Cleaning up Woodbridge with the AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps board up 5259 CommonwealthThe other day a flyer was rubber-banded to our porch. I assumed it was either a grass-cutting pitch or a politcal thing, but it was neither; rather, it was a flyer asking for volunteers to come help with a “board-up” on the next street over.

A board-up is when a group of people get together to board up an abandoned or burned-out house and clean the lots. On the north end of Woodbridge, there were a couple of burned-out houses, and they were not only eyesores but also places where people could get hurt.

But why?

Why board up an abandoned home? Why cut the grass? Why trim the hedges and pick up the trash?

It sends a clear signal: We care about this neighborhood. We care about what it looks like. We care about the way people treat our block. We care about the way homes are treated here, even if they’re not ours.This stuff works. A recent report from the Wayne State Police Department showed that crime in Midtown was down significantly. Serious crime—down 38% since 2008. Robberies; down 30%. Burglaries; down 30%. Auto theft? Down 53%.

AmeriCorps cleanup on Commonwealth

These stats make sense; why is crime down so much in Midtown? Because as you drive or bike or walk through Midtown it’s immediately obvious that people care. There’s very little litter. Houses are kept up. People are walking around with their kids and dogs. People smile. People wave to each other.

It’s like that in Woodbridge too. My guess is that if they released the same report for Woodbridge, the numbers would be similar.

AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project

The AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project is based out of Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies. Their goal, as stated on their Facebook profile, is:

The AmeriCorps Urban Safety project is designed to build a culture of neighborly communication and responsibility in the city of Detroit. In order to reduce crime in the area, we are working with local residents to create block clubs, a forum for residents to connect and create neighborhood safety strategies.

The AmUS volunteers have all kinds of projects besides board-ups. They give free home security consultations. They give computer lessons to people in order to help them use technology to organize block clubs and meetings. They help build gardens. One of their upcoming projects is to build a “Sensory Garden” in Scripps Park, on the corner of Trumbull and Grand River.

All aboard

Cleaning up trash in WoodbridgeMyself, Lincoln, my son Perry, and our friend Jason arrived at 5259 Commonwealth around 12:30. We were immediately shown where to sign in and fill out waivers (cleaning up burned-out homes can be hazardous). We were given gloves, dust masks, and garbage bags. Our task was to clean up the lots around the two burned up homes, and board up the doors and windows of both.

Our first task of the afternoon was to clean up the trash on the sides of the house; the area between the two homes was deeply littered with shingles, burned boards from the collapsing roof, and piles of garbage. There were a vast number of empty liquor bottles, which means people have been camping out here (presumably at night) and drinking. There was some extremely pricey liquor… if people could legitimately obtain large bottles of expensive liquor, they’re probably not going to party in between two abandoned, burned out homes. They were most likely stolen.

After spending about an hour getting to know other volunteers and cleaning up the area between the homes, we moved to the back porch area. A massive tree had fallen right onto the back porch, so cleanup was pretty difficult. We had a very large dumpster but also shoveled a lot of the debris into the basement of the home.

Next, we spent about an hour doing yard and alley cleanup. The alley behind the homes was filthy, covered with garbage, and overgrown. As we worked in the alley, a woman who lived in the house next to the burned out came out and thanked everybody. She began to cry as she told us how scary it was living next door to these homes, especially at night.

It was touching; and it made the whole situation a lot more poignant. We were making a real impact in our neighborhood, and our neighbors truly care.

I watched my son interact with some of the volunteers and I was simultaneously proud that he was doing community service and really getting his hands dirty and doing hard work, while also being somewhat ashamed that I haven’t introduced my kids to community service sooner.

There’s more to do

Board up on Commonwealth

The next AmeriCorps project in Woodbridge is a Sensory Garden at Scripps Park. On May 4th and 5th, volunteers will help build a garden which will enable everyone (most notable disabled individuals) to experience all five senses in a natural setting. There will be plants and features that will be accessible to all five senses.

They need help; financial and labor. We’ll be there on the 4th and 5th to help provide as much muscle as we can muster. They’re also looking for financial help. Their wish list is as follows:

  • Lumber ($230 total)
  • Augur use or Augur Rental ($50)
  • Wheel Barrel x3
  • Quikrete Cement x12 bags ($50)
  • Wood Stain for beds ($100)
  • Large size tarps x2 ($40)
  • Honeysuckle Vines ($30)
  • Screws and washers ($10)
  • Gardening tools ($10)

If any reader wants to donate, you can find more on the official website.


The biggest takeaway from this experience was, again, that sense of community that pervades Detroit. Every time events like this happen, the bond between community members grows that much stronger; instead of a neighborhood filled with acquaintances, the streets and corners and businesses all take the feeling of family.

Detroit is the biggest small town I know.

6 thoughts on “Cleaning up Woodbridge with the AmeriCorps

  1. The photos don't show it, but there were probably 50 people there helping. It was actually a little challenging to find something to work on that wasn't already being done. A lot were students from Wayne State, but plenty of neighbors participated too.
  2. Thank you for the great article. It was truly a successful event! AMUS is working hard to support strong, safe and empowered communities not only in Woodbridge but other Detroit Neighborhoods as well (New Center, Virginia Park, ect.)

    Check out another community project starting in Woodbridge, a Time Bank. Time banking allows neighbors to share skills and services with their community for free, counting hours rather than dollars because we all have something to of value to offer our communities!!!!!
  3. I own the house across the street and can shed some light on the liquor bottles. Some of the people from the block and surrounding blocks like to chill out on the porch of the burned out house that was already boarded up. They like to indulge in a drink or two or more. Often they will be joined by people who grew up or lived on the block at one point or another but have moved away. I spoke to one guy who lived in West Bloomfield now but came back every now and again to hang out with friends. He had the words "The Wealth" tattooed on his arm. These guys often try to clean up after themselves, but I am sure anyone who has consumed the better part of a bottle of liquor knows this isn't always the easiest task. I often take the bottles that have been left there and leave them in a pile next to one of the trees so I can take them to recycling later. So were these bottles stolen and consumed by homeless vagabonds? I doubt it. Were they left by litter bugs who could have better disposed of them? Probably. But if you're hanging out with your friends in the shadow of a burned out house that the owner hasn't even bothered to board up you're probably not worried about tossing a few empty liquor bottles out of sight where most people won't see them.
  4. I've recently discovered this website and recognized your username from the Detroit subreddit. I just wanted to say thank you for doing this clean up, along with the other volunteers and AmeriCorps. I live across the street and know the hazards of abandoned homes - in general - and it makes a difference when it is boarded up and cleaned. The one on the end was recently torn down but the other still stands. I appreciate all of you.

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