Detroit builds a veteran a home

Remember Mitch Albom and Five People You Meet in Heaven? I’ve loved Mitch since I used to read his sports column, as an Atlanta Braves-obsessed kid in the early 90s.

Turns out Mitch has become extremely active in Detroit charities over the years. One group he built, Working Homes/Working Families, tackles two problems at once — urban decay and homelessness. They raise money to buy empty or abandoned houses, rely on volunteers to restore them to livable condition, and then help needy families move in.

This Christmas, one of those new homes now belongs to U.S. Army veteran Leo Cooke and his two daughters.

What I love about this initiative is that you see people crossing worlds. Anyone who has lived in an urban center — and I’ve lived in a bunch — knows how easy it is to get boxed into one version of that city. It could be the rapidly gentrifying, hipsterific blocks of Fort Greene in Brooklyn, Columbia Heights in D.C., or San Francisco’s Mission District. Or if you are a little older, and raising school children, maybe it’s a more established, insular enclave at the boundaries of the suburbs.

And yet when I look at the photos of Leo and the volunteers (please do check out the full story and slideshow), I see that particular brand of joy that comes from peering beyond our usual sightline.

Apparently when Leo walked into his own bedroom for the first time, he began to cry. “I never had a bedroom set in all my life,” he told the volunteers.

That’s about enough to make me cry. So many forces are calling on us now to beat the drumbeats of war, to call conflicts existential, to hate instead of love. Harsh rhetoric at home, and attacks in Ankara, Berlin, Jordan, and Yemen. Maybe the best thing that any of us can do is engage in small acts of kindness like this one, and believe that they will reverberate.

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Flickr/Payton Chung

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