Help Me Hank works to transform Detroit school in need

Project improves Thurgood Marshall Elementary and Middle School

DETROIT – Thurgood Marshall Elementary and Middle School, like many others in Detroit, has been neglected for years.

So Help Me Hank created a plan to clean, paint and give students and staff the tools to not only succeed, but to develop a new sense of pride in their school.

"Help Me Hank: The School Project" kicks off Tuesday night and demonstrates how the transformation is already getting underway.

At first glance, it's hard to ignore the obvious signs of neglect, like the peeling paint, the cracks and the broken chairs.

Thurgood Marshall has certainly seen brighter days, but you wouldn't knowing it by talking with Principal Sharon Lee.

Even though she's surrounded by a less than stellar learning environment, Lee's big smile reassures students -- more than 650 all together -- that everything is going to be OK.

The kids feed off of Lee's enthusiasm, which is infectious and needed. Thurgood Marshall is in a tough Detroit neighborhood with blight, crime and chaos often unfolding right outside the school doors.

A 4-year-old boy was mauled by pit bulls and killed just blocks away from the school last year. He was walking to Thurgood Marshall with his mother when the dogs attacked.

First-grader Donavon Lyles wears an eye patch because he was the victim of a drive-by shooting. The bullet took his right eye, but not his enthusiasm for learning.

Many of the students at Thurgood Marshall have tough lives away from the classroom. But once inside the school, the goal is to make each one feel loved.

"I'd like my children to feel special, because the children at Thurgood Marshall are special," Lee said.

Sometimes all it takes to make the children feel special is to make the building look special. It needed some paint, new equipment and TLC.

Phase one focused on the cafeteria and the main office, which see plenty of activity each day. Both have cracked walls and chipped paint everywhere. Help Me Hank brought in a team headed by Adam Helfman with Hire It Done.

Days of preparing were necessary to get the walls in shape. Dozens of gallons of paint were donated by PPG Paints, and Adam's teams donated their time to get the job done

Once the painting was complete, Help Me Hank reached out to Fathead to create custom logos and designs for Thurgood Marshall, home of the Dolphins. The mascot was nowhere to be seen, but the generous donation by the Fathead team helped create a new sense of school spirit.

The cafeteria is now brightly painted with two shades of blue. Fatheads and logos cover the walls. The principal wanted a bright color for the office and logos inside to welcome students and parents.

The project won't just focus on paint. There are other challenges facing the school, some that can been seen, like the two-by-fours supported by buckets serving as benches in the gym. There are other problems that aren't so obvious.

But through the partnership with the principal, the district and the students, Help Me Hank hopes the project teaches those involved that working together can make a difference.