HIGHLAND PARK (WWJ) – An 83-year-old Ravenna, Texas man drove for about 17 hours, checkbook in hand, to help residents of blighted and struggling Highland Park.

Ray Soncrant got lost in Detroit trying to find the woman he was looking for on Monday, and almost gave up until he spotted WWJ reporter Vickie Thomas in her marked news vehicle.

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He followed Thomas to the community-led development Avalon Village where resident Shamayim “Shu” Harris is leading the charge to resurrect her crumbling neighborhood.

. (credit: Vickie Thomas.WWJ)

. (credit: Vickie Thomas.WWJ)

“I left Wednesday at 2 o’clock and I got here this morning,” said Soncrant — formerly of Wyandotte, Michigan — explaining that he’d learned of Harris’ efforts from a feature report on CBS News.

“I saw a…15 second flash about what this young lady was doing, and I wanted to see my hometown, which was pretty much in shambles because of the transform of industry from the north to the south, and I said I’m gonna go up and see what’s going on, because I wanted to do this about 40 years ago,” Soncrant said.

According to a Facebook page promoting the project, the goal is to create a village within Highland Park that will convert vacant, blighted land into valuable urban resources to provide basic living components for a quality, comfortable, and prosperous life and to provide basic services to enhance traditional municipal or governmental services that have been reduced, eliminated, or that have become unaffordable for members of the community. 

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Harris and her group have already installed a solar-powered street light, and now they’re working to renovate a vacant property they’re calling “Homework House” with a plan to offer after-school tutoring and programs for kids.

Harris said the people of Highland Park — a small city surrounded by surrounded by Detroit and Hamtramck — deserve better living conditions.

(credit: Vickie Thomas.WWJ)

(credit: Vickie Thomas.WWJ)

“And so I’m thinking that we need to go ahead and we need to come together and put the power back in the people and we just take over and deal with our neighborhoods.”

She was thrilled when Soncrant handed her $500 to help.

“Oh my God! That is so sweet, I swear, that you’re actually here,” Harris said. “I’m excited; I’m just excited. A lot of people have been coming, but from Texas? I mean, just like driving days to get here? That is touching.”

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[Learn more about the Avalon Village project or make a donation at this link].