Anita Moneypenny paused for a rare rest in the shade Friday afternoon in front of the Baker-Donora Center on Baker Street in Lansing. She kept planning to sit down but never made it to a bench — various volunteers kept interrupting her attempts at respite.
She points out each person walking by, stating their name, where they are from, how long they’ve been volunteering in the neighborhood and sharing a bit about their personality. As director of the Baker-Donora Center, she’s known many of them for several years, some their whole lives.
Regardless of how long they’ve known her, all of the volunteers met Moneypenny on the corner of Baker and Donora Streets last Friday for the same reason: to give the homes in the neighborhood one hell of a makeover during the Baker-Donora Center’s 6th annual “Extreme Street Makeover.”
The exteriors of 26 houses on Donora Street and the surrounding area will be refurbished in a frenzy of paint chips and swinging hammers in this neighborhood that sometimes is labeled as one of the worst in Lansing.
Neighborhood volunteers gathered in scorching heat to put some hard work into nearby homes, doing everything from trimming trees to installing windows.
“I always rely on neighborhood folks. This center wouldn’t survive without volunteers,” Moneypenny said.
“It’s always a neat thing to do with the people,” said Bob Irvine, a fourth -year volunteer from Olivet Baptist Church. “You get a chance to get out and help a little bit.”
Help also came from another sector. Four members of the Lansing Police Department lent a hand in the makeover.
“This is a really nice community, actually,” said Baker-Donora area’s Community Policing Officer Brian Whitsitt. “There are a lot of nice people who live here. You get out and help people with some of their needs and stuff like that. It really enhances the partnerships between the police department and the public. It’s really good. You get to work alongside the people and actually get some time to talk to them out of uniform. It’s just a good relation-builder between the police department and the public.”
“The Lansing Police Department gets involved in a lot of our programs,” Moneypenny said. “It bonds the neighbors with the police officers and they get to know each other, not as a police officer and a resident, but as people. Brian is a human being just like we are and he takes great pride in the community he works in.”
The project is funded by $10,000 from the city’s Community Development Block Grant and by donations from local businesses, Moneypenny said. Companies donated items such as mulch, lumber, paint and windows. The Greater Lansing Housing Coalition sent its “Tool Mobile,” offering power tools for the renovations.
To choose which homes to renovate, Baker-Donora Center board members assess property information of various houses around the area and then approach the owners. Occasionally owners don’t respond but most often are grateful for the help.
The makeover project began five years ago with a $2,000 grant. The center does one extreme makeover each year of about 20 houses and various mini-makeovers of five to ten houses. Another mini-makeover is being organized for August.
Moneypenny has been director since she started the centerr 17 years ago.
“It started as a neighborhood watch and organization group,” she said. “People were talking about all of the gangs (around Baker Street) and I said, ‘What are you talking about? You just don’t have enough for these kids to do!’ Through the neighborhood organizations, we started kids’ programs out of my house and then the Bethlehem Maple Church, and then it just evolved into getting this center built. We had the city of Lansing, Capitol Area Community Services, MSU Extension, just tons and tons of different partners getting involved and we’ve been here ever since and going strong.”
Many of the center’s makeover volunteers were teenagers who have spent years with the center.
Kenyana Love, 18, has been working with Baker-Donora for four years. Though she does not live in the area, she believes it is important to lend a hand.
“I’m just doing this to help their neighborhood and make it look better!” she said.
Many of the younger volunteers have been working with the center for most of their lives, Love said.
The makeover project is part of the effort to remove many of the misconceptions about the Baker-Donora neighborhood.
“Baker and Donora always get such a bad rap, you know?” she said. “They always reflect (the facts from) about 20 or 30 years ago. Our crime is so low today. People have the wrong idea. It’s got that stigma, but you can walk safely through this neighborhood. It’s not gang-infested anymore, there is no prostitution. This makeover is just a piece of the bigger extreme in making over Baker-Donora. And it takes a bunch of people.”