Group puts faith in action by helping to restore lives and neighborhoods in Detroit

Posted on July 30, 2012

The tour that Lisa Johanon gives of the impoverished Detroit neighborhood north of New Center and south of the historic Boston-Edison district reflects her belief that spiritual and urban renewal go hand-in-hand.

She points out apartment buildings, remodeled houses, a restaurant, a produce market, a landscaping company, groups of children working in vegetable gardens, an orchard and other sights — all linked to Central Detroit Christian, a faith-based nonprofit founded in 1993, of which Johanon is a cofounder and executive director.

“I want to make my faith real,” Johanon said of the work in her neighborhood. “I think there’s plenty in the Bible to tell us to serve the poor.”

CDC wants to do more and is venturing into fish farming and aquaponics — using the waste to grow crops — to create jobs in the neighborhood. The group is in the process of a Neighborhood Stabilization Program plan “for a major development for this community,” said Johanon, who majored in Bible and education as an undergraduate at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College and has a law degree from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

She said there are 27 houses in a six-block area that includes Philadelphia, Pingree and Blaine that CDC wants to renovate, and that it is applying for a grant from a $5-million fund the city has available for such projects.

CDC also will continue to rely on volunteers, mostly from churches, and private developers to help with remodeling homes for low-income residents. “We need their help,” Johanon said. “It’s all to stabilize the neighborhood. It’s for the greater good to stabilize this community.”

The Rev. Paul Clough, community outreach pastor for Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Northville Township, said volunteers from his church have renovated houses and helped with youth programs in partnership with CDC.

“We are fully committed to the ministry of CDC,” Clough said. “I think they’re doing a fantastic job.”

As city services diminish because of cuts, faith-based organizations have become the safety net for residents in poor areas and critical to the revival of many of Detroit’s neighborhoods.

Because of the expanding need, CDC has evolved into a jack-of-all-trades, not only providing spiritual help but also economic development, social services, education programs, job training and job development.

The fact that CDC is a faith-based group that incorporates economic development and social services has attracted supporters.

“They try to serve people in a holistic way,” said Marja Winters, deputy director of the Detroit Planning Department and a CDC board member.

CDC has five businesses and employs 29 people from the community. Among the businesses is Café Sonshine, a restaurant at Second Avenue and Hazelwood that specializes in healthy soul food; Peaches & Greens, a produce market at 8838 Third, and Higher Ground Landscaping and Restoration Warehouse, 8735 Second Ave., that sells building materials and household items.

Many employees at the businesses are ex-offenders.

“I’ve been to prison. It’s been hard to get a job,” said Anthony Beauford, 32, who works for CDC’s landscaping business.

He said the group has had a good influence on him, allowing him to get work experience so it’ll be easier for him to find a better job to support his family. He makes $8 an hour and said it’s hard to support his wife and three children, but they’re making it.

Beauford said CDC also provided marriage counseling.

“She’s a wonderful person, got a beautiful heart,” he said of Johanon. “She gives you the opportunity to make your own choices.”

Alicia Ratliff, 39, who has moved with her three daughters into a house renovated by volunteers from Ward Evangelical, said that CDC came to her rescue when she was living in a basement with her family after losing her job.

“It’s just been a blessing,” she said. “I don’t know any programs doing anything like this.”

By: Cecil Angel