Karen “Batchelor Farmer” Allen
In 1995, Karen "Batchelor Farmer" Allen gave up her career as an attorney and created "The MichCon/Think Twice Foundation's Block Club” in Detroit, Michigan. With the goal of rebuilding Detroit block by block, Ms. Farmer has brought together a unique collaboration of businesses, community organizations and individuals to revitalize depressed neighborhoods in the city by pooling both financial and physical resources.
Ms. Farmer empowers the community with a series of workshops about various ways to revitalize a community. Though she offers ideas, the community makes the final decision about the plan of action based on what they learned in the workshops. She believes this is the most effective way to get the community invested in the project. If community participants feel a sense of pride in the project, they are more likely to maintain the finished product.
The Block Club's objectives are to remove unsafe or abandoned structures, create affordable housing through the rehabilitation of salvageable structures, clean up vacant lots and identify new uses, provide home ownership and home maintenance training.
Since its inception in 1995, The Block Club, under Ms. Farmer's leadership, has mobilized a widely diverse, at-risk community to get involved in a revitalization process. It has provided extensive repairs to senior and low-income homes, rehabilitated two single-family homes and one four-family home and removed unsafe and abandoned structures.
In 1996, The Block Club expanded its outreach with the creation of "City Style Salsa", a summer youth employment program. Funded by a grant from the Skillman Foundation, the Sports and Recreation Commission and New Detroit, this six-week program allowed 13 teens from Southwest Detroit to start their own business making salsa. The Salsa Kids have learned life skills as well as business, employment, marketing, banking, food processing and sales skills.