in it together.
Chris Lambert says Extreme Makeover: Home Edition inspired his charity, Life Remodeled. But since its foundation in 2010, the Detroit-based nonprofit has been rehabilitating more than just homes — they’ve been helping Detroiters rebuild their lives from the ground up.
Lambert tells the story of Pandora Ingram, who lived in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood when the organization was discussing how to make an impact in the community.
“Pandora burst into our meeting very angry,” says Lambert, founder, and CEO of Life Remodeled. “She said, ‘you people, you’re just going to talk. You’re not going to accomplish anything. You need to get out.’”
Ingram’s son had been murdered two years prior. She was the number one antagonist against Life Remodeled, Lambert says, but over the next several months, the two became friends and she got involved in the organization’s mission. She spent Saturdays recruiting volunteers. She was elected to the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance Board of Directors. She began working for Goodwill.
“There’s a Pandora in all of us,” Lambert says. “Wherever we live or don’t live, whatever we have or don’t have, we’re all lifelong works in progress.”
“Typical charity models have beneficiaries and benefactors,” he continues, “but that creates an unhealthy paradigm: The beneficiaries often feel less than, and the benefactors feel they don’t have much to learn. Instead, we believe everyone needs remodeling, and when we work together, we realize how much we need and respect each other.”
Life Remodeled aims to unite people of different races, religions and socioeconomic status, to revitalize Detroit one community at a time. In the process, they transform one another’s lives, too.
Their work transcends neighborhood borders and includes projects in Cody-Rouge, Osborn and Denby school districts, to name a few. To bring their plans to life, they partner with professional companies that help repair homes and remodel schools, and those efforts are supported by the work of thousands of volunteers from both inside and outside the communities they serve.
They recently began work on a four-year project around the Durfee school district — an area that was at the heart of the Detroit uprising 51 years ago. Their work will include planting trees, using artwork to designate safe routes to school, installing ‘Little Free Libraries’ — outdoor bookshelves that encourage passersby to ‘take a book and leave a book’ — and more.
The ripple effects of their work are being felt throughout the communities they serve. For example, in Cody-Rouge, crime decreased in 10 out of 11 categories after their work there was complete. Those results are due, in part, to their elimination of blight, which, according to Lambert, breeds both criminal activity and low self-esteem. Or, similarly, the removal of overgrown brush that obstructs visibility and perpetuates illegal dumping — more than 50 percent of which is performed by non-Detroit residents.
Indeed, by revamping these communities, they’re giving those who call them home a fresh start.
Before Life Remodeled, Lambert had his own fresh start. Growing up in a small Indiana town, spirituality was a big part of his life from the beginning — his classmates even called him ‘Lambert the Jesus Freak.’ But when he became a teenager, that spirituality started giving way to some unsavory activities.
“God basically let me do everything I wanted from the ages of 16 to 22 — he didn’t send me to jail, where I should’ve been multiple times,” Lambert says. “But during a study abroad in Australia, I had a radical encounter with God that changed the trajectory of my life… I met a group of guys who became some of my best friends. They were Jesus followers, and they eventually asked me to attend a service with them.”
Though reticent at first, he decided to check it out.
“I went to this Anglican church where the pastor wore skateboarding shorts and shoes, and I ended up liking it,” he says. “So I went back a second time. Then the third time, the pastor preached a sermon that described my life to a ‘T.’ I felt like God was speaking to me for the first time. And I realized that at no point during the past six years had I been as happy as when I was ‘Lambert the Jesus Freak.’
He walked up to the front of the church service, got down on his knees, and said, ‘God, from this moment forward, I’ll start doing whatever you want me to do.’ In that moment, Lambert realized the world was much bigger than him — traveling to the other side of the world played a part in that epiphany, too — and he discovered a newfound compassion for others.
When Lambert came back to the United States, he changed his plans to attend law school after completing his undergraduate degree, and instead, moved to Los Angeles for seminary school. There, he became a pastor and met his wife, and, in 2007, they moved to Detroit.
“We were passionate about living in a place with immense diversity, and where there was significant need. At that time, we felt we could be more useful in Detroit than Los Angeles.”
Three years later, he says God gave him a vision for Life Remodeled, and he hasn’t looked back. Lambert, his wife, and children, who are also involved in Life Remodeled, are devoted to the city.
“Detroit is one of the most exciting urban environments in the United States because we have the opportunity to revitalize it in a way that’s equitable. There are residents who have stayed here through the toughest of times… We have the chance to invest in them, and invest in their children, while also creating opportunities for people who are moving into the city. Detroiters are very passionate and have a lot of hope for the future. Now is the time to collaborate at the highest level.”