Detroit Habituals Help Complete The Homework House

Realize that everything connects to everything else.
–Leonardo Da Vinci

Shamayim ‘Mama Shu’ Harris, our founder and CEO of Avalon Village, has long had a dream of opening The Homework House – a place where children will receive healthy meals and help with their homework, as well as an after-school learning center.

While a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016 began the renovation of the old brick home that was once slated for demolition, and major items like a solar roof and geothermal heating and cooling system were installed, completing the house seemed like a monumental task – until now.

Enter the Detroit Habituals, an alliance of mostly retired professionals who previously worked together with the group Habitat for Humanity Detroit before it reorganized. These handy and hardworking souls are donating their time, talents and labor to finish construction of The Homework House for Highland Park’s children.

“Since all of the Detroit Habituals were frequent volunteers with Habitat, we wanted something to do with our time,” said Keith Kolodsick, a former journeyman electrician who migrated to computer programming, and who retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield. “We met for the first time in March 2017 and decided we needed to continue our work as a group in the Detroit area.”

According to Scot Norris, another Detroit Habitual and lead champion of The Homework House project, the group looks for projects that meet three criteria: 1) is to be of use; 2) to provide help and hope to those in need; and 3) to put some heaven into the lives of people for whom heaven is only a distant idea.

Norris first heard of Avalon Village and Mama Shu when he was at a fundraiser where Shu was honored for her work. Norris talked with Mama Shu about the Homework House project and decided to pitch the idea to other members of the Detroit Habituals.

“I recruited some other Habituals to view the project and meet Mama Shu,” Norris said. “We put out the word to see what kind of interest we could raise and everyone thought this was a project that fit what we like to do.”

For Mama Shu, the group has been a godsend.

“The first time I went into the house after they had worked, I cried,” said Shu. “They were so organized and they even cleaned up after they finished. We also have bi-weekly meetings where we report on what’s happening and what we need to do next. Every Saturday, 10 or 15 skilled people, men and women, come to work on the project. I am so grateful for all the work the Habituals have done.”

Members of the Habituals feel good about Mama Shu as well.

“Her enthusiasm and positive attitude are just amazing,” said Kolodsick. “I gave her a small donation and she literally jumped up and down. How can you not respond to that in a positive way? Volunteers love nothing more than to be appreciated and Shu makes sure we all know how much she appreciates our efforts.”

The Detroit Habituals have more than 40 volunteers, who at various times have worked on a number of projects around the area, including a church camp for inner-city youth in Kingston, Michigan; renovations and installation of new gymnasium floor at the former Durfee Middle School for Live Remodeled; and a tiny house for the Cass Community Social Services, as well as a few other projects.

“Most of our members are retired engineers, writers, school teachers, physical therapists, business people, factory workers, real estate professionals and of course a few builders,” Norris said. “We are always looking for new members who share our ideals.”

Through their affiliation with Habitat for Humanity, members have worked all over the U.S. and in many foreign countries, and many are still active with Huron Valley, Macomb and Oakland Habitat affiliates.

Since November, the Habituals have been working inside the Homework House installing windows, making modifications to the framing, and basically getting the house ready for insulation and drywall, which will come next. An anonymous donor is generously covering the cost of supplies.

“Our goal is to finish the interior and add a small addition on the rear of the house for accessibility and access to the basement,” said Norris, adding the project is slated to be completed by fall.

If all goes as planned, a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Homework House will take place September 23, 2018 – the ancestor date of Mama Shu’s two-year-old son, Jakobi RA, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2007.

“Anytime we have something significant happen, I use this date as a way to keep his memory alive,” Shu said.
Learn more about the Detroit Habituals on their Facebook page.


– Story by Ann Burch

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