May 23, 2019  |  Detroit Housing Social Capital

Coming Home

by Jennifer Chatle, Manager of Operations and Growth, FII-Detroit

Jerushah and Jake were living in Alaska when they got the idea to relocate to Detroit with their eight children. Jerushah brought it up after reading an article about Detroit and the financial struggles it was facing: the bankruptcy, foreclosures, and the societal issues. She approached Jake with the idea of moving to Detroit to be a part of the revival, and to offer themselves as assets to the community.  Jake enjoyed working with young men and teaching them not only building and auto repair, but life skills and mentoring them too. When she told Jake, he showed her his bible where one evening several weeks before he’d written “Detroit” in the margin. They took it as a sign, and packed up the family with the intention of purchasing a home in a city they knew little about.

In Detroit, and many other urban areas of our country, we see examples of gentrification, commonly defined as the rebuilding of a deteriorating area accompanied by an influx of more affluent people often resulting in the displacement of earlier, less affluent residents. There is the idea that there will be a sort of trickle-down effect where the revitalized areas will eventually spread to the still bad neighborhoods. There is little evidence that this is the case. Gentrification tends to produce pockets of wealthier, safer areas while the surrounding areas remain depressed. Jerusha and Jake wanted to contribute to Detroit’s revitalization with their community mindset and carpentry chops.

As they settled into their new surroundings, they were invited by a friend to attend an orientation meeting at a third friends’ home to learn more about FII. They attended and were interested in joining a cohort. The resources that they could learn about and the connections they would develop was really the draw for them to join.  They were still learning their way around the city, discovering the organizations that were offering support to people rehabilitating old homes, and making connections for themselves and their children. The journal helped them to map out their plans and goals, help them create a budget, and hold themselves accountable. The stipends and other financial resources were definitely helpful. But there was something that proved even more beneficial.

The cohort that they joined with was made up of eight households. It was the women of the households that decided attend the monthly meetings. Jerushah has eight children whom she had always homeschooled. Their family of ten had been living in close quarters for several months, as they renovated their home. For the first cohort meeting, they met at the home of one of the members. The ladies sat around the living room and began to share a bit about themselves and some of what they hoped to accomplish, many of them still strangers to one another. It was a gathering of neighbors and acquaintances.

When it came time for Jerushah to share, tears began to well up in her eyes. In a broken voice, she said that she never takes time for just herself. She always has children with her, is always doing something for the family. This FII meeting was the first time in many years that she had taken time out for her.  Reflecting later on that first meeting Jerushah said it felt big and scary. It made her think of the enormity of what their family had set out to do. Taking that hour and a half once a month made her realize the lack of time that she had taken to focus on herself over the past many years. Being able to sit in a room with other women gave her a safe place to share her hopes and her struggles. She was able to be comfortable, real, raw. It let her step outside her duties as a wife, a mother, and a teacher to talk about her own self and her own dreams. Discussing these topics with the other women made her feel less alone as she discovered other parents were struggling with similar issues. One mother in the group was working to understand the behavioral challenges one of her sons was facing. By opening up and talking about her own son, Jerushah was able to gather resources and suggestions to help her with similar issues.  

The meetings had a positive impact on more than just Jerushah.  She was able to bring home to her family new resources for community events, recreational and educational opportunities, help with home renovations, and help with behavioral issues. She felt less burdened and lighter as she returned to her family.  She had new perspectives and she was able to be a better wife and mother as a result.

They lived at the pastor’s house, in their small camper for nine months until their property had the proper water and electricity infrastructure in place for them to move the camper and live on site, even if they were still not ready to move into the house itself.  At the time of this story, they have put a bathroom, kitchen and laundry into the basement. They have water, electric, and heat there. They have a dining area, and a small living space there. The kids do their school work there. They spend a lot of time in the basement while working on the first floor but are still sleeping in the camper in the back yard.  They have cleared the attic for a play space for the children. As the weather warms and rooms are finished, they will begin to move into the house for sleeping.

This family has found home here, in part because Jerushah and Jake moved to Detroit not to replace or fix the community but to become a part of it. They moved here in the spirit of service and cooperation not gentrification and dissolution. Jake works on local reconstruction projects, Jerushah and the children attend local community events, they have become friends with their neighbors, Jake mentors local young men.  By adding their strengths to the community, the sum total is greater and a benefit to all.

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