Heart & Home Housewarming Benefit
by Anna Long
What began as a fledgling idea among friends in 2010 is now a thriving nonprofit that has helped more than 1,000 area families in need.
The Green Chair Project has grown from a small collection of furniture in a spare church closet into an organization that reuses donated household furnishings to renew the lives of people who are starting over after homelessness, crisis, or disaster. It works with community partners and case workers to help people furnish entire homes for as little as $75.
Executive director and co-founder Jackie Craig says she knew there was a need for a program like The Green Chair Project, but she never expected such an enthusiastic response from the community.
“Within a few months, we outgrew the closet,” Craig says. “Today, we’re in 30,000 square feet on Capital Boulevard. Little did we know how badly this community needed something like that.”
Craig and her co-founder Beth Smoot were working together to stage and sell homes when they first thought of the idea. The two quickly realized that many people have too much furniture that they are reluctant to part with, whether for sentimental reasons, or because they think they’ll need it one day.
But people who are exiting homeless shelters or starting over after crisis often struggle to find basic necessities, Craig says, and creating a home that feels like their own can seem impossible. Craig, Smoot and their legion of volunteers work to make both things happen. They have found that people are more willing to part with their good, unused furniture knowing that it will help someone start a new home.
At Green Chair, participants choose from a vast showroom of attractive, clean furniture and household items in good repair. Rather than face the discouraging process of building a new life from scraps, participants walk away with everything they need in a home. They also leave with dignity and a sense of ownership.
“They are able to make choices about what they want in their home – what furniture they like, what style they like, what suits their needs – and really fill their home with pride,” Craig said. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out.”
That hand up can come at a crucial time. Volunteer Coordinator Kathleen Lichtenstein says it’s important to recognize and celebrate the fact that people who come to Green Chair have overcome huge obstacles to get there. Obstacles like settling into a home after 10 years of homelessness; like finding the strength and courage to leave an abusive relationship.
“You see that pride, that excitement about the fact that they are going home tonight to their own bed, to their own dresser,” Lichtenstein says. Many participants “have never had a place to put their stuff. For them to get to the dressers and be able to say, ‘this is mine’ – that’s a huge milestone. I’ve been here over two years now and I still don’t get over that part.”
Proceeds from the small fee participants pay go directly to Green Chair’s rent, which is the organization’s primary expense. All of the furnishings, as well as all of the gathering, cleaning, organizing, repairing, staging, and moving, are donated by volunteers ranging from school kids to retirees.
All in all, it costs about $1,000 per family to pay the operational costs of maintaining the sprawling showroom, development coordinator Heather Thompson says. To minimize those costs, Green Chair holds an annual fundraiser, The Heart & Home Housewarming Benefit.
This year’s benefit will take place April 18 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Green Chair’s showroom at 1853 Capital Blvd. Guests will move through the space the same way participants do when selecting furniture for their home.
“We’re trying to engage people in the process by getting them to understand people who are starting all over again and trying to create a new ‘normal’ and the choices they have to make,” Thompson said. “You really can equip a home fairly simply. We all have too much stuff.”
The event will also include a unique ‘Chair-ity’ auction in which 12 local designers will auction off repurposed chairs. (They’re green, of course.) Green Chair hopes to top last year’s success by raising about $90,000 at the benefit.
Tickets are $100. For more information about The Green Chair Project, or to purchase tickets, visit thegreenchair.org or call 919-322-0474.