From a home makeover to a furniture bank… and beyond
How a one-time home makeover turned into a joint collaboration that led to the creation of an 18,000 square foot furniture bank in Omaha, Nebraska.
Written by Hannah Vlach
In December 2021, Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project started off on a journey to create Omaha’s first furniture bank. One and a half years later, the infrastructure has been successfully built and The Furniture Project is ready to solely run the space. As Restoring Dignity prepares to move out of the furniture bank and into our new offices at the Yates Illuminates building, we take this time to reflect on the past eleven years and how we went from serving one family in 2012 to assisting with the creation of a critical piece of furniture justice in our city.
This is our story.
August 18th, 2023
“I’m going to miss you so much,” I told Jean as I gave her a hug. “It has been a tremendous journey and I am very glad we had the opportunity to do this together.” Jean smiled at me, her eyes full of understanding and sparkling with a joy that never seemed to go out. Almost two years ago, we met on a blisteringly cold, winter day. Jean showed up to volunteer to help move Restoring Dignity’s community donation center to an empty 18,000 square foot warehouse that we hoped to turn into a fully functional furniture bank for Omaha. Soon after, she became a consistent volunteer, donating hours upon hours of her time each week to sort donations and help build the infrastructure of the furniture warehouse. She became a kindred person in my life. Every Tuesday and Thursday I knew I’d see Jean, and she’d give me a hug, and we’d talk about life and her grandchildren, and my children, and I’d listen to her incredible stories of the work she did as a nurse and about her life journey. Standing with Jean in the middle of the donation sorting area, I looked around, trying to soak in the last days before the end of Restoring Dignity’s involvement with furniture distribution. In a few weeks, we would be passing the baton to our non-profit partner, The Furniture Project, and they would carry the important mission of furniture justice forward.
Endings can be hard, especially when so much love and passion and life has been poured into something. Mr. Rogers said it beautifully:
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else. I’ve felt that many times. My hope for all of us is that “the miles we go before we sleep” will be filled with all the feelings that come from deep caring – delight, sadness, joy, wisdom – and that in all the endings of our life, we will be able to see the new beginnings.”
Consistent volunteer, Jean, cleaning pots, pans and dishes before refugee families shop for items at the furniture bank (December 2022)
2004-2012 – How it started
The story of how Restoring Dignity went from serving one family, to opening a donation center, to helping build a furniture bank in Omaha, dates back to 2004. At that moment in time, large numbers of refugees from Sudan were being resettled in Omaha, and there was a dire need for community support. The Salvation Army needed volunteers and I said I’d help. At 16 years old, I knew very little, except that I loved people and wanted to serve the community. This seemed like as good of an opportunity as any, so I committed to volunteering three times a week after school. My job was to pick up South Sudanese youth and bring them to The Salvation Army center, where kids would receive food after school and have access to classes, social services and games. These interactions brought me face to face with a culture that was unique and beautiful, albeit different from my own. Eventually, I began mentoring a group of younger girls, including many who were South Sudanese, and we became like family to each other. For four years, this volunteering continued, and my parents got involved and we started doing this work as a family. At 19, I got married to my now former partner, and we had two wonderful boys, which took me away from volunteering for several years.
At 24 years old, I received news one night that shook me to my core. One of the South Sudanese girls I had mentored for over three years had committed suicide at the young age of 18, on the anniversary of her father’s suicide. Her beautiful life departed this world far too early, and left in its shadow the weight of unrelenting grief, fastened tightly to the shoulders of her family. My mom and I went over to their home to pay our respects and to learn more details about the funeral. Walking into the house, we came face to face with the wound of poverty. A wound I had never been privy to before. Anytime I picked up or dropped the girls off from their homes, during The Salvation Army days, they never invited me in or wanted me to see their home. For the first time, I understood why. Only two lightbulbs worked in the house, and the family couldn’t afford to buy more. None of the beds had sheets. A bunk bed had been donated to the family, but was short on hardware, leaving the top bunk hanging precariously by one bolt. Two bath towels were shared between six people. The house was rented out by a slumlord, and repairs hadn’t been made for years. My mind spun. In that moment, I knew we had to do something to turn the tide around for this family. We collaborated with the family’s cousin, Sunday, and came up with an idea to give the family a home environment that could help them grieve in a dignified manner. We approached the family about the idea, and they were on board. A free website was created and named “Restoring Dignity,” and we asked family and friends to donate items.
The first home-makeover post on a free WordPress blog (August 2012)
Donations dropped off in Hannah’s living room (August 2012)
Family and friends stepped up immediately and donated more than twice the number of items that the family needed! My living room and my parents’ house was full of everything from toilet paper to beds to dressers to towels. We mobilized a group of volunteers (consisting of family and friends) and completed a home-makeover for this family over the course of two weekends. Every room was made whole, every repair was made. We provided the family with enough lightbulbs, paper towels and other toiletries to last a long time. The kids started smiling again. Hope could be felt, where it had been erased before. We had done what we would have wanted someone to do for us, if the situation was reversed.
With a lot of furniture left over, we asked the question, “Is there another family in need of furniture?” We soon found out about another widowed South Sudanese woman with children who were sleeping on the floor. And so we completed a second home-makeover. After this, refugee caseworkers in Omaha heard about these home-makeovers and began making referrals for other families in devastating situations. What had started as a one-time community effort ended up growing with each passing year. For six and a half years this effort (which we named “Restoring Dignity”) was run 100% by volunteers and we completed 31 home makeovers during this time.
The first eleven families that we had the honor and privilege of serving (2012-2014)
During this time, storing furniture for these projects became a top priority, and we moved collected items out of our living rooms and into a free garage that was donated by a volunteer.
Our second location at a storage garage, generously donated by a volunteer (2015)
In 2018, we received a generous $15,000 donation which allowed us to rent a larger garage space for $1,000/month plus utilities.
Restoring Dignity’s third location of our Community Donation Center (2018)
2018 – Growing to meet community needs
During a home-makeover in May 2018, we noticed that the Syrian family we were bringing furniture to had no air conditioning in their home. The mother told us how difficult it was to sleep at night due to the heat, and that she and her children were often exhausted and struggling at work and school because of a lack of sleep. Several volunteers bought and dropped off window a/c units and we installed them for the family. This ability to have relief from the heat greatly improved their quality of life. And it dawned on us: in addition to completing home makeovers for families, we could also install free window a/c units. So that’s what we did. The summer of 2018 marked the first year of window a/c installation, in which volunteers would drop off a/c units and we’d install them for any refugee family who had no air conditioning and couldn’t afford to purchase a unit.
Volunteer Tony installing one of the first window a/c units of the summer (2018)
While installing units in the summer of 2018, our volunteers came face to face with serious and life threatening conditions at an apartment complex in Omaha that housed over 500 refugees from Burma. Residents approached us repeatedly, asking for help in getting repairs made. Pictures of the housing conditions that we sent to refugee caseworkers, as we tried to find some type of help for the tenants, found their way to the City of Omaha. In September 2018, the City inspected the complex and deemed it unsafe and uninhabitable for humans. In one day, 99 families lost their home. Omaha stood in shock as inspectors found over 2,000 code violations. Heartland Family Service worked day and night to rehouse all of the families. However, there was a huge need for furniture and household items, as most of the families could not take their items from the apartment complex due to tremendous bed bug, cockroach and rodent infestations. Restoring Dignity felt that it was our responsibility to stand up and fill in this gap, and so we did. Volunteers matched displaced families with community sponsors (religious groups, workplaces, volunteer groups, etc) and collected furniture at our garage. We named our storage space the “Community Donation Center,” and sponsors came and picked up furniture for families and delivered it.
Sponsors and families from the condemned apartment complex picking out furniture at the Community Donation Center (2018)
After all 99 families were rehoused and provided with the items they needed to restart their lives, we had a surplus of remaining furniture. In fact, many generous community members continued to regularly drop off furniture that they wanted to go to refugee families. We decided to open up the donation center once a week, on Saturday mornings, so that any refugee family who needed furniture or mattresses could come and pick out items.
Families picking out needed items (2019)
Some families visited our donation center because they lost everything due to a bed bug infestation. Others visited because they had moved to Omaha as secondary migrants, and had been sleeping on the floor for the past year (or longer). Some families had new babies and couldn’t afford a crib or other infant supplies. Several had family members finally able to come to America and leave refugee camps, but they couldn’t afford a bed for them to sleep in. One family lost everything in a fire. The reasons were many and every situation was unique.
We began to open up our Community Donation Center on weeknights and Saturdays, for donors to drop off items. And we began to recruit “consistent” volunteers who faithfully showed up every week to help with the effort. I was also brought on during this time as the first employee and first Executive Director of Restoring Dignity.
Volunteer Chloe at our third location, helping to manage the Community Donation Center every week (2019). Chloe is now our Director of Operations.
In December 2018, we were introduced to Drew Gerken, a fellow volunteer who started his own non-profit named The Furniture Project. Drew had seen first hand the effects of poverty, during his full-time work as a firefighter. Seeing children sleeping on floors and living out of suitcases inspired Drew to begin delivering furniture to families in need. A mutual friend connected Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project, and we began communicating. Drew had a pick-up truck and and we had our donation center, which was centrally located and could store furniture. A natural partnership was created where we began sharing furniture and storage space, and Drew helped deliver furniture to families who had no access to a truck or larger vehicle. Even though we were running two separate organizations, our hearts aligned on the desire to get furniture to people who needed it.
Donors regularly dropped off furniture, household items and toiletries for families. Without the faithful support of our donors, the Community Donation Center would have ceased to exist.
The Community Donation Center continued to grow, both in terms of families in need of items and donors wanting to drop off furniture. We moved four times between 2019 and 2021, and kept expanding space and increasing availability for when families could come and choose items.
(Pictured: The Furniture Project and Refugee Empowerment Center regularly partnered with Restoring Dignity to get furniture out to clients)
2021 – Our seventh move
In the summer of 2021, we found a location off of 50th and Center that would allow us to have a stand alone building where we could operate the Community Donation Center. For the past several years, we had been running everything out of storage units, which presented unique logistical issues. Having our own space would allow us to grow our donation center and allow more families to regularly shop. For the seventh time, volunteers helped us pack everything up in boxes and we moved.
Volunteers helping us move to the new location. Drew with The Furniture Project worked hand in hand with us to get moved and setup at the 50th and Center building (2021).
Volunteers disassembling shelves and loading them onto the truck (2021)
The seventh location of our Community Donation Center, in a converted meat locker (July 2021). All shelving was generously donated by the Lozier Foundation and by private, individual donors.
Summer/Fall 2021 – The Fall of Kabul
One month after we moved to the new location, America ended the war in Afghanistan and Kabul fell. We watched in great sadness as desperate and terrified Afghans hoisted their infants over fences at the airport and as people climbed onto the outside of planes that were leaving. The war in Afghanistan was over for America, but a new war had begun inside the country against those who supported the USA. Shortly afterwards, Congress agreed to provide humanitarian shelter to almost 100,000 Afghans, and Omaha found out that we would be receiving close to 1,000 individuals over the course of a few short months. In addition to food, shelter and other immediate needs, every incoming family would also need furniture and household items to get started in their new life. Omahans were deeply moved with compassion and our donation center started receiving tremendous amounts of furniture and household item donations. Our space quickly ran out of room and we rented out additional storage to handle the incoming flux of items.
At one point, we had so much furniture donated that we could not physically fit anymore into the donation center (October 2021). This became a regular situation for Restoring Dignity staff.
Mobile storage was rented but still did not solve the need for additional space (October 2021)
At this time, Omaha did not have a centralized furniture bank where large amounts of donated furniture could be stored and distributed to people in need. Various non-profits ran small donation centers, including what Restoring Dignity was doing. After the fall of Kabul, it became clear that there was not a system that existed that could handle and distribute the amount of furniture necessary to resettle almost 1,000 people in a short period of time.
In the background of the chaos occurring in Afghanistan, a vision for a centralized furniture bank was at the forefront of the conversation between Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project. It had been a long time vision and dream of both Drew and I, that Omaha would eventually have a centralized furniture warehouse, a “furniture bank.”
But how could we get there? Restoring Dignity was struggling to manage the amount of donated items pouring in every week (in addition to running all of our other programming and navigating a pandemic) and The Furniture Project was solely run by Drew, who was also a volunteer and worked as a full-time firefighter. Conversations swirled between organizations. Restoring Dignity’s board secretary, Leah Sawyer Baker, had talked for years about a furniture bank in Minneapolis called Bridging. She regularly spoke about how Omaha needed a “furniture bank,” and how this organization had perfected the model. I looked up everything I could about Bridging and started vision sessions with Drew.
What if we created a proposal that laid out what we wanted to see in Omaha and sent it out to people who might be interested in investing in the idea?
The worst that could happen is that we’d be turned down. The best case scenario was that this vision could become reality. There was no time during the day to create this proposal, due to work obligations, so it was put together at night, with several work sessions going past midnight. The final product was a succinct description of what we believed Omaha needed. The proposal stated that Drew’s non profit, The Furniture Project, would manage and run Omaha’s first furniture bank. And that Restoring Dignity’s Community Donation Center would merge into this proposed new space. It made sense to us that one organization would run and manage all operations of an endeavor of this scale.
The initial proposal, advocating for a furniture bank in Omaha. To view the proposal, click here.
Fall/Winter 2021 – When the stars align
With a finished proposal, Drew and I went to work. We began distributing the vision around, and the idea resonated with others who were passionate about furniture justice. We were ecstatic to find that there was a shared desire to create a space capable of responding to emergencies such as the crisis in Afghanistan! In November 2021, a local philanthropic foundation provided a three year grant to cover the cost of rent, utilities and other warehouse supplies for the creation of a furniture bank. Since Restoring Dignity had staff and the knowledge of how to run a donation center, it was decided that Restoring Dignity would mange the grant and provide the upfront energy and “human power” to build the furniture bank and get it operational. And during this time, The Furniture Project (at the time ran solely by volunteer and founder Drew), would begin hiring staff and building up their organization. Once The Furniture Project had hired enough staff and was able to operate the facility, then Restoring Dignity would exit as an operational partner, and would become a referring agency.
Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project moved into 10808 and 10818 J Street, and began the exciting journey of building a furniture bank together from scratch!
Our first campaign raised over $20,000 from the Omaha community in less than a few weeks!
As soon as we moved into the new location, we immediately began to pursue community support for this space. And Omaha responded! Within the course of a few weeks, we raised over $20,000 from private citizens and enlisted the support of multiple philanthropic foundations. News outlets covered the growth of the facility, which led to more donors dropping off furniture and critical household items. By the end of 2022,1,520 unique donors brought items to the new furniture bank!
A video we made to document our journey from the Community Donation Center to the furniture bank (2021)
Winter 2021/Spring 2022 – And so we build!
BEFORE: The empty furniture bank warehouse (December 2021)
AFTER: Within 3 months, the warehouse was full and a lot of shelving had been donated and built. Additionally, a “bed bug heat room” was built, in which all used mattresses were treated upon being donated (March 2022)
The memory of getting the keys to the new furniture bank space in December 2021 and opening the door is still vivid. The space available was more than anything we had imagined. We strolled through thousands of square feet of space and dreamed about what the finished product could look like. People kept asking us, “Will you be able to fill this up?” And we told everyone, “Absolutely!” And after three months, the entire warehouse was full, from top to bottom! The generosity of the citizens of Omaha is beyond what can be stated. During this time, this space provided furniture to the vast majority of Afghan families that came to Omaha, via partnerships with Refugee Empowerment Center and Lutheran Family Services.
A video we made to document the generosity of Omaha as Afghans arrived to our city (2022)
Spring 2022 – Learning how to run
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
-Sir Isaac Newton
In February 2022, shortly after we had opened our doors and helped provide furniture to incoming Afghan families, we arranged a trip to Bridging in Minneapolis. Bridging is a 36 year old non-profit that is the “gold standard” of what a furniture bank can look like. The majority of furniture banks across America have made the journey to visit their facility and learn. 30+ staff and 300+ consistent volunteers help furnish over 100 homes per week. Since starting in 1987, Bridging has furnished over 100,000 households and continues to serve as the leader amongst furniture banks nationwide. Monday through Friday, families and individuals who need furniture and household items come to their two warehouses to “shop.”
Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project visited Bridging together, to learn how to implement a best practice model at our new warehouse (February 2022)
We spent two full days at Bridging, shadowing staff and volunteers, and learning everything we could such as: how to setup a warehouse, how to start a consistent volunteer program, how to run a family shopping program, how to organize donations and much more! Coming back to Omaha, we had a clear roadmap of how to move forward.
Pictures from Bridging (February 2022)
Upon arriving back in Omaha, our first priority became getting the warehouse ready for in-person family shopping. Since December 2021, we shut down all family shopping as we were moving. Our goal was to re-open and have nine refugee families shop per week by March 17th, 2022. However, this meant that we had to install more shelves, start a consistent volunteer program and get a shopping system in place…all in less than a month. An old quotation that was passed down in my family from my grandfather, who fled Czechoslovakia during Hitler’s invasion was, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” And our team had the will. And because of that, we created a path forward with urgency, passion and excellence.
Our warehouse manager, Eh Htoo Gay, volunteer coordinator, Joyce McArthur Johnson, newly hired executive director of The Furniture Project, Kaela Volkmer and myself, Hannah Vlach, worked together to create a consistent volunteer program.
On March 8th, Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project welcomed dozens of new consistent volunteers at our first ever Volunteer Orientation Night. We talked about our journey and our vision for the future. We handed out the first ever volunteer calendars, which we painstakingly created, trying to weave together the schedules of 40+ people and put them in their desired area of service. Not to mention that all of this was done in the middle of the pandemic, and we were navigating how to keep groups of people safe while working together in enclosed spaces. But “where there is a will, there is a way.” And we kept finding our way forward.
Drew Gerken, Eh Htoo Gay, Hannah Vlach, Jean Leblanc and Joyce McArthur Johnson orienting the first cohort of consistent volunteers, many of whom still volunteer to this day (March 2022)
After our volunteers were oriented and trained, we focussed on creating a process for in person family shopping. Most of what we implemented was taken straight from Bridging. 36 years of experience is not something to toss aside. It was because we had a solid model to follow that we were able to implement procedures quickly. Years of mistakes were avoided because we learned from what Bridging taught us. We will be forever grateful to the team at Bridging that took precious time from their very busy schedule and walked us through how to create a furniture bank the right way. There is no shame in learning from others and this is a lesson we carry forward as an organization.
Volunteers the day before family shopping started up again. Everyone was exhausted! We mobilized almost 100 volunteers over the course of a week to help us get the warehouse and home goods area ready (March 16th, 2022).
A video we created of our amazing volunteers (and their out-of-this-world dance moves). Building the furniture bank was a labor of love involving hundreds of people all working together towards one mission.
On March 17th, 2022 we welcomed our first families at the new location! Consistent volunteers and staff walked refugee families through the space and helped throughout the process of choosing furniture and household items. One family that came had six people sleeping on one mattress. Another didn’t have a kitchen table for their children to eat at and do homework. One family from Syria had recently arrived but hadn’t found a job yet and had no way to purchase a rug to pray on. Each situation was different and each family came with unique needs. Some families needed everything. Others only needed dishes and silverware. Multiple families solely requested desks so their children could have a place to do school work. Furniture justice adapts to the needs of the community.
One of our families picked out this couch for their home (2022)
Restoring Dignity staff member Chit Thel Oo is pictured shopping with a family (2022)
Summer/Fall/Winter 2022 – On and on we go
Keeping a furniture bank running takes many hands all devoted to the same cause and also involves following a system of efficiency. In addition to figuring out processes for how incoming donations flowed from the docks to the sorting area, when to bag mattresses and where to test appliances, we were also committed to ensuring that every piece of furniture was cleaned before being sent out to family homes. Respecting the dignity of clients goes beyond choice for us. Our motto became, “If we wouldn’t bring this item into our home, then it’s not acceptable for the families we serve.” Volunteers faithfully showed up every week to clean furniture, upholster clean couches, wash dishes and clean grime off of donations that had been well loved.
Volunteers clean a couch that had been donated (2022)
Cleaning donated appliances (2022)
Volunteers Mary and Mike repairing, repainting and refinishing furniture in need of some TLC. Since the beginning of 2022, this extraordinary couple has restored hundreds of pieces that have then gone to family homes.
Organizationally, Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project met every week as an entire team for over a year, to problem solve issues and come up with solutions to make processes better. These meetings kept both organizations on the same page and allowed us to collaborate in a unique way. Every team member had a voice at the table, and as a result, many creative ideas came forth. Instead of a “top down” approach, Restoring Dignity led with a “team centered” model that respected the knowledge and problem solving skills of every person working at the furniture bank.
One of our team meetings. From left to right: Hannah Vlach (RD), Grace Litzau (RD), Eh Htoo Gay (RD), Missy Bauer (TFP), Paw Bway Htoo (RD), Joyce McArthur Johnson (RD), Htee Ku (RD), Eh Ka Lu Htoo (RD), Matt Hoppe (TFP) and Chloe Ray ( RD).
Our list of completed tasks that we problem solved together as a team
2023 …and beyond
During the first year of operations, The Furniture Project was able to hire an executive director (first Kaela Volkmer and then Matt Hoppe), an operations director, a volunteer coordinator, and four warehouse staff. Going from zero staff to seven in a year was quite a feat and we are proud of The Furniture Project and their tenacity and grit! In 2023, Restoring Dignity has been able to pull back substantially to allow The Furniture Project room to grow.
The ever growing team! Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project gathered to celebrate the graduation of six of our staff in May 2023.
The current warehouse space complete with shelving (August 2023)
The current warehouse space (August 2023)
The current warehouse space (August 2023)
When we first started, the home goods room was empty. Pictured: Volunteers cleaning to get ready for shelves and donations (December 2021)
Today, the home goods room is fully outfitted with shelves and full of donations (August 2023)
After a year and a half, it is time for Restoring Dignity to take our final step back and fully pass the baton to The Furniture Project. We are confident that The Furniture Project will carry forward the mission of furniture justice and fully respect the dignity of all families who pass through the doors of the furniture bank. We started our partnership with the same conviction that still burns brightly even after all these years: to make sure that every person in Omaha is living in a home with the furniture and household items they need to thrive. No child should ever sleep on the floor. No family should be without a kitchen table. People should be able to gather together with chairs to sit on, blankets on their beds and pillows beneath their heads. These are things we expect for our own families, and we must therefore fight to ensure that all of our neighbors have these basic necessities too.
It takes a village
Building the furniture bank took the entire city of Omaha. Look at what we were able to accomplish together!
- 1,520 unique donors supported the new furniture bank warehouse by dropping off furniture and household items in 2022!
- During the first year of operations, 519 volunteers gave their time and talent to clean, build shelves, sort donations, help with deliveries, bag mattresses and deep clean couches.
- In 2022, there were 95 consistent volunteers (commitment of 6 months and volunteering every week or every other week) trained in sorting donations, bagging mattresses, stocking shelves, folding linens, cleaning furniture and helping refugee families shop.
- Since starting in 2022, Restoring Dignity and The Furniture Project have provided 5,416 people with furniture and household items. 1,245 households have been furnished because of our collaboration!
- The Furniture Project grew their impact from 30 agencies at the beginning of 2022 to over 117 agencies in 2023!
- From December 2021 to July 2023, 10 foundations/major funders provided $721,000 to Restoring Dignity to get the furniture bank up and running! This does not include funds generously given to The Furniture Project, which would push this number much higher.
- Total jobs created: seven full time positions (four of which employed former refugees) and four part time positions (two of which employed former refugees). A total of eleven positions were created!
St. John’s Parish at Creighton University is one example of the many, many acts of generosity that we saw during our time at the furniture bank. This past holiday season, parishioners purchased critical household items, hand-wrapped them and delivered dozens of these gifts that were then given out to families that we serve.
It has been the honor of our lifetime for Restoring Dignity to be part of the creation of the furniture bank! We never envisioned that our small Community Donation Center would have the opportunity to transition into such a wonderful resource for Omaha. Even though we will no longer be operationally involved at the furniture bank, we will still refer clients for furniture and will always be present in spirit. The love and kindness of the many people who made this vision become a reality has left an indelible mark on our souls. We met and worked alongside the best people in Omaha, and the opportunity to do so changed all of us for the better.
Lessons we learned along the way:
- There are many truly good people in this world.
- If you want to make a difference, get started where you are and be willing to help where needed. You do not need to know your destination to get started. If you have a desire and passion to help people, then find any opportunity to do so. The rest will fall into place.
- Life is full of surprises. One moment you can be collecting furniture for a family in need, and the next you’re helping build a furniture bank. Trust the process and know that things often don’t turn out the way we thought they would, and that’s ok! Sometimes things turn out way better.
- Like minded people attract like minded people. If you start working towards the common good, other people also committed to service will come alongside and join forces with you. It’s the joining of these forces that can create tremendous social change. If you get people together, you can do so much more than doing things alone. True change is possible when people get together and work with each other, towards the betterment of society.
Here are pictures of some of the truly wonderful and amazing humans who helped build the furniture bank. Unfortunately we do not have pictures of everyone — but we want to share the ones that we do have. THANK YOU for everything that you did to bring this vision to life. There are a lot of children no longer sleeping on the floor because of YOU!
Where is Restoring Dignity going now?
This is a question we are often asked as we prepare to move our offices to the Yates Illuminates building at 3260 Davenport Street. And the answer is that we have a lot more work to do to continue making things better for the amazing refugee families that we serve!
Our Welcome Home Program, in which we teach in-home classes to refugee families continues to grow in leaps and bounds!
- Last year, we taught 1,076 classes in home classes: 779 Healthy Home and 297 Home and Fire safety classes.
- We impacted a total of 472 families and provided 7,760 cleaning items and 117 complete home/fire safety kits.
- A total of 2,545 lives were impacted through this program, including the lives of 1,212 children.
- Our classes were taught in 7 languages, and individuals in our program identified with 25 different ethnicities. 69% of families reported a total combined household income of $40,000 a year or less.
- Almost half of program participants reported having an incomplete education experience as a child, in their home countries, due to instability and a lack of educational resources. 18% reported no educational opportunities in their lifetime.
- 86% of program participants have lived in the USA for more than 5 years.
Families are taught how to maintain a healthy home in our Welcome Home Program. Instructors speak the native language of the families in the program and all products are labeled with translated, waterproof tags.
This is a video of a Karen refugee family being taught how to exit their home if there was a fire. Families are taught how to escape via various exits, identify a safe place outside where all family members will meet at, learn how to use fire extinguishers, have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed and are taught many more home and fire safety skills. These classes are taught in partnership with the American Red Cross.
By the end of 2023, we will have taught well over 1,200 in-home classes over the course of the year. We recently hired two new family educators and are now reaching the Somali and South Sudanese communities. We are working diligently to hire educators to reach the Afghan and Congolese communities as well. This fall, we will launch a third set of classes: Home Owners Maintenance Education classes, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. These classes will teach refugee home owners how to maintain homes they have purchased, including learning how to change an air filter and many other critical topics.
Restoring Dignity is working with Douglas County Health Department to create an emergency language network in Omaha. In the case of an emergency, we are creating a system so that alerts can get to communities that do not speak English.
We recently received funding from Front Porch Investments to hire a planning company to conduct an official study on the housing needs of refugees in Omaha. We are in the process of reviewing incoming proposals from planning firms and will begin the study this fall. Results will provide a roadmap for how Omaha can respond to the housing crisis that refugee communities face. From this study, Restoring Dignity plans to be part of the solution to create better housing options for the families we serve. To read our Request for Proposal, click here.
Additionally, we will also continue to provide:
- Housing advocacy to families who are struggling with getting repairs made in their rental home.
- Coordination of vaccination clinics that go into refugee communities and are organized by the communities being served (partnership with DHHS).
- Advocating for housing policy change at the city and state level.
- Relief services for refugee families when crisis occurs.
- Home-makeovers for families in extremely difficult situations.
Thank you for joining Restoring Dignity on this journey of a lifetime!
Each new year brings incredible opportunities to make things better for the amazing refugee families that we serve. We are incredibly excited for our next chapter and will keep all of you, our wonderful supporters who keep faithfully showing up, updated on next steps.
Please join us for a “grand finale” celebration lunch on Thursday, August 31st, 2023 at 12:30pm at our furniture bank office (10818 J Street). Please RSVP by Monday, August 28th so we know how much food to provide. We are excited to see you!
To help us pack up and move to our new office space, please sign up here:
If you are interested in volunteering with Restoring Dignity at our new location, please fill out our volunteer interest form here.
If you have any questions about this new chapter, please do not hesitate to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible!
Thank you, again, for everything that you did to help us build the furniture bank. We will never forget any of you and the gift you gave us with your time, wisdom, grace and dedication.
Founder and Executive Director
3260 Davenport Street, Omaha, NE, 68131