On Oct. 4, Kevin Peplinski, a 30-something living in Corktown, was the victim of a robbery so malicious it destroyed his livelihood and sidetracked his faith in Detroit's burgeoning comeback.
But the following week, Peplinksi had not only recouped his losses, a complete stranger changed his entire perspective on life.
"Its funny, because one day I was in complete hate mode," Peplinski says. "Then I met Brian, and I love everybody."
In October of 2013, Peplinski bought a small bungalow on McLean in North Hamtramck at the Wayne County auction for a little over $1,000. Having long worked in construction, the Sterling Heights native gutted the 700-square-foot house and has been rebuilding using salvaged materials and incorporating green building designs. His plans include solar panels, rain collection, even one day "living completely off the grid."
North Hamtramck, sometimes called NoHam, on the Hamtramck/Detroit border, is becoming "a really desirable neighborhood," filled with artists and community builders, says Peplinki. His next door neighbor is a Write-A-House, a permanent writers' residency. Artist Mitch Cope and architect Gina Reichert and their famous Power House Project is a couple streets over.
After installing most of the electricity, Peplinski also installed a steel door and reinforced door jams.
"I thought I had secured the home well enough to leave my power tools here," he says. "It was getting to be a drag to have to bring them back and forth."
But arriving on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, a neighbor told Peplinski he'd called the police the night before because he saw flashlights flickering inside. Peplinski says the police did come to the house, but no arrests were made.
"The bottom line was whoever did it was there long enough to pry open a steel door," Peplinski says. "They got away and my tools were gone."
Not a huge fan of social media (in fact, he caved and recently joined Facebook), Peplinski says his girlfriend convinced him to try crowd sourcing. On Oct. 7, Peplinksi posted on gofundme.com: "Months of work has been destroyed, and I am no longer able to earn a living or finish my home."
Pretty soon the story of the theft hit Facebook, which is where Brian Estes learned about it. Estes is the owner of Capital Bowling Service in Livonia — a construction company that builds Family Entertainment Centers. (Think: Emagine in Royal Oak and Lucky Strike in Novi). Estes says he had an inkling of what Peplinksi's loss felt like.
His son, Eric, who has a small landscaping business, had $40,000 worth of equipment stolen and had only $10,000 worth of insurance.
Estes also knows he prefers to be on the giving end of the spectrum: A few years ago, his company donated its services for an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" episode in Colorado Springs.
And so without hesitation, Estes "wrote him a small note saying I was a small contractor and that maybe I might be able to help a little bit."
"A little bit" might be the understatement of the year. Upon request, Peplinski sent Estes a list of the stolen tools. They included: a Makita Multi master plunge cutting tool and blades; Makita 18-volt cordless impact driver and drill combo with charger; a Porter Cable Tiger Sawzall with blades; a Craftsman skill/circular saw; and a Bosh scroll/jig saw.
Estes gathered every tool from his warehouse and then some.
"What was a miracle to me," Estes says, "was the fact that I not only had the exact tools, but the exact same brand and model and make."
Peplinski was speechless.
"I was just blown away," he says. "It's amazing that one person would do this for a complete stranger."
Estes says he had to step up to the plate.
"This is wasn't a coincidence, this was an opportunity that was handed to me," he says. "I'm a Christian. I'm just doing what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to help one another, right?"
Plus, seeing the look on Peplinski's face when he gave him the tools was more than worth it. "He was almost in tears. It was so great."
Peplinski is thrilled beyond measure to back working on his house. He says he expects to be living in it before winter comes.
Without a doubt, the experience will stay with him forever, he says.
"I hope someday I can be in a position to help someone the way Brian helped me. It's the only way I can think of to thank him."