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West Bloomfield Nonprofits Win $30K in Contest

Project Build!, a collaborative effort between two local organizations, won by a 'less than 1 percent margin' in a national voting contest through Facebook hosted by The Home Depot Foundation.

A local woman who has multiple sclerosis and recently began using a wheelchair will receive a free barrier-free bathroom and kitchen remodel. An older couple who are Holocaust survivors will receive new plumbing in their home. A man with celebral palsy will have the ceiling and walls in his home replaced and winterized, all free.

These are the results of a national voting contest called Aprons in Action, hosted by The Home Depot Foundation, which took place throughout the month of January. It was announced Wednesday that Project Build!, a collaborative effort between West Bloomfield-based  (JFS) and the Building Industry Association of Southeastern Michigan (BIA), won the contest, with a prize of $25,000 cash, and $5,000 in Home Depot gift cards, which will be used to fund projects similar to the aforementioned projects, all from JFS clients.

Project Build! is a program that provides clients with safe and barrier-free homes through pro bono repairs and renovations provided by members of the BIA.

Project Build! now moves on to a new voting round to take place in March, with a grand prize of $250,000 cash, a second-place prize of $150,000 and a third-place prize of $100,000. Project Build! will compete against 11 other non-profits across the nation including two in the Metro Detroit area: the Ronald McDonald House (Detroit) and Taylor Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4422.

The victory was marked by madcap voting and excitement, said Michelle Malamis, development associate at Jewish Family Services.

"We were ahead 40 votes the night before. We really had to rally (Tuesday) morning. There was mass communication all over the place  and we just steamrolled ahead. We won by over 100 votes, less than a 1 percent margin, which is unbelievable. It really took a group effort, which is just amazing," she said.

Although Project Build! finished with more than 9,000 votes, Malamis said that the organization will not merely rely on a base of voters, but instead will seek to host rallies and aggressively network with other nonprofit organizations in the community to get word of the contest out to as many interested people as possible.

"We definitely learned a lot from this experience," she said. "It’s going to take a lot of mobilizing efforts to get on people board early. We’re probably going to have a couple of different rallies, to just let people know, we could do some incredible things with the grand prize."

JFS CEO Perry Ohren agreed. after winning a day-long voting contest as part of Toyota's 100 Cars for Good initiative. This was much different, he said.

"We learned a ton about how to make social media work for us," Ohren said.  "There’s a lot of secondary benefits of being able to get our mission out there, for people in town to feel like it’s their community organization. For us, it’s becoming savvier at communicating that message and asking people to step up and do something on our behalf."

, BIA vice president of communications Susan Adler-Shanteau, said that the work is some of the most gratifying for membership, which includes local builders, remodelers and suppliers and runs 600-strong.

"Our members have been battling rocky economic conditions, just like everyone else. This work makes them feel great. We hope that this great feeling will continue even after the economy improves," she said.

Project Build! were competing against three other nonprofit organizations from across the country: Oregon Paralyzed Veterans of America in Salem, OR, Pilot Club of Denham Springs in Denham Springs, LA, and VFW Post 4127 in Homestead, FL.

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