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Ellen Degeneres gives Avalon Village leader $100K home

Stephanie Steinberg, The Detroit News

Detroit’s Mama Shu got a pleasant surprise from Ellen Degeneres — a $100,000 house for Avalon Village in Highland Park — when she appeared on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” on Wednesday.

The prefab home will be delivered fully assembled with energy-efficient features. Upon hearing the news, Shu, director of the Avalon Village, jumped out of her chair, yelling “Oh my God!” as she turned around to see a picture of the home. Grinning ear to ear, she wrapped her hands around Degeneres to give her a hug.

Shu (whose legal name is Shamayim Harris) has raised nearly $250,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to develop the sustainable eco-village between Woodward and Second. The community will include urban gardens, a marketplace for women entrepreneurs, sports fields, stores operating from shipping containers and a Homework House for students.

In a video, Shu said the Homework House is the “most important addition to the village” that will include a computer lab, library, laundry room and kitchen for kids to cook from when they come home from school.

“This is a place where I want them to be happy and safe too,” she said.

The inspiration for the project came after losing her 2-year-old son, Jakobi Ra, nine years ago. Jakobi and his older brother were crossing the street in an area that wasn’t properly lit when a car hit him. Shu, now 50, decided to channel her grief into community action. Six months after her son was killed, she paid $3,000 to buy the first house on the block.

“Building and doing and my community work are actually healing,” she said. “Those are the things that have actually saved me.”

Shu told Degeneres that she’s bought 11 properties so far and has landscaped the block. She’s now focused on completing the Homework House.

“People think that things are so big and so unreachable,” she said. “What we’re showing is that you can really really do this. I’m not an urban planner. I guess i just have a bit of an imagination. Somebody had to do it. So I did.”

Avalon Village is hosting a watch party 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at 160 Victor St., where Mama Shu is expected to attend.

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