GENEVA, N.Y. — When a longtime Rochester-based real estate investor decided to branch out, faith took her to a Finger Lakes city that has seen its share of struggles. Now, Deb Cleveland is looking to share her fixer-upper skills with other women. 

It’s been said that living through a home renovation is like living in the wild. You do whatever it takes to survive.

“There's always these precious stories about these houses,” said Cleveland. “About how people have loved them so much.“

Survival was what Cleveland sought three decades ago as a newly single mom who bought her first fixer-upper.

“I didn’t realize what I was walking into,” she said. “I renovated the house we lived in it for a little less than a year. I flipped it, made $9,000 and I was smitten by the business."

Cleveland became a successful businesswoman. A renovation and flipping mentor who once owned 114 rental units. By age 48, she retired.

“What I didn’t realize is I’m a doer,” she said. “I’m from the generation of women that, we get sh** done. You know, we really do.”

Life’s journey rarely takes us in a straight line. Cleveland says she felt a spiritual pull that took her to Geneva. She bought her first fixer-upper there more than a decade ago. The real estate investor, house fixer and flipper hasn’t looked back. In Geneva alone, she has done 87 complete renovations.

The latest house is at 142 High Street, a one-time family home whose elderly resident passed away years ago. In disrepair, it actually took several years to convince the woman’s son to sell.

“I looked up this owner because I just kept looking at how bad shape it was,” said Cleveland. “So I knew it would be soon before this house, you couldn't turn it around.”

The big pile of brush outside shows some of the work done. What admittedly started as a way to make money is now something way more meaningful. Transforming homes means transforming neighborhoods.

“There's something about these houses that is sacred,” she said. “For me, there's like this sacred ministry, a calling.”

One which Cleveland is looking for other women to join. Small Town Dynasty, as she calls it, is an investing and flipping mentorship program for women, that’s now also looking at other potential Finger Lakes towns.

“I thought, wouldn't it be great if I found a place for us to begin as a group,” she said.

When it’s done, the house she is currently working on will be sold as a single-family home. Making a difference, one property at a time.

“That really makes me happy,” she said. “That brings so much joy to my heart. It’s really beyond words for me.”