2:30 | Transcript
Imagine not knowing, night after night, what bed you and your family will be sleeping in. Or whether your young children will have a safe space to grow. Once you do find a place to live, your place is completely empty — with nothing to make it feel like a home.
Families and individuals experiencing homelessness confront these desperate feelings every day. They may lose stable housing for many reasons, including domestic abuse, sudden job loss or an extreme health crisis. After living in a shelter, on the street or crashing at a friend’s house, they may find a temporary place to live, but without things they love around them, it doesn’t feel like their own — it feels like a place to survive. A home provides the foundation where they can thrive.
Founded in 2019, Digs with Dignity elevates the lives of those transitioning from homelessness by filling their houses with everything that makes a comfortable, dignified home. Kim Hannay, Jan Claibourne and Beth Wangman co-founded the organization because they believe a custom, dignified home provides an immeasurable amount of hope, security and stability — and is the launchpad for success.
“We met working at another nonprofit and realized we had a unified passion and desire to break the cycle of homelessness in Chicago,” Executive Director Hannay said. “Drawing from my background in business and marketing, Beth’s expertise in interior design and Jan’s construction, electrical and woodworking abilities, we joined forces to create Digs with Dignity.”
Digs with Dignity partners with local social service agencies and utilizes donated furniture to create spaces that are functional, comfortable and reflective of their client’s personal style. By upcycling donated furniture and home goods, Digs with Dignity keeps an average of 1,100 pounds of furniture per house from ending up in landfills. The team furnishes one home per week and has moved more than 100 families into new homes.
“Furnishing and decorating a home is a huge undertaking for someone exiting homelessness, especially when they may have to balance kids, jobs and other life demands,” Hannay said. “By providing our families with a fully furnished space that restores dignity and pride in their surroundings, we give our clients the opportunity to focus on other barriers to getting back on their feet.”
First, the Digs with Dignity team connects with families in their newly acquired space and learns about their journey, interests, style and what home means to them.
“We have seven to ten days to turn an empty space into a home for these families,” said Wangman, who uses her interior design skills to create a space that matches the family’s style and interests — considering everything from preferred color scheme to their child’s favorite animal.“We can all just deliver a bunch of furniture into a house, but it’s really not a home unless there are things around you that make you feel comfortable, that make you feel a sense of safety and a sense of security.”
Donated goods fill Digs with Dignity’s 9,000-square-foot warehouse space. Claibourne, a master woodworker and “fix anything guy” repairs and refurbishes furniture and home goods, giving dated or broken items a second life for families who need it most. These furnishings range from tables and chairs to bed frames, bookcases, sofas and rugs. Personalized bedding, framed family photos, kitchen and bath necessities, books, toys and much more are transported to the space on move-in day. The team works their magic and enthusiastically welcomes the families into their newly furnished, dignified homes in a matter of hours.
“Helping people furnish their homes, and in a way that is deeply personal to them, is all about helping them restart their lives,” said Seth Siegel, CEO at Grant Thornton. “We are honored to support Digs with Dignity’s efforts to create spaces that families can call home. Grant Thornton shares the organization’s passion for going beyond what’s expected in order to truly impact lives in the moments that matter.”
This transition is lifechanging for families. It brings stability. It brings joy and hope. It brings the realization that they are heard and that someone cares. And it helps break the cycle of homelessness.
Upon walking into her new home for the first time, one of Digs with Dignity’s former clients, Nicole, remarked, “I had an idea in my head of what it might be like. As I was walking up the stairs, I saw the elephant print that reminded me of my dad, and I became so emotional. I felt like I couldn’t move. It’s all the little things Digs with Dignity did that meant the most.”
And you can be part of this experience. Donate to Digs with Dignity and support families during one of their most challenging transitions in life — exiting homelessness. Help families rebuild their lives in fully furnished spaces that are safe, comfortable and their own. Because every person deserves to feel dignified in their home.