Detroiters show love through lawn care, help clean up neighborhoods

Detroit Free Press (MI), 2014-06-10


June 10 --In overgrown lots across Detroit , two 26-year-old transplants to the city are nurturing dreams of beautifying neighborhoods and giving back to their adopted hometown.

Chelsea Neblett , who grew up in Pinckney , and Becki Kenderes , who spent years living in Morocco and elsewhere, have pooled their money and won grants to start Lots of Love Detroit, a lawn equipment/tool lending library on wheels.

Neblett and Kenderes bought a used ice cream truck and are seeking donations of lawn equipment and tools. Their aim, by month's end, is to bring their mobile tool-lending library to Detroit block clubs free of charge to clean up some of the city's 100,000-plus vacant lots.

"We're both young and we have the energy ... and we just want to do good work," said Neblett, who moved back to Michigan from a Chicago job to get a master's degree in urban planning at Wayne State University .

Kenderes, a Virginia native who has a master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan , did an internship in Detroit and decided to put down roots.

"I actually grew up all over the world. I've moved 21 times across five continents. There's really a deep sense of community here unlike anywhere else I've ever seen, so I definitely wanted to stay and be a part of that," said Kenderes, who moved often because of her father's U.S. State Department postings.

The duo are symbolic of many women of the so-called Millenial generation, those born after 1980. Surveys show millenials, more so than previous generations, value pursuits that have an impact on community and make a difference.

"Becki's a social worker and she focuses on people. And I'm an urban planner and I focus on places," Neblett said. "So it's a really good partnership in the aspect that we bring people to places to build community and really make an impact on where we are."

Neblett and Kenderes met through their jobs at the Grandmont-Rosedale Development Corporation , which helps spur development and preserve those neighborhoods in northwest Detroit . They stress their Lots of Love project is separate from their day jobs.

Sometimes when at volunteer cleanup projects, they'd lament how much faster the work would go "if we just had one more lawn mower, or one more weed whacker," said Neblett.

"Every time we were doing cleanups," said Neblett, "we didn't have enough tools, or the proper tools, or we couldn't get the tools to us."

From that frustration, came Lots of Love.

The more tools they can collect, the more people can be equipped to make quick work of beautifying a neighborhood, said Kenderes. The pair will provide the Lots of Love service for free, driving their truck to neighborhoods on upcoming Saturdays, beginning in late June/early July.

"If you're just mowing the grass on a vacant lot on your block or building a community garden, your group can contact us and we can bring the tools that you need directly to you," explained Neblett,

"We want to take something that's a burden," said Kenderes, "and help make it good and fine."

The pair won about $900 in April when they presented the LOL plan to Detroit SOUP -- the grassroots micro-loan group that encourages attendees at monthly meetings to vote and donate proceeds to the night's best entrepreneurial pitch. They've received another grant from the Awesome Foundation , which will pay for yard signs to proclaim "This Lot has been Loved."

They've scoured Craigslist for cheap deals on good equipment, scoring an industrial lawn mower which can cut 6-foot tall grass and 2-inch thick growths. The suburban seller gave them a big discount when he heard about Lots of Love, said Neblett.

"The thing people want most -- next to crime going away -- is a lawn mower," said Amy Kaherl , who helped start and runs Detroit SOUP. Lots of Love, she said, "is going to be a huge asset."

LOL Detroit has linked up operating under the fiduciary umbrella of Motor City Blight Busters , the 26-year-old organization founded by activist John George to foster community beautification and redevelopment in northwest Detroit .

"Those young ladies are incredible in their vision, spirit and love for Detroit ," said George. Lots of Love's focus on small-scale, block-by-block beautification "is a needed niche and they're filling that need."

How you can help

How you can help

The tool drive is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Motor City Java & Tea House , 17336 Lahser, Detroit . Donors of tools and/or funds will get a tax-deductible receipt from Motor City Blight Busters , the nonprofit which is the fiduciary organization for Lots of Love Detroit.

For more information, visit www.loldetroit.org .

Contact Patricia Montemurri : 313-223-4538 or pmontemurri@freepress.com .

___

(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press

Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services