Seven years ago, volunteers from DTE Energy’s Lynch Road Service Center began volunteering with Life Remodeled, a non-profit organization in Detroit that works to rebuild local communities.
The ranks have grown since then, and this year, nearly 50 team members across the enterprise came together to volunteer through the leadership of Office Administrator Jenita Caddell, who now serves on the volunteer board of directors for the organization.
“Part of what makes the experience so great is working in the communities we serve, helping bring opportunities to our customers,” said Jenita, who has been with DTE for eight years. “I’m a true Detroiter, born and raised, and I used to envision doing for my city exactly what Life Remodeled does. That’s what drew me in so deeply when I first heard about the program from my colleagues.”
Life Remodeled partners with other local non-profits to fill gaps by repurposing local, abandoned properties into opportunity centers. These centers provide tens of thousands of Detroiters with resources like youth education programs, workforce development opportunities, and health and wellness services.
Each year, the organization dedicates one week in October for the “Six Day Project,” when thousands of volunteers across metro Detroit get together to clean up the next redevelopment site.
DTE has been participating in this initiative since 2017, when a member of the Veteran Employee Resource Group shared the opportunity with coworkers, while voluntarily building a ramp at a Veteran colleague’s home.
“It’s become a tradition we look forward to,” said Jenita. “We don’t only volunteer, we help other volunteers do their job. We bring all the materials – from gloves and garbage bags, to dump trucks and excavation equipment. They really count on us, and we’re proud to show up for them.”
Jenita said one of the highlights of volunteering with Life Remodeled is interacting with community members.
“It’s really nice because we get to connect with our customers, and they get to meet us outside of business and see who we really are,” she said. “A lot of times, our crews perform acts of service, like helping elderly neighbors cut their grass.”
Last year, Jenita was approached by leaders from Life Remodeled to join the volunteer board as the voice of DTE to help with planning and coordinating.
“This was the opportunity I dreamed of when I was 20 years old. Not only do I volunteer, but now I get to bring my ideas to life to help the community I’m a product of,” she said.
This year, the team worked to revamp the former Cooley High School in Detroit. The non-profit is working on turning half of the building into office space for other Detroit non-profit organizations, while the other half will be a facility for children with cancer.
“The unique thing about this project is the cancer facility will include apartments, so families and traveling physicians have a place to stay during treatment,” said Jenita. “These are the types of resources our community needs.”
For the last two years, Jenita has taken her two daughters to volunteer alongside her, which has made her experience extra special. “For me, it’s about being able to see the city come back to where it used to be, so my kids don’t feel like they have to run away. I want them to appreciate this city as much as I do.”