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Start-up incubator, pizza shop to bring vacant Detroit school back to life

Mar 23, 2017

The Next Idea

 

As goes a school, so goes the neighborhood.

 

That’s the idea behind a new project by the group Life Remodeled, said founder and CEO Chris Lambert. Life Remodeled is a non-profit organization that invests about $5 million in a Detroit neighborhood project every year. This year’s project: turn the former Durfee Elementary and Middle School into a “community innovation center.”

Durfee school, site of planned innovation center
Credit Courtesy of Chris Lambert

The project really started with the principal of Detroit’s Central High School, Lambert said. The students from next-door Durfee were about to be moved into the Central High building, creating one big K-12 school. What if the old Durfee school could transform into something that would help educate all those students?

That’s where Life Remodeled comes in. The organization is working to recruit tenants that will offer educational opportunities and small businesses inside the Durfee building. Tenants are selected based on their commitments to three core values: entrepreneurism, education and community. To this end, Life Remodeled is hoping to rent space to some innovative players.

One example: an entire miniature city, run by the educational organization Junior Achievement, in which kids will learn about civic government and business. Another: a group called the Empowerment Plan, which makes coats that turn into sleeping bags for homeless folks, and hires women from shelters to sew them. Groups like this will expose young people to innovation and opportunity, teaching them these skills in a hands-on environment.

The innovation center project, in partnership with Detroit Public Schools, aims to “deliver for the kids.” At the same time, they are working to lift up the entire community. When Lambert asks community members what they most need, “job creation is the number one request.” So plans are in the works to offer office space, free legal, marketing and accounting training – even some initial capital – for people of any age who want to start a business.

Life Remodeled works through collaboration, Lambert said.

 

“What we’re good at is finding out what are the needs, and who can help meet those needs,” he said, describing his organization as “a bridge.”

 

He wants to help the community meet its goals, and find the partners who are willing to help.

Life Remodeled hopes that transforming Durfee will ultimately transform the entire neighborhood, both today and for Detroit’s next generation.

Check out Life Remodeled's video about the project, and listen to the interview with founder and CEO Chris Lambert below.


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