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Man’s tough childhood behind house renovation project

Marsialle Arbuckle, right, stands with Lori Palmore, 46, president of Rebuild Together in front of the house on Indiana Street in Detroit as the house is getting a makeover, August 27, 2012.  Arbuckle is the Founder of The Center for Urban Youth and Family Development. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Marsialle Arbuckle, right, stands with Lori Palmore, 46, president of Rebuild Together in front of the house on Indiana Street in Detroit as the house is getting a makeover, August 27, 2012. Arbuckle is the Founder of The Center for Urban Youth and Family Development. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

But Marsialle Arbuckle’s life brings truth to the adage.

When he was laid off from Ford Motor Co. after 27 years, Arbuckle was so angry that he sat down to write an attack on the company. As he wrote, the woe-is-me turned into wow!

Arbuckle realized that he had lived a pretty amazing life. Born to drug-addicted parents, he was abandoned at age 2 and grew up in foster care. Yet he defied the statistics. He earned three college degrees and a respected position as a program manager in corporate America.

And in writing what became his autobiography, “I Have a Story To Tell” (AuthorHouse, $14.49), Arbuckle also realized that he had a mission to fulfill. Since then he’s been working to open doors for young people in the foster care system.

So he literally opened the doors to a renovated Detroit house that will serve as a home to young people aging out of the foster care system.

“I feel like this is my little miracle,” said Arbuckle, 54, of Livonia, Mich. “We started with nothing but an idea and in less than 12 months we went from concept to reality.”

He praised many others for helping turn his dream into reality: Liberty Bank sold his nonprofit organization the house for $1; Drops of Good: The Maxwell House Community Project donated $50,000 to help renovate the house, and Rebuilding Together Detroit provided more than 100 volunteers who turned the dilapidated house into a model of what’s possible on a block pocketed with blight and abandonment.

The group won the $50,000 Maxwell House grant through a national online contest. Projects in St. Paul, Minn., and Charlotte, N.C., also won grants.

“What really makes me feel good is we’re not just providing a home for these young adults; we’re helping to restore this community,” said Arbuckle, who started the Center for Urban Youth and Family Development in 2010, two years after leaving Ford.

Petoskey, Mich., native and home and gardening expert Katie Brown, star of “The Katie Brown Workshop,” serves as the celebrity spokeswoman for the Detroit project.

“I’m coming in to put the final touches on the renovations and will be doing some crafting projects of mine to add that personal touch and really make the house a home,” she said in an e-mail.

“As a mother of an adopted child, this project is a win-win for me on two levels - I get to help Detroit and children in need. And this opportunity lets me put my passion for sprucing up homes to good use and work with volunteers to really turn the Center for Urban Youth and Family Development into a place these foster youth can call home,” she said.

The three-bedroom, 1.5-bath brick home has been almost completely made over, with new plumbing, heating and cooling, and carpeting throughout most of the house, along with granite countertops, wood flooring and cabinetry and new appliances in the kitchen.

The house will not only offer foster youths ages 17 to 20 a place to live; they will learn life skills, including personal finance management, cooking, college preparation and other skills to help them live successful independent lives. They will pay rent - approximately $300 to $400 a month - because learning to pay your bills on time is an important life skill, said Arbuckle, a married father and grandfather.

Three young people at a time will live there, selected through the Children’s Center in Detroit, he said. An adult supervisor will have an office there as well.

Arbuckle said he’ll also try to teach the residents lessons that have helped him.

“There is no such thing as luck,” he tells young people. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

He offers a seven-step success formula. “Character, education, perseverance, a noble cause, friendship, love of self and others, and truth - whether from the Bible or another religious book - equals peace, happiness and prosperity,” he said.

Neighbors on the block are excited to see the improvements and are looking forward to welcoming their new neighbors.

Pots of red and white flowers adorn the porch of Emma Young’s house across the street from the renovated home. Young, 91, and her daughter, Annie Johnson, 74, bought the house in 1967 when every house on the block was occupied and well-kept.

Johnson says the neighborhood began to go down after a particular family moved in and began breaking into houses, then stripping them after fed-up residents fled.

“I’m happy to see someone coming in and making improvements,” said Johnson, a retired General Motors accounting clerk.

Bobby Smith, 43, of Southfield, Mich., was so excited to see people renovating the house down the street from his aunt’s home that he began volunteering to help. He’s a general contractor who spent much of his childhood at his aunt’s house.

“I hope this catches on,” he said. “If someone else buys a house and fixes it up, then someone else buys a house and fixes it up, it’ll bring the whole block back. Structurally, these houses are very nice. They just need somebody to put some sweat equity into them.”

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