The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 15, 2018

Trades power Women's Empowerment Center

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT - Legal and permitting issues and manpower shortages have slowed the renovation of an old home at 1648 Junction Street in Southwest Detroit, but to Ron Pokorny, its transformation into a women's empowerment center is now a matter of "when," not "if."

Plans for the conversion of a former 900-square-foot residence across from Holy Redeemer Church into the "Latino Women Empowerment Center" have been in place since March 2017, with union building trades volunteers subsequently gutting the house and making progress on its transformation. Plans call for the building to be converted into a counseling, education and training center for Latinas who need assistance for their personal development.

A huge push in the renovation effort at the former house took place the morning of Saturday, May 26, when 20-plus volunteers from local building trades unions hauled in 150 sheets of drywall for the house. The presence of overhead electrical lines prevented a boom truck from making the process a lot easier, but overcoming obstacles has been a common theme as the work on the house has progressed.

"Getting the job done has been a struggle," said Pokorny, a Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 retiree who is coordinating the project. "The work is being done by volunteers from the local union trades, mostly on weekends, so the progress has been slow. But the positive part has been the people in the community, they see the progress that we're making, and they see the good things that union members are doing."

Carpenters were then able to hang about 85 percent of the drywall that day in the house, opening the door for the start of the finish work. The former house has undergone a complete gutting, with hazardous materials removal, and much of the necessary heating, ventilation, electrical and plumbing rough-in work completed. It has been a remarkably complex project, Pokorny said, not only scheduling volunteer labor and acquiring donated materials but because of the need to get appropriate city building permits and meeting federal Americans With Disability Act requirements. 

Pokorny said the transformation of the house is about 50 percent complete and he's hopeful the keys can be handed over to the Latino Women Empowerment Center in September. 

Sister Consuelo Alcala, a Catholic nun who lives next door to the future center, spearheaded the fundraising effort to purchase the house at auction three years ago in order to create a place for the center. She said the group of women in Southwest Detroit founded the group and plan to work with local organizations and agencies for funding and other resources and hire a professional director for the empowerment center. Sister Consuelo said there is a great need in the local Hispanic community for a place for women to get education and counseling in response to domestic abuse and other needs.   

"We want the center to be a place for women to be empowered by building up their self-esteem," said Sister Consuelo. "We are delighted with the progress they have made on the house. It's an old house and it wasn't in great shape, to begin with, but the volunteers have come faithfully. We are so grateful for what they have been doing, and God bless them."

VOLUNTEERS from various building trades unions on May 26 made a human chain to move 150 sheets of drywall into the Latino Women Empowerment Center, a converted house on Junction Street in Detroit.

MANY OF THE building trades union volunteers who helped move 150 sheets of drywall into the former home on Junction Street in Detroit that will become the Latino Women Empowerment Center.