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Massive Neighborhood Rehab Gives Detroiters A Much-Needed Boost


If you've been waiting for a little good news this week, here you go. One of the largest volunteer efforts in Detroit history is underway. More than 10,000 volunteers began renovating Detroit's Cody High School, along with about 100 surrounding city blocks. The effort was launched by a tiny non-profit called Life Remodeled. The group is tapping into a groundswell of goodwill following Detroit's plunge into bankruptcy. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has the story.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Block after block, teams of volunteers dressed in bright green T-shirts are swarming through the Cody Rouge neighborhood in northwest Detroit. Their mission is to transform the area and its largest school, Cody High. They're everywhere - boarding up abandoned homes, mowing, whacking weeds and repairing houses for families whose kids go to Cody. One of the volunteers takes a minute to appreciate his own hard work.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

SAMILTON: And other volunteer is Nancy Arnold. Arnold is a registered nurse who's lived in the Cody Rouge neighborhood most of her adult life.

NANCY ARNOLD: I'm excited about it. I am glad to see so many volunteers.

SAMILTON: Arnold's children all went to Cody High. She says, the outpouring of support is an example of the good in Detroit that outsiders rarely see.

ARNOLD: The changes will affect the neighborhood - the appearance of it and hopefully the pride that we have in the neighborhood.

SAMILTON: And has big hopes for the changes to Cody High, too. Landscaping and colorful murals will make the school look less like a prison. Inside, volunteers are building a new robotics lab and a new medical training lab. Then there's the football field.

Calvin Norman is the head football coach for the team, the Cody Comets.

CALVIN NORMAN: Field wasn't playable. I was worried about injuries.

SAMILTON: So for the past seven years, the Comets have played all their games on other schools' fields - even homecoming.

NORMAN: Sometimes when you have a game, you like to look up in the stands. And you see some of the teachers and some of the students supporting the program. We haven't really that in a good while.

SAMILTON: But come September, this team, which went to the state semi-finals last year, will play on a brand-new field with artificial turf and goalposts donated by the Detroit Lions.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This is the home ec. room. Yep.

SAMILTON: This gargantuan makeover has been in the works for more than a year. There were some last-minute additions, like the home economics room.

TAMMY POP: We were given a zero budget to do a face-lift.

SAMILTON: Tammy Pop is in charge of this part of the renovation. She says, there was no hot water in the kitchens, and the metal cupboards were rusting out.

POP: The teacher had two sets of pots and pans, so she would send them out for six kitchens.

SAMILTON: So that face-lift turned into a complete rebuild. Total cash donations for the entire Cody Rouge makeover came to $850,000. Volunteers and materials came from 29 churches, dozens of nonprofits and more than 100 companies, including General Motors, which gave 3,000 employees paid time off to participate. Organizing them all is Chris Lambert. He's CEO of the nonprofit Life Remodeled. He says, people in Detroit and its suburbs are eager to make a difference.

CHRIS LAMBERT: It's not just going to be something where - all right, we're going to do this good work. And then, you know, next year we're going to come back and it's going to be the same way that it was.

SAMILTON: So when the 1,200 students of Cody High return to school in a few weeks, they won't just see colorful murals, new labs and the football field. They'll see many of the same volunteers still engaged at the school, making sure the change is lasting. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.

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