WESTERN SPRINGS – What started as a simple project to help Janelle Towne’s daughter earn service hours for Confirmation last year has turned into a nonprofit organization that is changing the lives of many people.
The Western Springs resident is the founder and president of the Home 2 Home Project, which furnishes residences with gently used furniture and other household items for families in the Chicago area who are transitioning from homelessness into new homes.
In just one year, the Home 2 Home Project has served 17 families. And because so many community members have responded with generous donations, the organization is in need of a bigger space to continue to fulfill its mission of transforming barren apartments into warm, welcoming homes. The furniture is currently being stored at Life Storage in La Grange Park, and Towne said the group is quickly running out of room.
“We’re desperate for a warehouse. If we had that, we could do move-ins once a week. We have the donations, we just need the space,” Towne said. “What we’re doing is so popular because it’s tangible. People can see that they’re making a difference. They can meet the client and see the before-and-after photos and know exactly where their donations are going.”
Towne, who is a former flight attendant and the mother of five children, decided to start the nonprofit after she and her daughter worked with a formerly homeless woman to furnish and decorate the woman’s new apartment in March 2017. They were given the woman’s name from a friend of Towne’s who worked at a homeless shelter, and once Towne got a taste of what it was like to help others, she was hooked. She’s been working with transitioning families ever since.
“When people are transitioning out of homelessness, they’re just given an air mattress, and I thought that was appalling,” Towne said. “So I posted on Facebook that my daughter and I were looking for gently used furniture; within a few days, we couldn’t walk in my house or use the garage because we got so many donations. You can’t put it into words what it’s like until you do a move-in. You know you made a huge difference. It’s addicting.”
The Home 2 Home Project, which relies on the help of volunteers, grants and donations, gets client referrals from three partner organizations: HCS Family Services, Safe Families for Children in Chicago and Thresholds Veterans Project in Chicago. Each client is already screened and vetted by the organizations, so once the referral is made, Home 2 Home designers meet with the clients to go over their needs and wants for their new apartment.
Jane Frances, co-chairwoman of the design team, said when she meets with the clients, she always asks them what their favorite colors are and what styles they like.
“They get to choose, so this process gives them dignity,” she said. “We listen to them and try to fulfill all of their needs and wants, so it’s not like we’re just giving them leftover furniture. It’s an incredible feeling. When we finish a move-in, it’s beautiful.”
LaShunda* and her three daughters had their Summit apartment decorated and furnished in January. She said when she walked through the door after the crew from Home 2 Home finished, she didn’t even recognize her own apartment.
“I was in tears. I felt like it was a true blessing that these people took the time out of their day to help people in need,” LaShunda said. “I love it. My kids were smiling from ear to ear; they were so excited. It’s definitely brought my family closer. We spend more time together because we have an apartment that’s warm and homelike.”
Towne credits Home 2 Home’s success to her “army” of dedicated volunteers who jump at any opportunity to help. She said being a part of the project has not only changed the clients’ lives, but also her life and the volunteers’ lives as well.
“This is so fulfilling. It doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “It brings all of us so much joy because we can see the joy we bring to the clients. There is so much beauty in this project. It’s been life-changing. We get so much out of it, but this is bigger than us.”
Note to readers
LaShunda's last name was removed for privacy reasons.
How to help
For information about the Home 2 Home Project, visit theh2hproject.org.