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Cass Community UMC to open Fox Family Center

Planting trees at Fox Family Center

STEP TWO: A new overnight center at Cass Community Social Services in Detroit hopes to foster dignity in vulnerable families seeking a temporary home.

Michigan Conference Communications

It’s hard to keep up with all the good things happening at Cass Community Social Services and Cass Community United Methodist Church in Detroit. The Fox Family Center is the newest in a wide array of ministries that enhance the quality of life for vulnerable families in the Motor City.

Once a Roman Catholic convent, the center has been rehabilitated and refurbished to accommodate up to 75 members of single-parent families. The building has 29 bedrooms plus three ADA-compliant bedrooms for persons who need wheelchairs, walkers, or other physical accommodations. What makes it different from the current short-term transitional housing at Cass is its individual sleeping areas. This configuration ensures much-needed privacy for each family in residence.

“Have you ever had to share a shower, bathroom, and sleeping area?” asked the Rev. Faith Fowler, who has served as Cass Community’s Executive Director since 1994. “That can be so uncomfortable for parents and children. Each family will now have its separate bedroom, so there is no worrying about everyone intervening in your conversations or judging your parenting, which tends to happen in communal settings. It’s also healthier, helping to alleviate worries about everyone catching the flu or COVID-19.”

Youth help restore building for family housing center
Youth from several Heritage District congregations participated in a group mission trip to Cass Community Social Services for two summers straight in 2022 and 2023. During their week-long service projects, they cleaned up the grounds of the soon-to-be Fox Family Center, along with painting and floor restoration in the basement. Read more about one of these trips in this MIconnect story from 2022. ~ photo courtesy Pastor Brian Comiskey

The 75 residents currently housed in one of the other Cass campus buildings will soon transition to the Fox Family Center once the city of Detroit gives the all-clear. The current communal spaces allot about 6 feet for each person, sleeping head to toe, with non-relatives of several families occupying one large room. Plus, everyone must contend with lights until the lights are turned out for the night. “Now, with the new Fox Center, when moms decide to put their children down to sleep, they have control over their private space. They can talk, share family time, and work on developing their own bedtime ritual, which is exciting!” said Rev. Fowler.

The newly renovated edifice located at Webb and 14th Streets on Detroit’s north side has free Wi-Fi, the campus’ first and only air conditioning, a generator, a cafeteria, and a stunning chapel with stained glass windows for worship and multipurpose use. “We partnered with Comcast to provide Internet services, and they donated 50 tablets,” explained Rev. Fowler. “The number of bathrooms, showers, washers, and dryers have doubled, and the number of available appliances, in some cases, has tripled. We want everyone to feel at home and know this is their home until they get home.”

Rev. Fowler enthusiastically anticipates that these new amenities will foster a genuine sense of dignity for those living in the Fox Family Center. Intentional hospitality is crucial to Cass Community’s mission. Rev. Fowler said, “We are already planning special ways to welcome the families and children that come here. Imagine being a child entering a strange place for the first time and learning that you now have to sleep there. They are walking into the unfamiliar and unknown. So, how can we make them more comfortable?”

Youth assisting with floor restoration
During a summer service project in 2023, Heritage District youth mopped and cleaned the newly restored basement of the Fox Family Center. ~ photo courtesy Pastor Brian Comiskey

Rev. Fowler continued, “Well, several church ministries are partnering with us to provide handmade pillowcases designed for each child. When children arrive, one of the first things they will get to do is pick out their own unique pillowcase. Whichever one they pick, they will get to sleep on it their first night here, and when they do eventually leave to move on to permanent housing, they’ll each take that special pillowcase with them. That’s just one of the special ways we plan to make this center comfortable, safe, and welcoming to all who live here.”

“The families that stay at the Fox Family Center also have access to all the other services that Cass offers because they are right there on campus,” says the Rev. Sue Pethoud, Church and Community Relations Liaison for Cass Community Social Services. Single-parent families, primarily mothers and their children living on campus at present, can use the new library and take advantage of mental health counseling, the free medical clinic, career resources, food services, job training, GED classes, literacy courses, the community garden, meals, and anything else being offered. This is important because few families have cars, and some have no phones. Everything Cass offers is close at hand.

Plus, each parent can personally attend to their children and walk them to the nearby public school. Living in the new center will also make complying with the state’s social services regulations easier. To be sure, the opening of the stunning Fox Family Center, underwritten in part by significant contributions from the Fox family, is an exciting development for this community.

Old Roman Catholic convent on Detroit's north side
The Fox Family Center was once a convent for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, a group of Roman Catholic nuns. The historic character of the building has been preserved in the renovation. ~ photo courtesy Rev. Mary Hagley

Rev. Fowler’s vast connections and reputation in and beyond the city of Detroit have enabled her to help thousands of vulnerable persons through Cass Community Social Services. The old convent, once home to the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was most recently owned by the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. As soon as Rev. Fowler caught wind of potential change afoot, she seized the opportunity to acquire the space.

Even Roman Catholic nuns who once lived there are celebrating the new development. Sister Josephine Gaugier is one of them. She attended the Fox Family Center’s dedication celebration and was touched by what she saw. She noted, “They painted all the ceilings and walls and reconfigured the first floor.” Sister Gaugier has many fond memories and is grateful that ministry will continue in the space.

The center will also host events and programming and house offices. In addition, it has an enclosed porch, a landscaped yard with a three-slide playscape for children, and two carports that support the solar arrays, which help offset the center’s electricity bill.

Newly restored chapel in old convent
The dedication of the Fox Family Center was held in December 2023. The chapel with original stained glass windows will provide space for worship and other activities and events. ~ photo courtesy Cass Community Social Services/Facebook

The Fox Family Center is one of the latest developments in a continuum of housing options and employment opportunities offered by Cass Community Social Services. The next emerging project is a car wash business venture currently under construction. It will create more jobs for those served by Cass Community’s many ministries, which include a warming center, a rotation center (where several churches help house and assist with meals and shelter), Tiny Homes Detroit, and several apartment buildings.

Cass Community Social Services is a Step 2 EngageMI Ministry Partner (CCMM#3005) founded by United Methodists and deeply connected to Cass Community UMC. It is now an independent nonprofit that serves vulnerable families in Detroit. To learn more about Cass Community Social Services and how you can volunteer, visit their website and Facebook page. You can financially support this ministry through the Michigan Conference’s secure giving link.

The Michigan Conference