When Estelle Barnes-Summers looked at her wreck of a home, all she saw was pain. Indeed, it reminded her of the husband she’d lost, and that broke her heart. But, when volunteers came forward to help, she couldn’t believe the transformation they had on her house and her life.
In 2014 Barnes-Summers and her husband, Elijah Summers, bought their dream home in Detroit, Michigan. The couple, who have six children, intended to overhaul the property, transforming it into the perfect family home. However, two years later, tragedy struck.
In May 2016 Summers was in the midst of remodeling the house. However, he would never see the finished fruits of his labor. That’s because, that very month, the father-of-six was shot and tragically killed.
Immediately, all work on the family home ground to a halt. Obviously, Barnes-Summers and her children had to take time out to mourn their husband and father. However, their house was unfit for habitation in its current state, so the grieving family moved in with relatives.
Now, Barnes-Summers was the sole breadwinner, with six children to look after. As a result, she hastily went back to her store manager job, before she even had a chance to properly digest her loss. “Because I had to get money. We had to live and eat. Bills started piling up,” she explained to Fox 2 in January 2017.
In fact, Barnes-Summers was struggling to make ends meet. As a result, looking at her dream house, which was lying in tatters, made her heart break into tiny pieces. All she wanted was somewhere her six kids could call home.
After losing their father, the children had lost their house at the time they needed stability the most. “I have nothing. I have no furniture. I have no walls,” Barnes–Summers told Fox 2. “I don’t have to have anything [but] my kids deserve a home.”
Things reached a breaking point in January 2017. Barnes-Summers was desperate for a new start in the four-bedroom house she’d purchased with her husband. As a result, she decided to ask a local non-profit organization for help.
That organization was Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Norman Yatooma founded it in memory of his father, Manuel. As part of its work, the foundation gives support, guidance and practical help to kids who’ve lost a parent.
And, when Yatooma heard Barnes-Summers’ story, it touched a nerve. “We lost my dad in a very similar fashion,” he revealed in an interview with Fox 2. “It’s personal, hearing her tell her story.”
In fact, Yatooma also lost his father as a result of gun crime. He was just 20 when his dad come across a car-jacking. He had tried to intervene, but the culprit shot him twice in the head, killing him on the spot.
So, having such a personal link to Barnes-Summers’ situation, Yatooma decided his foundation would help. First, he contacted Detroit’s local Fox News network. Consequently, it decided to feature the Barnes-Summers family on one of its shows.
“We’re a foundation for the community by the community,” Yatooma explained in his televised plea. “Now, we need a community to help us build this house. It’s little things and big things, but with a few bucks we can put a house back together for this family.”
And, after seeing the family’s plight on TV, many people came forward to help Barnes-Summers with her home. Among the volunteers were a team of 40 from DTE Energy. Furthermore, there were also volunteers from OCG and Humble Design, a local non-profit that provides design and furniture and services.
Moreover, DTE volunteers kindly said they’d cover the costs of the rebuild. “They suffered a tremendous tragedy,” Joi Harris, VP of Gas Operations at DTE explained to Fox 2. “Our hearts were just broken when we heard the story.”
Together, the team of volunteers donated an impressive 1,500 man hours on the house. Also, as part of their work, they fitted the home with state-of-the-art energy efficient appliances. Moreover, they added a new security system, fixed the roof and installed a water heater.
“This is the very best of community helping community,” Yatooma told Fox 2 in March 2017. “To restore to them some measure of the safety and security they lost when their dad died… in this extraordinary fashion, [I’m] totally overwhelmed.”
And, as a result of the strangers’ hard work, by March 2017 Barnes-Summers and her family could move back into their home. Their faces lit up when they each saw their new, personalized rooms. Indeed, the children ran immediately to their beds and began playing with their donated toys.
“Oh my God, I feel like I’m dreaming, it doesn’t feel real,” Barnes-Summers told Fox 2, as she took her first steps around her new home. “This is beyond a blessing. For them to come out and help like this, I don’t know what to say. That’s why I am hugging everybody, like, ‘thank you, thank you.’”
Now, although life will never be the same for Summer-Barnes and her family, at least they have a home of their own. Thanks to the kind strangers of their community, they were finally given the break they needed. In the end, volunteers reconstructed their house, so they could start rebuilding their lives.