Blog - Rebuilding Together
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:
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
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!
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.
We know that it can get confusing with all the information needed to apply for our home repair program so we have compiled it all into one infographic for you to understand how our entire process works! Here is our process explained from start to finish in terms of what we need from you and what we will do after receiving everything from your end. As always if you have any questions about applying with us, please reach out to our office and we will gladly help you work through it.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the third Monday of every January. It is the only holiday we like to recognize as an “on” day rather than an off day. We are encouraged to get up, get out, and practice some kind of service or giving back to the community in order to honor the civil rights leader’s legacy. We, as AmeriCorps members, take this to heart each year and use this day to volunteer in the community in some way shape or form. Because of the unlikely circumstances this year with the pandemic, there aren’t as many opportunities to serve and many are finding it hard to find ways to celebrate MLK Day this year. We compiled a list of resources for you to learn more about the wonderful leader through articles, videos, webinars and volunteer opportunities that are available that day to attend if you are one of those looking to make MLK day a day of service.
“I Have a Dream Speech”:
May his legacy live on forever.
Home has a different meaning to everyone but generally the same connotation to all. It is meant to be a safe place. Rebuilding Together exists not only to repair homes and revitalize communities but the third piece is key – to rebuild lives. We believe that by fixing the exterior we can help to create a happier and healthier interior to turn a house into a home. Let’s see what ‘home’ means to our staff here at RTSEMI…
Lindsey Johnson: “I think there is a big reason we see such a difference in the words ‘house’ and home’. A house is a structure, a foundation, a roof over your head. And don’t get me wrong, everyone who has a house is already more blessed than many others. But a home is an entirely different thing. A home is your safe place. That can mean different things to different people – where your family is, where you were born and raised and made precious memories, where you are raising your kids. Home is the happy, peaceful state in which we live our lives.”
Aliza Durack: “I associate home with people, the people I love most in the world. My family, my friends, and the safety and comfort they provide. I don’t think “home” means a building or place people stay, I think it is a space inside ourselves that we hold for other people. The more space you are able to hold for the people you love, the larger your home is. You don’t need a building to have a home, I think you just need to have people you love, and people who love you. The capacity for love is great, and I think the more I recognize that, the more I realize that your home is just a reflection of the love you give to and receive from others”
Chris Perkins: “Fittingly for this time of year, when I think of home I picture the warmth and comfort associated with Christmas. Probably because “home” becomes more significant when contrasted against a cold, dreary Michigan winter. Home means protection against the elements and protection against whatever else life might throw at you. Home means safety, familiarity, and relaxation.”
Mike Hurst: “Home is a place of unconditional love.”
We hope everyone is staying safe through the rest of this hard year and we look forward to a bright future together in 2021! Happy Holidays!
In my undergraduate career, I found that I had a passion for helping people in sustainable ways. I found that working in the field of nonprofits was something I wanted to explore, and while searching for a job after graduation in 2020 had its challenges, the opportunities offered with an AmeriCorps term at Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan were unique and I was lucky to be afforded the opportunity to learn from the staff and homeowners in this program.
As this year winds down, I reflect on my term so far and I find myself feeling incredibly grateful to the staff who have cultivated an environment where we are encouraged to learn and try new things. I think one of the most important things you can do when you graduate college is to push yourself to learn new things and find what inspires you the most. I am lucky to work with and encounter people who support and want the best for this organization and it’s staff. Some of the most important lessons I have learned so far are from the homeowners we serve through our program. There is a distinct vulnerability that comes with understanding someone’s financial and emotional hardship, and I have learned that extending empathy to people is a skill in this line of work. It is something you can use to make each homeowner we serve more comfortable and accepting of the help we provide, and that is a very special thing.
As I think of all the conversations in the office, the phone calls to homeowners and strategizing about the organization and it’s goals for the new year, I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the experiences I have here. I recognize that as I speak with homeowners in Oakland county and am able to offer them an application for free home repairs, that is privilege. That privilege is something I will always be grateful for, and I will continue to extend empathy to those who deserve it most, and myself as I learn more about what inspires me most throughout my term. I find that I am learning more about the community I live in, and appreciate that I can see the world through not only my perspective, but the perspectives of those who need help. That is something I will always carry with me, and I know I will learn more about in the remainder of my term.
As the end of the year approaches and I am getting close to halfway through my AmeriCorps term, I took some time to reflect on what these past 5 months have looked like and how it has made me feel. Naturally, we are all struggling this year as we navigate together what it means to live in a pandemic. There have been many vast changes for all of us, myself included. With this being my second job of the year, it is easy to see the negatives that I have gone through – losing my last job, moving around, trying to find stability. But it is even easier to see the positives, all of which came from being offered the position of the AmeriCorps Wayne County Outreach Coordinator for Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan.
With every day and week looking completely different than the last, it requires you to be extremely flexible and willing to try new things. One week might be packed full of processing homeowner applications while the next is busy with event coordination and fundraising followed by blogging, social media upkeep and marketing. I would have had no idea there are so many different pieces to running a successful nonprofit and having the chance to work on each of them is so unique. I love the responsibility I feel of being part of a very small team and having such high standards to upkeep with the importance of our mission.
This experience thus far has put everything into a different perspective for me. I have a roof over my head and a home that protects my physical and emotional well being during this hard year – many do not. Rebuilding Together’s mission is “Repairing Homes, Revitalizing Communities, Rebuilding Lives.” I have had the pleasure of witnessing all three of these things happen in front of me. Having a hand in 6 different home repair projects as well as a large-scale park revitalization project with the recruitment of 150 new volunteers all in 5 months during a pandemic…that is powerful. If nothing else, this position has shown me that people have the natural desire to help other people. None of us have a ton of time, money or energy this year as we take on our own battles but somehow, I witness our nonprofit manage to keep running by the grace of every single donor and volunteer that keeps coming back to make sure others are being served.
I am new to Detroit, I’ve lived in 4 other cities and I haven’t experienced a community that is so strongly bonded like it is here. The vulnerability of the homeowners and families I get to work with is so incredible. I hope they know that their willingness to open up to us and ask for help is nothing short of inspiring and the reason I keep going each day. Between the wonderful team I work with daily and the volunteers I work with only once, the homeowners I meet and the ones I only speak with via email, every single one has had a hand in making my experience what it is. There isn’t a job in the world that is quite like it. These skills are translatable to any job you could want to move into after the term is over. Serving with AmeriCorps has taught me so much and I truly believe it is invaluable experience you won’t find anywhere else.
The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone struggling financially, and the pressure to provide gifts, and meals is certainly difficult anytime and especially this year. With so many families struggling, we did some research into organizations that may be able to help your family get through the holidays.
Lighthouse of Oakland County: 248-920-6060, www.lighthouseoakland.org
Services offered: Gifts for Seniors and “Adopt A Family Christmas Program”. Matches families with donors and then helps distributes donor gifts to adopted families in December. Also Thanksgiving meal items, baby, household and personal care items and medical equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers.
Rochester Area Neighborhood House: 248-651-5836, www.ranh.org
Services offered: Holiday Food Baskets, RANH’s Christmas Shopping Days program designates a time for those in need to select gifts for their children. These gifts are donated by the Rochester community specifically for this event.
South Oakland Shelter: 248-546-6566, http://sos1985.org/
Services offered: Provides shelter, meals and other services including holiday help to homeless men, women and children.
Open Door Outreach: 248-360-2930, http://www.opendooroutreachcenter.com
Services offered: Offers programs to assist low and moderate-income families during holidays and other special occasions who live in Waterford, White Lake, West Bloomfield, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Commerce, Walled Lake and parts of Wixom.
Troy People Concerned: 248-528-9199, http://www.tpchelps.org/
Services offered: Holiday baskets
Grace Centers of Hope: 248-334-2187, http://www.gracecentersofhope.org/
Services offered: Serving dinner to homeless and needy people at two seating’s, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the center. Women need to enter at the Perry Street entrance; the men’s entrance is on University.
Toys for Tots is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas.
Senior alliance holiday meals: https://thesenioralliance.org/
This program provides hot festive meals to homebound seniors age 60 & over OR disabled people
Detroit Area Agency on Aging: https://www.detroitseniorsolution.org/
Same as above program
Holiday Meals on Wheels: 313-446-4444
Lighthouse Ministry: 734-467-7540
Food boxes, holiday baskets, clothing
Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit and Wayne County: (586) 775-6139
Offers free holiday gift boxes, which include candy, warm clothing, free toys, books, games and more.
Detroit Lions Club: 313-272-3900
The non-profit gives back to the Wayne County and Oakland Community. Some holiday help, Christmas gifts or trees, parties, and other giveaway events may take place.
Free toys from USMC and charities: 586-205-0851
Children and infants from lower income families may be assisted; offer free gifts, clothing, winter attire, and more.
Many locations offer various seasonal holiday assistance
A message directly from The Mesothelioma Center, “Countless veterans are currently suffering from life-threatening illnesses that are a result of exposure to asbestos, a material that was commonly used in hundreds of military applications, products, and ships because of its resistance to fire. Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma even qualify for special benefits from the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs.”
As a part of the nonprofit community, we feel it is our duty to put out as many resources to people as we can when we find them. We recently came across an educational guide on Mesothelioma by The Mesothelioma Center and we felt it was a good resource to share. With veterans being one of the major populations we serve, this is an issue that directly affects a large part of this population.
Mesothelioma along with other illnesses can come from asbestos. Asbestos is ‘a group of six naturally occurring minerals composed of soft, flexible fibers that are heat-resistant.’ While asbestos is used in many military products, it can also be found inside your home in common household products as well as within the walls in the way the home was built. We have attached a link to a guide that helps explain where asbestos is most commonly found in the home, how to know if you may have it and what to do about it. This is not something to take lightly as it can lead to very serious illness. Please take the time to access these resources and as always reach out with any questions or concerns we may be able to help you with.
Link to locating asbestos in the home:
Link to Mesothelioma support:
First and foremost, Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan wants to say THANK YOU to all of our veterans who have selflessly served this country. Veterans are a huge portion of the population we seek to serve with home repair services. The least we can do is give back to those who gave so much to this country. We wanted to take a minute to show just how important it is to help get veterans connected to resources because of the increasing need without an increase in actual resources.
In a study conducted for best and worst cities in America for veterans to live, Detroit was ranked one of the worst. Detroit was given a failing score under many categories, ranking one of the worst places to find employment as well as with homelessness being one of the most prevalent issues. We landed in the top 5 cities with the most veterans living in poverty. The quality of veteran facilities was also scored very poorly. With over 600,000 veterans residing in our state, we need to do better.
In an effort to provide veterans with as many tangible resources as possible, we have compiled a list of websites below that provide different types of help for veterans facing financial instability.
We, of course, are here for you as well and would be happy to help answer questions about our own services at any time by emailing email@example.com. Again, we thank you for your service and Happy Veteran’s Day!
Our very first annual Healthy Housing Harvest Party event was a success! As the pandemic pushes all nonprofits to pivot their model of care, Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan’s staff and board did the same. In addition to doing individual homeowner projects this fall, we wanted to focus on revitalizing communities. We kick-started this effort by holding a park clean up event in Chandler Park of Detroit. With only a month to put the event together, we moved efficiently to partner with Chandler Park Conservancy. The central idea behind the event was to create larger and more engaged volunteer base for our organization, and be present in the community of Detroit during these tough times. While expanding our model of care, we also wanted to keep healthy homes at the forefront of our minds for this community, so we planned to have 150 safe and healthy home kits distributed to the homeowners in the area that same day.
Each kit included a fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, smoke detector, window insulation kit, damprid, ant traps, and a first aid kit. These items are essential to keeping a home safe and healthy. By providing the tools for people to keep their homes safe, without entering their homes ourselves, we were able to fulfill our mission of repairing homes, revitalizing communities, and rebuilding lives.
Being at the event itself provided a new, hopeful perspective for Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan. Seeing all the volunteers and community members at this event, wearing masks and social distanced throughout the park, and making such a significant impact in this community, reminded us of how much an organization can accomplish if it is willing to be creative in the hardest of times. Sometimes the toughest conditions can lead us to see the best in new things, and that can help to improve prior ideas and offer a new way forward.