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Mom story: I help the homeless rebuild their lives

Julie Weingarden Dubin is a Michigan-based freelance journalist, blogger and author with three rocking kids, a loving husband and a trashed minivan. She covers parenting, health, psychology, relationships and pop culture for national mag...

How I help families on their way up

Leaving a shelter is a huge step, but then what? Often, families find housing but have nothing for furniture — not even beds. Treger Strasberg decided to change that and co-founded a nonprofit, Humble Design, in order to provide furniture and create warm and comfortable living spaces for women and children starting over in Detroit. Helping families on the way up is a success and Treger’s work has gained national recognition. Treger was featured recently on the reality show, Motor City Rising, which aired on the Ovation network, as someone helping to turn the city around and break the stereotypes. Treger, a mother of two, ages 5 and 6, hopes to spin her idea off in other cities.


How I help families on their way up

Leaving a shelter is a huge step, but then what? Often, families find housing but have nothing for furniture — not even beds. Treger Strasberg decided to change that and co-founded a nonprofit, Humble Design, in order to provide furniture and create warm and comfortable living spaces for women and children starting over in Detroit. Helping families on the way up is a success and Treger’s work has gained national recognition. Treger was featured recently on the reality show, Motor City Rising, which aired on the Ovation network, as someone helping to turn the city around and break the stereotypes. Treger, a mother of two, ages 5 and 6, hopes to spin her idea off in other cities.

by Treger Strasberg
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin

I co-founded Humble Design in Detroit with my partner, Ana Smith, in 2009, after helping a colleague who faced living on the streets. I was shocked to learn about her situation — she hid it so well. She must have come to work each day with such a heavy weight on her shoulders. We helped her find housing and we furnished her place with discarded and donated items.

How can we help?

When we went to the shelters to learn how we could best help families, we discovered that little aftercare is available to women and children leaving homeless and domestic abuse shelters. We decided to launch Humble Design to give women and children a jump start on their future. We recycle furniture and home accent pieces and we create spaces that are warm, homey and welcoming. It’s eco-friendly design for those who need it most.

We partner with homeless shelters to identify families to help. When they get ready to leave the shelter we step in and begin the process of getting them furniture. We currently have about 15 families on our wait list. We service about two families a week. We helped decorate more than 100 houses since 2009.

Juggling a charity and family

I wish I could add 10 hours to the day. I love what I do, and I love spending time with my kids. I'm constantly torn between the two. But my family always wins. My family is my life, and everything I give back to the community is a bonus.

I'm never late picking my kids up from school and I never miss a recital or game. The great news is my kids love helping Humble Design and I bring them to meet many of the families. It's important for them to see what we do.

My passion has always been to aid others. I never knew how to before I began Humble. I wanted to meet the people I was helping and get my hands dirty. Now I see my passion is the relationships I build with the families and the perspective I gain from being with them.

Following through

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We follow up with our families throughout the year. The biggest effect we’ve seen is that the families stay where they are. The rate of recidivism to the shelters is so high in Detroit because the shelter provides basic human needs like beds, towels, pots and pans. When families obtain their own housing but are sleeping on the floor with nothing to cook with, the will to stay diminishes. Our families are proud of their homes and stay put. For example, their kids’ rooms may have princess or superhero bedding, cushy accent pillows, decorative curtains as well as wall art, lamps, books and toys.

Raising humble kids

Motherhood’s taught me about empathy, compassion and patience. You can't force kids the way you force your career. I’m learning to enjoy the ride and not always be the one driving.

My kids are learning to be humble and grateful for what they have and for what their future holds. They witness poverty, hunger and need, and they want to help. If I can raise children with a broader sense of the world and a desire to help, they will be an asset to society.

I know my work is impacting my kids. They often bring things to me that they want to give to kids. A teddy bear, a bike, sometimes even their toddler beds. They part with their belongings so easily because I bring them to see where their stuff ends up and how happy it makes children who previously had nothing.

Mom wisdom

Ask for help. Don't let your pride stop you from accepting help from others. If you have the drive to make life better for you and your kids, then one day you’ll be able to pay it back.

Read more about empathy and helping others

How to talk about the homeless with your kids
Mom story: I lead Microsoft's disaster relief efforts
Teaching kids about charity

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