Humble Design certainly has humble beginnings. After co-founder and CEO Treger Strasberg moved to Michigan from Miami in 2008 with her husband and two children, she was volunteering with Forgotten Harvest when she found out a woman she knew there was going to be homeless.
"That rocked my core," Strasberg says. The woman was able to find housing through Forgotten Harvest, but didn't have the means to move her furniture. Strasberg learned that the woman's two children, roughly the same age as her own kids, would have to sleep on the floor.
Strasberg, along with her friend and co-founder Ana Smith, sprang into action. They started asking around to see if anyone was willing to donate furniture, sheets, home goods, artwork, and other items that make a house a home. They also made the effort to personalize it for the family – if the kids liked Spiderman, they would find some Spiderman items. They got a pick-up truck and delivered all they had collected to the family, but when Strasberg got home she found a sectional couch on her lawn and a crib in her garage – people had found out what she and Smith were doing and wanted these items to go to a good home, but didn't know their task was already completed.
Strasberg knew then there was a both a need and an opportunity.
They called around to nine area shelters and specified that they didn't want the furniture to be resold and they didn't want families to have to pay for the furniture or for the delivery. "That sounds great, you should do that," was the answer they received.
"I had worked in nonprofits for six weeks at that point," Strasberg laughs.
Humble Design received 501c3 nonprofit status in 2009, but for the first year it was just the two of them and their resources were stretched thin.
"I was having trouble sleeping – we had reached 100 people on our waiting list," Strasberg recalls. "I had trouble putting my kids to sleep at night [knowing that there were so many kids who didn't have beds to sleep in]. The need was so great and we were so small."
She knew the organization either needed to grow very rapidly or give the furniture over to someone else who could. After that she met with Smith to discuss the future of Humble Design. Smith stayed on the board of directors and Strasberg got to work fundraising and hiring.
Humble Design now has 13 employees along with 60 volunteers and continues to grow each year. The nonprofit works with 14 homeless shelters all over the tri-county area for referrals and work closely with the social workers at those agencies. They have helped 541 families to date and design and furnish three homes each week. Most of the furniture and household items come from private donations and also receive donations of furniture from Gorman's, Art Van, and Gardner White, as well as kitchen items from the Junior League of Detroit. The items are stored in a 12,000 square foot warehouse in Pontiac.
Each house has two designers that personally work with the family to design the home according to what the family likes – modern, rustic, floral, and so on. "That can be very emotional; they've never been asked those questions before," Strasberg says. One mother always wanted an herb garden but never had the space, so the designers planted her a portable indoor one. "The families have to feel like they've participated in the process or it doesn't work. Our success lies in the sense of ownership and pride [they feel from being involved]."
And the success is measurable: Strasberg says that 40 percent of families return to homelessness after the first year, but that number plummets to just one percent of the families touched by Humble Design.
Strasberg says while she certainly didn't expect this back in 2009 when she first started volunteering with Forgotten Harvest, "It has been amazing. We basically get to deliver Christmas three days a week."
Check out their website for some truly touching before and after photos and videos of the families in their new homes, and also check out Humble Design's first annual benefit concert Gigs for Digs on Saturday, September 19 at the Fillmore Detroit featuring Nashville star and Michigan native Frankie Ballard with the Motor City Horns, with tickets starting at just $25.
Treger Strasberg is a member of the 2015 Oakland County Executive’s Elite 40 Under 40™ class. The program celebrates its fourth year as the region's leading award program that spotlights the top leaders under the age of 40 who excel in their vocation and show dynamic leadership.