Heart of Detroit: Larry and Marilyn Johnson

Grosse Pointe couple gives up suburban life to help rehabilitate Detroit neighborhood

DETROIT - You've hear the expression, "It takes a village."

Well, sometimes you have to make the village.

Larry and Marilyn Johnson were well-to-do suburbanites who sold their computer business in the 1990s and began volunteering in shelters.

"What we saw was this recidivism rate that was so high," said Larry. "Every 12 months, 15 months, we'd see the same person come back again. And I'll never forget Marilyn coming to me one time and saying, 'Something, somebody needs to do something about this. Why don't we?'"

The result was Life Builders which started with one house on Detroit's east side and a small group of recovering women. Larry and Marilyn threw themselves in.

"We did life together. We ate meals together. We did outings together. We did church together on Sunday. If people didn't have cars we picked them up and drove them where they needed to go," said Marilyn.

She said they became an adopted family.

The result: No recidivism.

One house led to another, and another and eventually to an entire block. Adult programs and children programs.

The Johnsons were so inspired by a community dedicated to helping each other, that this year they gave up their house in Grosse Pointe and moved onto the very block they have rehabbed.

"I feel peace," said Larry. "I absolutely certain, and I know Marilyn is to, that this is where we're supposed to be."

One house at a time and one person at a time, Larry and Marilyn are reshaping the heart of Detroit.

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