Lifelong Woodbridge resident's dedication to community comes full circle

Over half a century ago, Evette Napier’s mother purchased the two-story house she lives in today in Detroit’s historic Woodbridge district. “We’re on our fourth generation [in Woodbridge]. My siblings were raised here, I raised my kids here, and now my kids have kids,” says Napier, who shares the family home with her oldest brother, Ralph, her sons Corey, Cortez, and Calvin, daughter Christina, and four young grandchildren.
Evette Napier and her late mother, Eva, who passed away earlier this year at age 81.


A lifelong resident of Woodbridge, Napier, 46, has spent the last four decades watching the city change as she raised a family of her own and founded Families Caring 4 Children, an organization that plans community-focused family outings and events. In 2019, Napier was also appointed the president of Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corp., a position she still holds today. (Editor’s note: Woodbridge Neighborhood Development is the funder of this story.)


Last October, Napier’s dedication to her neighborhood came full circle when she was diagnosed with cancer and began a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that she says have often left her feeling fatigued. Throughout the experience, her close-knit community of neighbors has been supportive. “A lot of times when I go to chemo, my neighbors will bring over dinner for my kids,” Napier says. “Some of my neighbors will go to the grocery store and drop off food at the house for us.”


Earlier this year, that sense of community was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Michigan, resulting in a statewide shelter-in-place order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March. “It was very scary because it was more of the unknown,” Napier says. Despite those uncertainties, she says her neighbors’ positivity remained steadfast. “They would put teddy bears in their houses and people would walk their kids around to see the teddy bears on their porches or in their windows. The neighborhood has been very active in bringing everybody together,” she says. “If you need anything, the neighborhood has been very gracious in trying to support each other.”


Despite her neighbors’ efforts to lighten the heaviness of the pandemic, Napier says the early days of the shelter-in-place orders were stressful. “A good friend of mine passed from COVID in the beginning [of the pandemic],” she recalls.


Napier’s circumstances were further complicated as schools closed across the state under the executive order, forcing her teenage daughter and sons to complete their schoolwork from home as she continued to juggle chemotherapy treatments every three weeks alongside regular doctor appointments to manage her cancer. “My kids are pretty self-sufficient, being teenagers,” Napier says. “My boys go online and do their work. The biggest problem I had was with my daughter (who is 13) staying focused on her work.”


Although Calvin and Cortez, who attend River Rouge High School, were able to continue their studies online, Napier says her daughter Christina, who is going into the eighth grade at Sabbath Middle School, was provided with a homework packet that made educating her from home more difficult. “It was really challenging trying to get them to do their schoolwork,” Napier says, adding that having the option of one-on-one FaceTime sessions with teachers has been helpful under the circumstances.


Because of those challenges, Napier says she’s grown “nervous” about what the coming school year might hold for students. “There’s so much controversy with them going [in person]. Teachers don’t want to be infected, which I understand,” Napier says, adding that she remains concerned about whether students will be able to receive an adequate education remotely. “It’s really something to think about.”


As Napier continued to receive cancer treatments in the months that followed (she’s about halfway done), she says she did her best to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid exposure to the virus. Still, in early June, she began to exhibit the symptoms of COVID-19. “I started getting short of breath when going up and down the stairs or just walking a bit,” Napier says. “So I called my doctor, and that’s when he told me to come into the emergency room.”


At the hospital, Napier says she underwent a series of tests to check for blood clots and other potential side effects from her cancer treatments. She was also tested for COVID-19. “They gave me the [COVID] test at the emergency room,” she says. “And it came back positive.”


Over the next four days, Napier underwent observation and treatment at Karmanos for the virus. “I was in ICU for two days …” she says, adding that she received a blood transfusion as part of her treatment for the virus. “I didn’t need a ventilator, so I was able to move out of the ICU sooner because of that.” But for her, her main concerns were about being away from her kids while they were at home without her.
Corey, Evette, Cortez, Calvin, Christina, and Courtney Napier.

After being released from the hospital on June 13, Napier says she immediately went into self-isolation at home. “I had to be quarantined for two weeks, so the two youngest [grandchildren] went to their dad’s house and the other two went to Muskegon [to their mother’s house, along with their father Corey],” she says, adding that other family members and friends pitched in to help take care of her teenage children during her quarantine. In addition to the 14-day period of self-isolation, Napier says she was also prescribed daily injections of enoxaparin sodium, which she self-administered over the course of 28 days to prevent blood clots — a potential complication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.


In spite of those precautions, Napier says she hasn’t experienced any shortness of breath or other symptoms since returning home from the hospital last month, and she’s now preparing for a monthlong series of radiation treatments that will take place five days a week throughout August.


Despite the challenges Napier and her family have faced amid the pandemic, she remains appreciative of living in a tight-knit, supportive neighborhood during uncertain times. “If you need anything, the neighborhood has been very gracious in trying to support each other …” she says. “I really love being in Woodbridge. I don’t see myself moving or going anywhere else anytime soon.”

This story is part of an ongoing series done in partnership with Woodbridge Neighborhood Development to highlight stories of resilience in the neighborhood.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Erin Marie Miller.

Erin Marie Miller is a freelance writer and photographer based in Metro Detroit whose work focuses on people and small business. Inspired by the genre of New Journalism, she is passionate about connecting people to their communities through meaningful storytelling.