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Uniting families part of the spirit of S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon

There was a house. In Detroit. And a family. In Detroit. For decades, from the 1940’s on, they were happy together, a small, tidy home filled with loving memories. The kids grew up and moved away, and when the mother passed and the house was empty, the two adult daughters went back and tended to it; a fix-up here, some landscaping there.

For nearly 20 years the house remained vacant. But they still visited. They still felt attached.

“We missed the old neighborhood,” said Joanne Kowalczyk, 77.

“We had a very good life here,” said her sister, Janice Snider, 69.

There was a different house. And a different family. A struggling single mother who hoped to rent the house and live there. She saved $1,500 from her job as a hotel housekeeper and gave it to the man who said he was the landlord.

She never saw him again.

“He took my deposit, gave me the keys, and when I went to the house, all of the locks were changed,” said the woman, Ieisha Stevens, 34. “It turns out he’d done this to other people, too.”

Without money, Ieisha and her baby son, Major, bounced from one family member to another. Finally they landed at Genesis House II, a transitional housing facility run by the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

And this is where the houses and families meet.

The first family wanted to pass on the home they loved, which had fallen into disrepair. They gave it to the charity I founded, S.A.Y. Detroit, and our Working Homes/Working Families program.

We fixed it up, thanks to hard working crews from DRMM. Another charity, Humble Design, furnished it beautifully. We connected with the second family.

And Friday, the two families came together, on the lawn of the tidy abode on Detroit’s Northwest side. Tears were shed. Happy tears. And a home that had become an empty house became a home once more.

I was lucky. I got to hand the keys to Ieisha and watch her reaction. I admit to a few tears myself.

Stars align to help the needy

I didn’t always do this kind of thing. I do now. I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that giving makes me feel more alive than taking.

Perhaps you’ve found this, too.

If so, you can share that feeling this week.

Thursday, at the North Grand Court of the Somerset Collection, is our 6th annual S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon to help our city’s neediest citizens and fund charities like the one that brought a home and a family together.

As in years past, I will broadcast, with my radio partner Ken Brown, for 15 straight hours, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

As in years past, I’ve tapped every well-known person I know to help out. So folks like Hugh Jackman, Dr. Phil, Lyle Lovett, Tim Allen, Lily Tomlin, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Stanley (KISS) and dozens more will join us from around the world.

And local stars including Matthew Stafford, Henrik Zetterberg, Avery Bradley, Bernie Smilovitz and dozens more will join us on-site.

Dave Barry, the fantastically funny writer, and John Pizzarelli, the stellar jazz singer/guitarist will be there all day.

All these people — and hundreds of thousands who’ll join via radio (WJR-AM), TV (WDIV partners with us, and other stations are expected to be there) or Internet livestream (saydetroit.org, freep.comclickondetroit.com, and wjr.com) — will do so because they have a shared interest in seeing things improve in Detroit.

Whether it’s a daycare center, a clinic for homeless children and their mothers, a veterans center, a rebuilt rec center that pushes education, scholarships for needy kids, or a housing program that fills empty homes with working families, S.A.Y. Detroit, now in its 11th year, believes in helping lift those who have stumbled and getting them back on track.

I am humbled at how it has grown. And am amazed we’re now six years into this radiothon.

My voice is still scratchy from the first one.

December brings out the best in us

Look. It’s easy to get cynical at the holidays. We mock how we can care so much a few weeks each December, and be so callous the rest of the year.

I don’t see it that way. I see December as who we really are, and the rest of the year as the time we need to remind ourselves of it.

So please join us this Thursday on site at Somerset for a visual demonstration of the best inside us helping the challenged amongst us.

Or, if you can’t be there, join us on the radio or online. And if you’re so inclined, you can make a contribution through 1-855-955-GIVE, or mitchalbomradiothon.com.

As always, 100 percent of the money we raise goes directly to help the needy; all administrative costs are paid privately.

We will “officially” give house keys to three families Thursday during the event, including the Stevens family, Ieisha and her 2-year-old son.

“Today will be my last day at the shelter,” she said Friday, her eyes tearing up. “For people to come together to help others…it’s beautiful.”

She said it better than me.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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