Volunteers are turning affordable apartments into comfortable homes.
From the February, 2021 issue
"It's our princess home!" exclaimed three-year-old Rima Bullard after crossing the threshold of the sunny Ypsilanti apartment she and her mom, Leah Bullard, now share. They had been homeless after a brain aneurism cost Leah her job and her home. With the help of the Salvation Army's Staples Family Center and the Shelter Association's Alpha House, they eventually found an affordable unfurnished apartment.
That's where the four good fairies climbing the two flights of steps to furnish it that day came in: Ruth Ann Logue, Ginger Raymond, Liz Gadway, and Peggy Farrell, respectively president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer of HouseN2Home. The all-volunteer nonprofit delivered and arranged the furniture, linens, kitchenware, artwork, lamps, hygiene tote, laundry basket of household essentials, pail of cleaning supplies, and more. They even brought books, toys, and a play kitchen for Rima.
HouseN2Home originated in 2017, when Logue received a text from a single mother who had secured affordable but unfurnished housing. Logue pulled together a group of friends who dug into reserves from their own homes and purchased items from thrift stores to outfit the house. They found the experience so rewarding they began doing the same for other formerly homeless people. Case managers and social workers soon began to contact the ad hoc group to inquire about possible home goods for their soon-to-be housed clients.
More than eighty volunteers now serve clients from Avalon Housing, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, Community Mental Health, Ozone House, Michigan Ability Partners, and SafeHouse. The clients must have a referral from a case manager or social worker to receive aid. An application for IRS nonprofit status is pending.
When volunteers' garages and basements overflowed with items to furnish the homes, Dave Raymond, Ginger's husband, brainstormed with the group about storage space on the St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor campus--he's St. Joe's director of planning and design. He helped get them a 10,000-square-foot space on the first floor of the Towsley Health Building that
formerly housed memory care residents. The volunteers now wash and dry donated linens and organize items there. "We continue to be humbled by the generosity of St. Joe's to allow us to operate out of this space," emails Logue.
During the pandemic, Logue emails, "We are all trying to be as cautious as possible, and keep others safe. If someone has something great to drop off (we request photos for furniture) we can have someone meet them at storage." Their website, housen2home.org, lists the items they do and do not take. "Many of our donations are in great condition, but not all are perfect," Logue writes."Thankfully we have a group of hardworking volunteers who are really into upcycling ... We are thrilled when something that might have been tossed becomes a piece of furniture we could all happily live with."
In early January, HN2H furnished the first units at Avalon's new Hickory Way Apartments on S. Maple Rd. During Covid, HN2H generally drops off furnishings and has clients move everything inside, but Avalon's Marcia Luke-van Dijk, says that HN2H was able to safely furnish the brand-new, vacant apartments before clients move in. In addition to HN2H, "Kiwanis has enabled Avalon to purchase items on behalf of our Hickory Way residents in advance of their move-ins," Luke-van Dijk emails, "and has provided crucial warehousing space for the items that we purchase for these units (like couches)."
Ginger and Dave Raymond now have a friendship with Bullard. They organized a birthday party when Bullard turned 'thirty-three--the first big birthday party she's ever had. After being downsized from her job at a pharmacy during the pandemic, Bullard helped sort and organize items at St. Joe's and hopes to do more volunteering in the future.
Another client was referred by the VA Medical Center. His caseworker found him a pleasant apartment and new bed, and in December 2019 HN2H provided everything else, including a TV, a Christmas wreath on his door, and twinkle lights in a clear vase by a comfortable leather chair. Knowing his tastes from a phone call with him and his caseworker, they supplied artwork and books. When he walked into his apartment, HN2H volunteers wept at his reaction.
"He called his caseworker while we were there, and repeatedly said, 'I want for nothing!' He was beyond happy," recalls Logue. "We had left him a chicken dinner, and when we called a few days later to see if there was anything else we could bring him, he asked, 'More of that chicken, maybe?'
"We brought him another chicken dinner and visited with him again."
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