BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“We turn moving in into moving forward.” -Julie Dickinson, Director, Humble Design Chicago.
Humble Design, the nonprofit that outfits homes for the homeless, is all about new beginnings and belonging: bringing families into life-changing spaces and providing not just furniture, linens house, books, games and toys, art, dishes and other essentials, but also warmth, safety and joy.
“The people we work with have gone through a series of traumas, tough battles, and many have experienced domestic violence,” says Dickinson. “Some have had to wait 6-8 years for affordable housing, and mums in particular seem to have sacrificed so much for their families, sleeping on a sofa at a relative’s house, being the last to be cared for. Your home is your sanctuary, and what makes me happiest about Humble Design is the profound impact of providing a safe place.
Launched by Treger Strasberg, Humble Design operates in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, San Diego and Seattle. It has furnished nearly 2,500 homes since its founding in Detroit in 2009.
“Treger had a colleague who went to section 8 housing and she came by to see her. After the family found a house, they had nothing left in the budget to furnish it. The children slept on heaps of blankets. Treger and his friend Ana started collecting things to furnish the house. They called their friends, neighbors, people they didn’t know to ask for beds, linens, furniture and kitchen items. The furniture kept arriving. So Treger called nine different shelters and said they had it all and wanted the donations to go directly to families in need,” shares Dickinson.
She continues, “The shelters all said it was a really great idea, but ‘nobody does that’. Treger and her husband, Rob, identified a hole in the system, and Humble Design was born. Chicago was the first city of expansion when U-Haul became a sponsor in 2017. U-Haul is donating Chicago storage space and our truck.
The non-profit organization works closely with social workers from organizations such as Heartland Alliance, Catholic Charities, Inspiration Corporation and others who refer their clients to them.
Various companies have partnered with Humble Design, with CB2 serving as their city’s sponsor with funds and property. Aldi also supplies goods; Casper donates sheets, pillows, and mattresses; The article provides furniture; and blankets are provided by Betsy’s Blankets, as well as sheets and duvets. RIT DYE is teaming up with the nonprofit to transform Casper White Duvet Covers into something more vibrant and joyful.
Staging companies Signature Staging and PS Lehman donate furniture and decorations, and Detective Bed Bug helps them ensure they can safely accept used mattresses and furniture. Nourishing Hope provides Hope food boxes to fill empty pantries. Pinot’s palette brings that special touch: hundreds of beautifully painted canvases to hang on the walls of their clients.
“We are also very grateful for donations from individuals across the city,” adds Dickinson. “We pick up everything from your home, except clothes, for a $100 pick-up fee. We appreciate when donors upload photos of the furniture they wish to donate. We have an organized warehouse and are very picky about what we give to our families. We want what you would put in your own home.
The houses are equipped several times a week, and the volunteers receive the day before the address of their assignments. Families arrive in the afternoon and the volunteers have the pleasure of welcoming them into their newly transformed homes.
Volunteers can choose a particular task: “Some volunteers like to be part of the kitchen team, making sure towels are washed and dishes, pots and pans are put out. Others choose the book space and ask families what types of books they like to read,” she says.
Designer Jamie Konker loves the opportunity to share her talents as seen in the before and after photos above. “Why am I doing this? It’s quite simple, you can do something you love and directly see a positive impact,” says Konker. “I so appreciate and admire Humble Design’s philosophy of treating each client with respect and recognizing their situation as unique.
“We, as volunteer designers and supporters of designers, listen to the client and try to tailor the installation and layout of a home to the needs and desires of the individual. Many installations involve children and teenagers, which gives us even more opportunities for creative thinking. Whether it’s finding the perfect rug and some cool art to go along with a section that just arrived in the warehouse, pulling sheets and bedding to honor a superhero request, or cleaning and organizing a kitchen or bathroom cabinet, the satisfaction factor of getting a place together for that day is exciting.
Dickinson, who grew up in Fox River Grove, herself has first-hand knowledge of the experience on both sides: “My dad was a retired contractor who could fix anything, hang anything. I learned so much from him. We were also homeless for a short time and double-crossed to another location for a while. It taught me how important it is to have your own space – it anchors your world.
In many ways, Humble Design volunteers take that extra step, even framing family photos and displaying them. Dickinson recalled, “A grandmother recently looked at the chest of drawers and saw a framed picture of her aunt. “That’s love,” the woman said.
On September 15, Humble Design will host its annual Welcome Home benefit in Chicago on the three-acre rooftop of the Old Post Office. Mr. Fixit Lou Manfredini, creator of smart home, will serve as host, and Bumpus, the soul and funk band from Chicago, will perform.
For more information on Humble Design, visit humbledesign.org.