Help Local 4's Katrina Hancock clean up Detroit

Volunteers to scour east side neighborhood Saturday

Published On: Jun 07 2012 06:18:40 PM EDT   Updated On: Jun 09 2012 07:53:03 AM EDT

"Clean up the D Day" will be Saturday, June 9, at the corner of JoAnn and Tacoma.

March 23, 2012 my life changed for the better when I met Shirley Jagoda and her husband Gerald who were living, at the time, at 19941 Goulburn on Detroit's east side. Shirley had written a letter to Detroit Council Member Ken Cockrel expressing her displeasure with the way the neighborhood had been rundown since moving to that home in 1971. Shirley and Gerald's home had been broken into several times and her faith in the community was obviously shaken. When she realized that nothing would be changing, she and her husband decided to sell their home in Detroit for less than what they bought it for, buy a condo in Warren, and leave the City of Detroit for good.

READ: Detroit couple says far, disappointment forcing them to move

On that day, Shirley gave me a tour of the neighborhood. I couldn't believe my eyes. The tragedy of foreclosure had engulfed the community for miles. There were more vacant homes than occupied. At the corner of JoAnn and Tacoma the block was uninhabited. All I saw was vacant home after vacant home. There were tires everywhere, trashed dumped in, on, and around each home. Grass was growing higher than my knee caps with no end to the mess in sight.

READ: Detroit neighborhood still littered with trash

While editing the first story that day, people living around that intersection approached our live truck and asked me what was going to be done. I didn't know. I made calls to the City of Detroit. I spoke to Ken Cockrel and a couple of people working for the City. Their answers to me were that they planned on coming out the next Monday and surveying the scene. They did go look at it and some tires were eventually hauled away, but that was it.

May 16th would be my next time visiting the area. I was not surprised to find the same trash, more abandoned homes, trees on front porches, a park that hadn't been touched or played in for months, still there screaming for help. No one had done anything. I was furious. I was hurt. I wanted the City and the County to do more, but in reality I got the same answer from both. Money was not there to help. Budget cuts were the reason that the parks, neighborhoods, and communities were all falling apart. They told me that in order for the problem to be fixed, the community needed to come together and fix it. But who would do something like this? Who would take on a project of this magnitude? Who could come into this neighborhood and help these people? I could. A tall, Caucasian, reporter from Kansas, who's lived in Wayne County for 5 1/2 years, who's grown to love this City, and who wants to see children grow up in a safe environment.

So I got on the phone. I called strangers. I called friends. I called everyone I could think of that could have a hand in this project. One of my friends, Joanne Gerstner who used to write for the Detroit News, encouraged me to contact someone who'd done a similar project on the east side in his old neighborhood and a demolition company. Both contacts panned out and both were able to help. Richard Adamo from Adamo Group immediately said that he would send a crew out to demolish homes whenever we could come up with a day to do it. I had no idea this would be the first drop in the bucket that was about to overflow.

My next step was to reach out to schools and to see if students would be able to participate in something like this. Realizing that the school year would be ending by mid-June, I wanted a date just before summer started so that they would be able to participate in the clean up. I picked June 9th and came up with "Clean up the "D" Day as the title of the event. Much to my surprise, I received little response from all nine school districts and the superintendents. As of right now, no students have been promised to join us on Saturday.

It didn't matter, I was still determined to make Clean up the "D" Day a success. I received more good news within the past few weeks. Tarance Wheeler, who works for Mayor Dave Bing, dropped off plenty of gloves and trash bags. Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen called community groups, churches, and people living in that area to volunteer. Tim, along with the people working for the City, for Wayne County, and for the Department of Public Works, rounded up roll out dumpsters to be delivered in six different locations for us to put the trash into. Eric Sabree from the Wayne County Treasurer's office promised to get me addresses of houses that were City or County owned to be torn down. We collectively agreed that the area that needed our attention the most was between Gratiot and Hoover, East State Fair and 7 Mile. The pieces to this giant puzzle were falling into place.

Next I needed to get the word out and I needed a graphic design artist, fast. One phone call to my longtime colleague and photographer at WDIV, plus one of my dearest friends in Detroit, Cesar Gonzalez, gave me a designer. Cesar told me that his sister Letty could design the flyer for the Clean up the "D" Day project. Hooray! I quickly e-mailed Letty a photo that I'd taken near JoAnn and Tacoma and she sent me the design. After several tweaks to the flyer, it was finally complete.

Any project that you ask people to donate their time deserves some reward. Food is always a good incentive for people to show up. Since we'd decided that the clean up would be from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. I decided that getting breakfast and lunch sponsored would be a double bonus. Tim Horton's agreed to cater breakfast. Happy's Pizza agreed to bring us lunch.

One big problem in that specific area is the grass. My first few calls to Payne Landscaping, the company that holds the City contract for mowing the East side, were not great. They receive $300,000 to mow the entire East side of Detroit twice a summer, that's it, no more, no less. I did not know who else to call to come in to take care of the grass on that specific day besides Payne Landscaping. On Monday, June 4th, I received a call confirming that they would in fact mow that entire area that day for us for free! Thank you Mr. Payne!

Monday, June 4th was excessively productive because of the fact I called a company in Royal Oak, College Hunks Hauling Junk. After getting the story behind the name and the company, they quickly agreed to help out the cause and come out on June 9th to help us haul the junk. I also randomly saw two trucks driving in Trenton that said Davey Tree Trimming on the side. I Googled the name, called the company, and got their team on board to trim the trees in the neighborhood.

It was all coming together. Now we just needed volunteers. Finally by Thursday, June 7th we had a rough count of around 200 volunteers that were ready to go. This included the Alternative Workforce, the people that needed to do community service time anyway.

One more call to a friend of mine at the Detroit Police Department and she assured me that police would be in the area to protect us on the day of the clean up.

So in a matter of weeks, a community clean up day has been organized. Now in a matter of hours, this neighborhood will be clean, safe, and hopefully secure. Children will not have to fear walking down streets with grass taller than them. Families can enjoy the view down the street instead of shuttering when they go outside. Change can happen. It just takes time, effort, patience, and persistence.

Clean up the "D" Day is one day in my life that I know I will never forget. I am hoping this event will be a stepping stone to something better for this community and a bright hope for a better future.