The group is called Phoemale and, for anyone wondering, is pronounced just like the word “female.” The unique spelling represents the words “phoenix” and “female” combined and the group celebrates women rising from the ashes. More specifically, Phoemale is a non-profit organization that enables women to empower fellow women in Metro Detroit who are rebuilding their lives after overcoming domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or homelessness. The organization got its start almost three years ago when a some women from the Grosse Pointe area got together and decided to do something to combat those issues.
“What happens to a lot of young women today — whether it’s human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence or homelessness — is horrible,” said Jenelle Lefief, Phoemale’s president. “A lot of women are left with children. They’ve had this trauma happen to them and they’re barely scraping by. We saw that all they needed was a hand up and they could really go places.”
Phoemale is a small group so their efforts, by their own admission, are modest. Still, they are also impactful, helping anywhere between four and 10 women every year.
“We know we can’t help everybody,” Lefief said. “We’re a small charity, but we’re looking for women who meet one of those four criteria who also have a plan. They are capable of getting on their feet but there’s a gap that other charities can’t fill so we help them.”
While the group is making a name for itself with its fundraisers, the ladies of Phoemale decided they wanted a project that was more hands-on, one that would allow them to, in fact, get their hands dirty. So last September they started the House into a Home project.
Phoemale found a woman named Erica* who needed that hand up that Lefief mentioned.
“She had been homeless for three years,” Lefief said. “She was the victim of domestic violence and sexual assault. She had a family member die and leave her a house. Sheowned a house, but the house was in complete disarray. It needed paint badly. There was not a single light fixture in the house that was working. They were using a lamp and an extension cord and going from room to room.”
And as extensive as that damage seems, then there were the porches.
“The front porch structurally was unsound,” Lefief said. “When you walked down the stairs it leaned from one side to the other, and when you got to the top of the stairs you had to step to the right and around because the top boards were sinking in. The back porch was rotting and unusable so she couldn’t leave out of her back door.”
Phoemale partnered with another charity called To Detroit With Love and got to work. For two days they set about transforming Erica’s house and, in the end, they did just that.
“We had about 12 or 15 volunteers,” Lefief said. “We had help from a local contractor from Grosse Pointe named Todd Wire. He volunteered his entire crew for one day, Sherwin-Williams donated paint, we had an electrician come in. In two days we completely transformed the house.”
Phoemale gave Erica’s 6-year-old son, who was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, a new bed and a basketball-themed bedroom.
They got her stove working and her kitchen functioning again. Outside, they laid new sod and cleaned up debris from the yard. Friends of the groups donated items such as a flat-screen TV, a solid-wood dining room set, linens, curtains and much more. And though it’s not perfect, Lefief said that she’s thrilled to have been able to help.
“Should it be in a magazine? Probably not. But this woman used to feel that her house was ugly. Now, she said she thinks her house is the prettiest one in the neighborhood. We gave the house a total facelift,” Lefief said. “It’s amazing what paint and a little bit of furniture and some elbow grease does. I think we were surprised at how well it turned out. We looked back at the house and said, ‘Wow!’ We thought we were just going to clean it up but it really became pretty and you could just feel the love in it. It was a great project for everyone. Not just for Erica, but for Phoemale and the neighborhood.”
* This person’s name was changed to protect their privacy.
The project was such a success that Phoemale decided to make it an annual event. For more information on the group, visit phoemale.org.