Ms. Cynthia LaFond

As Interviewed by Henry Borowski, March 18, 2012

Cynthia Lafond: In Her Own Words

It was in the 50’s when I was growing up at home. I was the oldest of five with two brothers and two sisters that were younger than me. For a period of time Busia lived with us, that was my dad’s mother. For another period of time, my Aunt Bernice lived with us, my dad’s sister. We always had a houseful of people in a small house.

We always had a big family and lots of holiday gatherings, big Christmas or Easter parties and other gatherings. Because Busia and my Aunt lived with us, we always had people over- a houseful of people. One thing I used to love, was when my cousins came over and we would play “hide and go seek”. The girls would be on one team and the boys on the other and we would run through the neighborhood and hide.

We lived in Northwest Detroit. There were a lot of kids. The moms were mostly stay at home moms and the dads went off to work, like ours. Each family on the block had a couple of kids...3, 4, 5… there were a lot of kids to play with all the time.

We had a real lively gathering of kids.

When I was little I started a street newspaper. A bunch of us girls…maybe 6 or 8 of us would walk up and down the street and ask every one if they had any news (laughs). We would print it up and sell it for 5 cents a copy, and we would pass it out, up and down the street. It was just news like…someone had a new pet, or relatives visiting from out of town. It was kid of cute.

We did other things too. We had day care and a kiddie day fair. We held fashion shows. We did a lot of things when we were younger.

When I was a teenager, I was involved in Girl Scouts, choir, a little bit of sports, debate team and I did a lot of babysitting throughout this time.

I went to Catholic schools in high school and grade school. They were pretty disciplined, pretty strict. We had uniforms and had to follow the rules. They were strong academically. I learned a lot that I would help me in teaching later. English and religion were probably my favorite classes and ones that I would end up teaching later.

It was different than public schools in that we would have religion classes and we would follow religious practices, we would go to Mass on the first Friday of every month, and Stations of the Cross during Lent. Things like that weren’t taught in public schools.

In high school there were several teachers that influenced me. They were nuns, and I later became a nun when I left high school. One was a math teacher and one was a biology teacher, so it wasn’t the subject that influenced me but it was who they were as a person. They were very giving people, and very loving people and good to be with.

After high school, I went right into the convent. I went in and was there for five years.

I wanted to give to other people. It was the time, the 60’s. People wanted to work for justice. It was the Age of the Hippies. I always wanted to go into Detroit and help the poor. It was the image I had in mind.

How many people have you helped…

(Laughs) Oh I don’t know. A lot of people – you never know how many people you have helped. I’ve worked with the homeless for a while, along the way there were many.

There was one in particular; her name was Norma. She was adopted and she came from California. She always felt like she didn’t fit in with her family. She was an African- American woman. Her dad was in the military. Her skin was darker, that the rest of her family who had lighter skin and she did not feel like she belonged. So she moved here- to take a job in Detroit in an institutional setting working with kids. When she got here, there was no job. It fell through and she did not want to go home. So she ended up becoming homeless just because of that. SO I met her on the street, I got to know her for many years. She ended up pulling her self up, and eventually got a job because she was smart. She married a guy named Willie, and she asked me to be her maiden of honor at her wedding. She got married a church downtown, a historical Baptist church and they had a traditional African ceremony where they jumped over the broom. They had traditional African garb on and I was her maid of honor (laughs)- and we have been friends ever since. Her husband Willie died, and she has all kinds of illnesses, but we still keep up with each other.

So that is just a story of how you can have a long-term friendship with someone that started out living on the streets.

I helped her, I contributed to her, but she had her own inner resources that helped her though as well. She needed someone to believe in her and trust that she had goodness and was capable. That’s all I contributed…and friendship. I was genuine with her.

I go down to St. Leo’s Soup kitchen with my friend Midge. That has been a favorite place over the years for me. I started just volunteering when I was between jobs at the soup kitchen, then I got to know the people that worked there and the homeless. So we would help them as they moved into new homes and found out that they needed things for their homes or apartments. So Midge and I used to collect things to take to them. Eventually we collected so much stuff that we needed to rent a storage (unit) to keep all of the stuff. We got so much furniture and things that we would always be working with the staff to help move furniture into new homes. That got to be overwhelming after a couple of years.

So then I used to just work and help along the Cass Corridor, an area where there are a lot of homeless in Detroit. I would walk along the Corridor and just help connect the homeless with St. Leo’s and other places. I still go down there, even though now and I still visit St. Leo’s even though I have a full time job and can’t make it as much. But people still remember me. Some people are still around and they remember us.

About fifteen years ago there was a group that was formed here in Livonia (the city Aunt Cindy now lives in, near Detroit) called Active Friends of the Homeless. And I joined that group, and it was a local a grassroots group that raised money to help people with deposit, rent or to pay utilities. It was a local grass roots group that was active for about 10 or 12 years and I was the treasurer. It just ended.

There are resources, but there are so many people in need that it is good to have people volunteer that are willing to help out. I think the needs are overwhelming at times.

Because of the bad economy an awful lot of people are loosing their homes and there are a lot of foreclosures. There are a lot of people in need.

There has been an upswing lately, where young people of all color are moving in and building lofts, and trying to turn Detroit around. There are artists and urban farmers that are moving in and changing the landscape a little at a time.

I work with housing issues…to help people of low and moderate income get grants and loans to fix their houses and repair to bring their houses up to code and fix them up. Now I manage a senior housing.

Neighborhood Service Organization ….devoted to mentally ill and homeless. Purchased an old building that was known in many years in Detroit…it’s run down and vacant. They are rebuilding it and turning it into living apartments for the homeless. There will be offices for the staff with offices, training centers and supportive services and a rooftop garden. It’s down the street from Focus Hope which offers job training. It’s better than a shelter, it’s a living apartment and all of the help they need to better their lives.

My Dad always belonged to Saint Vincent de Paul. He would always leave the house when I was young and go take packages to help the poor and families that needed help.

My mom and dad often would go over to the house and intervene and help them out.

I think my influences were my mom and dad because they always would take care of others.

Oh yes. We are going to retire and we are already thinking and praying about what kind of ministry we can do to help others. Because we still have are health and there are so many people that need help. We are thinking about this new building that is going up. I’m kind of thinking about helping with the gardening.

A few years ago there was a major tornado hit Detroit, maybe twenty years ago. At the time I didn’t have a job. I had the sense that I wanted to help, so I went and helped with the clean-up and I ended-up being hired as the coordinator of the disaster relief efforts. For about three years I worked with all of the churches and we offered services through one coordinated effort.