health and wellness services, and more.
NOTE: Lippert and MASCO started cleaning up the Winans property during the Six-Day Project in the Cooley High School neighborhood:
MEDIA COVERAGE OF 2023 SIX-DAY PROJECT
Lastly, check out some of the media coverage that Life Remodeled received during the Six-Day Project in the Cooley neighborhood:
[ Life Remodeled 2023 Six-Day Project Kick-off Together w/ Amazon ]
[ Life Remodeled 2023 Six-Day Project / FOX 2 Detroit ]
[ Life Remodeled 2023 Six-Day Project / WDIV Channel 4 ]
[ Life Remodeled 2023 Six-Day Project / WXYZ Channel 7 Detroit ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 Sponsor – Amazon ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 Sponsor – GM ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 Sponsor – BASF ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 Sponsor – Cummins ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 Sponsor – L&L Products ]
[ Six Day Project 2023 – RECAP ]
As part of their commitment to inclusive community engagement, Life Remodeled had a campaign to name the new building, and “Anchor Detroit” was the winner.
Life Remodeled is planning to double the building footprint—to 90,000 square feet—and more than 59,000 square feet of that will be leased by nonprofit partners to bring afterschool youth programs, workforce development initiatives and health and wellness resources to the community. Included in the buildout will be a 26,000 square foot new addition that will feature programming for emerging technology exposure and digital literacy, with a focus on coding and AI education for entire families. Life Remodeled’s CEO, Chris Lambert, said that “Renovating place and space inspires me, because of the thousands of students and community members whose lives will improve significantly as a result of access to transformative opportunities.”
Life Remodeled commented that the “Anchor Detroit” name represents the stability, resilience, hope, and strength for the surrounding neighborhoods, while the one-stop ‘hub of opportunity’ will allow Detroiters of all ages to grow and thrive for years to come.
[ Life Remodeled – Anchor Detroit Project – Proposed Construction ]
OUR DESIGN SERVICES
The following are a few examples of the graphic design work we provided for the last Cooley project:
[ NOTE: See more than 4,800 pics of the volunteers and what they did on the Six-Day Project here:
PREVIOUS PROJECT (Central H.S./Durfee)
The following links are for more information about the previous project Life Remodeled just finished (Central/Durfee project in Detroit, Michigan) and continue to develop:
NEWS and MEDIA COVERAGE
Here is a video that WXYZ (Detroit) did about Life Remodeled:
Take a tour of the Durfee Innovation Society (DIS):
SO, how does the Durfee Innovation Society ‘measure up’? Well, click here for some statistics.
Paul W Smith interview with Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert:
CW50 feature about Life Remodeled’s”Lean on We” campaign:
Summary video of the 2021 Six-Day Project:
So, if you are also interested in more information or supporting this great non-profit, contact Mark Besh at Visual Impact Systems (248-548-7000), or click the link below to be taken to Life Remodeled’s website.