March 2021

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Get to Know our Neighbors: CARES in Farmington Hills

I recently connected with Todd Lipa, executive director of CARES, a nonprofit next door to Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan. Todd shared his story of how he began his work with CARES, what that work means to him, and where he and his staff hope for CARES to go in the future. We are incredibly lucky to work next to such a dedicated group, that has been and will continue to help the community with the leadership of Mr. Lipa. Read more below to learn about this organization, and the work they do in Farmington Hills! 

How did you come to your work at CARES and how long have you been working there?

“In 1995, I became the Youth and Family Services Director for the City of Farmington Hills. Over the years, we had families using the food pantry housed in the former Catholic Church of St. Alexander’s in Farmington Hills. When I heard it was closing in December of 2014, myself and others knew we had to do something to keep this much-needed resource available to the families of our communities. At the time, the church was serving between 125 to 150 families.

The team we put together made an offer to the Archdiocese to purchase the entire 10.5 acres and the three buildings on the property. It took until July of 2017 for the Archdiocese to accept our offer.

From the very beginning in 2014, I know we had to save this property and all it gave to the community. As a young man, this was the church I grew up in. It was the church that at times supported my own family when times were tough.”

What does CARES primarily do? 

“I remember when we first started to develop CARES in Farmington Hills, and the families would come in and wait to receive their food for their family. It was a “come in and get a box of food pantry” in the beginning. By September of 2018, we had decided to change to a self-serve pantry. The grocery pantry and our guests picking their own food was a game changer for our families.

After switching to our self-serve style pantry, our number of families grew to 400-plus families monthly during COVID-19. Unfortunately, we have had to change to a drive-through distribution, and we saw our number of families grow to over 500-plus families a month. With job loss, businesses closed for weeks at a time and families falling on hard times, I was honored to have CARES up and ready to serve our hungry neighbors.”

What do you find most meaningful about working with CARES? 

“What inspired in the beginning is what still inspires today, and that is knowing that we can be there for an individual or family that may have fallen on hard times. We never truly know when life could make a turn that we might not be prepared for. I would hope that if life turned upside down for me someone would be there to lift me up. 

I am excited and encouraged to breathe life into CARES in Farmington Hills every day. The people I work with, the guests we are blessed to serve and those that we will serve in the future are a part of our human family. It is an amazing inspiration every day we can encourage and breathe life into those we come across if we are willing to do so. Kindness Compassion and Caring is the gift that is so easy to share.”

How has COVID impacted the work you have done?

“I will never forget March 13, 2020. Life as we knew it changed for each one of us – from our youngest to our oldest. At CARES in Farmington Hills, we witnessed things I never thought we would see in my lifetime.

In March of 2020 many plans for CARES changed and new plans started so we could be ready to serve close to 800 families and those families that would join CARES. Over the next months we would begin to serve upwards of 1200 families through our distributions and special food drive through with our partners. We are now serving over 500 per month.

The negative that we all witnessed was how many families were hit by this pandemic and how life changed for all of us almost overnight.

Out of a negative you always need to work to find the positives, and we did just that at CARES. Food vender’s from all over Metro Detroit made food donations to us. Thousands of pounds of food came to us, refrigeration and freezer trucks loaded with food were dropped off, produce suppliers donated goods, and individuals, companies, community organizations, faith groups, and businesses large and small made contributions to support families.

It was and has been an amazing experience to see just how great people truly are. As people we need each other, it is times like we have all had to live through that should remind us what is important in life.

Covid-19 impacted so many people in so many ways. I have not spoken with anyone that was not impacted in some way. We still are serving many families at CARES, and we do not think that will change much in the next months. All of us will be ready to make changes as needed as we go forward.

The future changed quickly because it needed to. CARES now has the first Food Market open to the public based in the same building as a free pantry. We are also the first to open the market with a focus on those that hold a government issued Bridge Card. Our Bridge Card guests receive a discount on their purchased items and can also earn give away items they cannot buy with their card. The real beauty of our market is all the proceeds go right back into our nonprofit to support our free pantry.”

What are you most excited for in the future of CARES?

“We all believe that the future will be bright for CARES in Farmington. We still believe that our “Campus of Hope” will grow and be a vital piece to our communities. It is due to the amazing partners we have on our campus. Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan is one of them. Having them as a partner allows us to send individuals and families across our campus to receive the support they may need. ANOTHER Day RESOUCE is another wonderful partner. They go out to the streets and give from their hearts what people need. It all starts here on the campus where their offices are. We have gone from one recovery program on our property to now having three. We feel this will grow as it becomes safer to do so. Other partners that we look forward to welcoming back when it is safe are WIC (Women Infants and Children), our Veterans from Oakland and Wayne Counties that are here to answer important questions and our veterans and their families.

We also have plans on expanding our Campus of Hope to soon include a couple offices that will support families when they come in need of services outside of food. We are working with a partner on a Health Clinic, a gym so our local communities can have a place to enjoy indoors, a community/education center is on the plan to support CARES in holding meetings and education programs, a walking track is in the making so we have a safe place for everyone to walk, a couple new gardens will be coming this spring and our baseball field is being refurbished later this spring / early summer.

We look forward to being a Campus of Hope to all. As I have learned myself over the past for years as I have been blessed to be the Executive Director of CARES in Farmington Hills, it’s not only those that may need a little support at times that appreciate CARES, but many others do also. I have witnessed donors, volunteers, community members, neighbors, large and small businesses and many others loving and enjoying our campus. It truly is becoming a place of hope where everyone is made to feel welcome no matter the reason you walk on to our amazing 10.5 acres. ”

If you would like to learn more about and connect with CARES in Farmington Hills, find there website and phone number here:

248-231-8493

www.caresfh.org

 

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A Peek Into National Rebuilding Day 2021!

You’re invited!

Who: Bring yourself and your friends to hang with our team at Rebuilding Together Southeast MI!

What: National Rebuilding Day 2021!

When: Saturday April 24th, 2021 8:30am-12pm

Where: Heritage Park in Farmington Hills

Why:

National Rebuilding Day is the largest and most participated event for Rebuilding Together affiliates nationwide. In a normal year, all across the country, affiliates will have volunteer projects going all day to help repair the homes in their cities. We all know that this past year has made everything look a lot different. In light of that, we wanted to give a quick peek into what our affiliate has planned for NRD 2021! One of the major changes we decided to make in order to keep our homeowners, volunteers and staff safe is to keep all home repair projects to exterior work. There is still plenty to be done in the exterior of the home in order to keep you safe inside of it! These projects could be anything like tree trimming, fixing fences, painting, address plaque replacement, fixing low grading, yard work, etc.

The second component to this day will be a park revitalization project in Farmington Hills! We have partnered with Heritage Park to host a half day clean up event for volunteers to participate in. If you caught a glimpse of what our Healthy Housing Harvest Party looked like in the fall, you will have a great idea of what to expect for this as well! There will be many projects going on throughout the park that will include building changing stalls for the splash pad, planting trees, weeding and gardening, picking up trash, etc.

The third component, that will take place at the same park, is a safe and healthy home kit distribution. This is also similar to the one that took place in Detroit last fall. With a combination of donations and purchases, we put together kits that include a fire extinguisher, smoke and CO detectors, first aid kit, Damprid, window insulation kit, hand sanitizer and wipes. This way, even though we can’t get inside of homes this year to help with repairs, we can still provide materials for homeowners to use. There will be a drive through area at the park where homeowners who want to pick up a kit can pull up, we will take down their contact information, put a kit in their car and send them on their way – a completely contactless process to keep everyone distanced and safe!

If any of this has sparked your interest, we are still looking for volunteers to sign up and help out in many different ways! Click the link below to register. Don’t forget, masks will be required to be worn the entire day. We will have extras in case you forget yours! We look forward to meeting you there!

https://rebuildingtogethersem.secure.force.com/GW_Volunteers__PersonalSiteJobListing?Calendar=1&volunteerShiftId=a0V2M00000Esy8ZUAR&jobId=a0T2M00000SHktWUAT&dtMonthFilter=2021-4-24%208:30:0&Language=en-us&nMonthsToShow=1

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National Women’s History Month: Spotlight on Darlene Oleksik

March is National Women’s History Month and on top of that the second week of the month is National Women in Construction Week! We wanted to celebrate some of the amazing women we know by featuring them on our social media, in our newsletter, website, blog posts, etc. Our first feature is a board member of ours, Darlene Oleksik! We asked Darlene a few questions so everyone could get to know her a little. Here is what she said:

1. Tell us a bit more about your relationship with RTSEMI and Eaton working together, how you first heard about RTSEMI, etc.

“I have been involved with RTSEMI since 2008 and led the annual “Days of Caring” with the Eaton employees of the Southfield campus as community volunteer activities. It is part of Eaton’s mission to give back to the communities in which we live and work. RTSEMI had reached out to our HR lead and she asked me for assistance as the marketing communications lead on site. We all met and thought it would be a great fit for us both! Over the years, we have grown our events from individual homeowners to large community activities like community center and public park rehabilitation.”
2.       What is most meaningful to you personally about the work you do and have done with RTSEMI? If you have any personal anecdotes about any projects you have done, please feel free to share them with us! 
“I am never more proud of working for Eaton than when it comes to our annual Days of Caring. We moved our work days from a weekend activity to the work week. The employees of the Southfield campus show up in force for these work days and our leaders actively encourage this. It is a true volunteer activity, Eaton giving time for our employees to give back. Prior to my time at Eaton, I worked in the non-profit sector, so I know how important volunteer support is to making a difference. I am so proud to lead this activity year after year and have such significant employee commitment as well.
As far as anecdotes go, where to start? Each event has something special… The first year, the homeowners were an elderly couple. The lady made us brownies and cried with joy while the gentleman, a retired navy man,  “supervised” our crew the entire day. What a stitch! The second year, it happened to be the homeowner’s 82nd birthday on our workday. We went got her a cake and had the whole volunteer crew sing “Happy Birthday. ”We were all touched… not a dry eye in the place! We have a large number of engineers at our campus. Over the years these folks have used lasers to precisely align the trees planted in parks; taken wood planks for plant beds or park benches/steps back to our facility so they could use power tools to rebuild these features properly. Dedication from their profession and to the cause! We also helped rehabilitate a community center one year. Not only did we work on the facility with paint and repairs, we provided office chairs and desks for their computer lab, collected funds for new lockers and sports equipment for their summer camps. Tons of work done at city parks around Southfield and when I have been out and about wearing Eaton gear, people have commented “You are the company that fixed the parks.” So many wonderful memories come to mind from each and every event throughout the years.”
3.       What made you want to come on as a board member for RTSEMI? 
“RTSEMI has done great work over the years and they are expanding the area and people they serve. The passion and commitment among the board, staff and volunteers is inspiring! I want to make a more significant contribution to RTSEMI and their efforts to improving the community, more than the annual Days of Caring activity.”

 

We are so thankful for the work Darlene does for us and the partnership we have with Eaton.

rebuilding-together-southeast-michigan

Address

27840 Independence Street

Farmington Hills, MI 48336

Phone

Oakland County : 248-482-8061

Wayne County :  313-766-4010

Office@RTsemi.org 

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