WARREN, Mich. — Art Van Furniture and WJR raised over $22,000 during a discussion and book signing with Mitch Albom at its Warren, Mich. headquarters on Feb. 2. Tickets were $10 and 100 percent of the proceeds went to S.A.Y. Detroit, a non-profit charity Albom founded to improve the lives of Detroit’s homelessness. The first 350 attendees received a complimentary autographed copy of his new book “Have a Little Faith.” About 400 people attended the fundraiser because more seats were added at the last minute.
Albom is a radio host on WJR 760 AM and a sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press. The author/journalist/broadcaster doesn’t give many speeches in the Detroit area. This was a brand new thing for him. Albom spoke for about an hour and took questions from the audience. He talked about his Rabbi Albert Lewis, who was his clergyman for his entire life. Albom also talked about his experience as a homeless person for a day. He also discussed the article he wrote about Detroit for Sports Illustrated.
“You don’t need me to tell you about our beleaguered city,” Albom said about the article he wrote for SI. “The city was going to scoop up homeless people [during Super Bowl XL] then boot them out on the street.” Albom was torn about whether or not he should write the article. But he didn’t want another reporter to fly into town and talk about the abandoned buildings and leave, so he agreed to do it. “SI ran it as I wrote it,” he added.
Albom chose to help out the Pilgrim Church (also known as I am My Brother’s Keeper), located at 1435 Brainard Street in Detroit. He said there was a huge hole in the roof, which allowed rain and snow to pour in. “They built a plastic tent inside the church,” the columnist and radio host said. That’s when Albom met the pastor, a man by the name of Henry Covington.
“He would literally feed the hungry, invited a stranger into his home and married a girl from the church,” Albom said. “Late November, trucks pulled up and unloaded shingles, tar, nails. Two weeks later, the entire congregation witnessed the hole that is now fixed. A plaque with the names of those who donated 50 cents or more is in that space.”
Minutes later, Pastor Henry Covington stood up and spoke to the audience inside the Art Van Furniture store. “You can pray and believe God is going to do something,” he said. “I heard him say the job was going to get done. I hold a congregation every Sunday. I never thought I’d see the day when I was drug-free.”
“We work very closely with Mitch Albom in terms of the free health clinic in Highland Park and we also work with Art Van,” said Barbara Willis, chief operating officer of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. “We thank god for Beaumont for stepping in to partner with us. I think we’re seeing more women and children coming in because of the economy and many of them just don’t have other place to go. The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries houses the clinic in 211 Glendale in Highland Park.”
The columnist and radio host said his rabbi asked him to deliver a eulogy. “I literally ran the opposite direction,” he said at first. After getting to know his rabbi more, Albom agreed to deliver it. Rabbi Lewis actually had a file on God, he said. “I did the eulogy. I got more involved in the church.”
“The S.A.Y. clinics is a vision of Mitch Albom to start helping the homeless,” said Val Gokenbach, vice president and chief nurse executive for Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “This clinic only focuses on the moms and the kids. It’s a very specific population. We’re providing all of the support services to them. We provide staffing for nursing, volunteer medical staffing. We’re doing all of their lab values, x-rays and diagnostics and really taking care of the patients that are sick. What happens in the past is they were providing medical treatment without an of the information we need.”
Albom decided to spend a night as a homeless person at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. Of course everyone asked him why he was there. “Why not me?” he questioned. “I’m just one disaster away from being there.”
“I think it’s important, you combine Art Van and his generous heart and Mitch Albom’s commitment and passion for this community, this is a no miss event,” said Mike Fezzey, president and general manager of WJR Radio. “People have been so kind. It’s sold out to the public. Mr. Van Elslander has been so kind to agree to match all those donations tonight up to $10,000. It’s the first time we’ve done this. This book is very unique because much of the story is centered here in Detroit. The need is so great right now in our community. It was an easy thing for all of us to say yes to.”
Albom said his organization S.A.Y. Detroit is searching for a second project to support. “We believe we found the opportunity to work in Haiti, hoping to make that our next project,” the columnist and radio host added. Pastor Covington said his oldest daughter had just left for Haiti.
“This is an event for S.A.Y., it’s being sponsored by WJR and by us, Art Van Furniture,” said Archie ‘Art’ Van Elslander, founder of Art Van Furniture. “Mitch Albom is the guy that’s talking about it. He is referring to his book and all the things he does for this mission. We believe in what Mitch is doing. We believe in this particular cause so I called my friend Mike and said ‘let’s get together and do this.’ We think it’s a wonderful cause.”
Click here for more information on S.A.Y. Detroit.