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The Do-Gooder: Chris Lambert, CEO of nonprofit Life Remodeled

The People Issue

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Chris Lambert came to Detroit to do good. The CEO of a blight-busting and construction nonprofit called Life Remodeled, for the past several years Lambert has coordinated annual multimillion-dollar school improvement projects and community makeovers. He and thousands of volunteers clad in lime green shirts will descend upon a specific neighborhood and make a lasting impact through six long days of work. Lambert says the neighborhoods the nonprofit has touched have seen reductions in crime and an increase in neighborhood engagement.

Lambert took a winding road to get here, but says it was God that led the way.

Born in a rural Indiana town where church was a cultural norm, Lambert took spirituality more seriously than his peers or even family members, eventually earning the nickname "Lambert the Jesus Freak."

In high school, however, after getting involved in sports and going through a growth spurt, he strayed from the spiritual path in pursuit of the fun he saw his classmates having. Lambert says he started small, looking in the mirror one day and forcing himself to say the f-word. As a self-described "all-or-nothing guy," he returned to school the following day spewing curse words. From there, he got into girls, drinking, drugs, and eventually landed at the biggest fraternity at Indiana University.

Lambert was off the God path, and looking to make money. He studied marketing and planned to go to law school; real estate development was a possibility. But that all changed when he says God spoke to him during a study abroad trip to Australia, where some locals he met took him to a church service.

The sermon he heard described a man who had turned his back on God in pursuit of vice. After the sermon, Lambert, then 22, went up to the altar and got down on his knees. "[I said] 'God, from this moment, I'll stop doing whatever you want me to stop doing and I'll start doing whatever you want me to start doing,'" he recalls.

Lambert returned to the states, left I-U, and joined a seminary in California where he met his wife, Andrea. They then moved to Liberia to become community development missionaries.

When they came back, Lambert says they wanted to settle in a place where there was "a lot of diversity and a lot of social need." That, coupled with the fact that Lambert's wife was raised in Southwest Detroit, helped them decide on this area, and they began their work by starting a church in Westland. But Lambert quickly learned he wanted to have more of an impact.

"Basically I was always more passionate about the other six days of the week than I was about Sunday," he says. "When I started a church I never wanted it to be just about a one-day-a-week event, and that's what eventually led me to start Life Remodeled."

To date, the organization has removed blight and boarded up homes on more than 1,000 Detroit blocks, built a STEM lab and football field at Cody High School, put a new roof on Osborn High School, and outfitted a park near Denby High School with a performance pavilion and basketball and volleyball courts. Lambert's latest effort is focused in the area of what is now Central K-12 and the former Durfee Elementary-Middle school in the Boston-Edison neighborhood. The organization has leased Durfee, which was closed and merged with Central High School because both schools had too few students for the space they were in, from the Detroit Public Schools Community District for $1 per year. Lambert says Life Remodeled will put $5 million in repairs into the school, and build a Community Innovation Center focused on entrepreneurship, education, and community.

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