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.

My mom story

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.

"My passion has always been to aid others."

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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Comments on "Mom story: I help the homeless rebuild their lives"

Kate May 21, 2013 | 6:46 AM

I am a mother of three boys (8 yrs.,7 yrs., and 9 months old). We are homeless. Divorce and bad luck have whittled away at my ability to support myself and my boys. I love this story. I found it while LOOKING FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN MY TOWN! We currently live at a shelter with a very forward thinking transitional housing program. We must work to live here, and we must put 30% of our income into a savings account. They monitor ALL of our spending as we have to turn in receipts and ask permission for big expenses. While I am in no way complaining (having a roof over my head with no rent or utility expense is a huge, undeserved blessing!)...the place needs help. The complex is a renovated old motel. They are one bedroom apartments with a kitchen/living room combo. The "larger" units houses families with as many as 6 members (and a group of 6 just moved out recently). A bunk bed and a full-size bed with a dresser maybe two dressers fill the bedroom. There is a decent sized closet and a small bathroom. The kitchen/living room has a stove/oven, fridge, sink, microwave, toaster, a pull-out couch, dining room table, and a television with a vcr/dvd player. Spoiled, right?! Not must walking room, but what an amazing opportunity for my family and I. My problem is that I have a son that needs crawl space (and has a pack n play/soon to be toddler bed that just doesn't fit) and two other sons that need a homework space....basically, I really think that these tiny places could benefit from some professional organization/design. I'm trying to get more organized, but due to the small space, I feel like I'm always moving furniture to suit the person who needs the space at that time. I know there's a better way. I am allowed to stay up to one more year and I would like to feel much less stressed when I enter this place seeing that I've got a lot stressing me out before I walk through the door. Any ideas or maybe a contact near me? I live in Daytona Beach, Florida.

tina caruth July 22, 2012 | 6:46 PM

im a single mother of an 11yr. old daughter. the last 3yrs. has been very trying. was in abusive relationship with ex-fiance. 3yr. ago i lost my daughter for a yr. because of him hitting us. i kept on going cause with out her i had no purpose in life. I was working and renting our apartment and then injured my back badly, was fired because i was unable to do my job. i had surgery last yr. in august and get steroid injections in my spine every month. i have a full time job, but unable to get into housing because i cant get first months rent deposit and deposit for electric all together all at once. the main problem is c.s.r.u. has charged me with support of my daughter whom i have custody of for last 3half yr. so they take half of my check. i dont wanna give up my daughter means everything to me..... im so discouraged working 13 hr. days i need help. im very thankful for the shelter and the people there however when i decided to take the intiative and work to support us i though thats what would take place instead were stuck and i dont know how to keep the strength and determination i need through all this... please can u help me anyone? sincerely tina caruth

Chrystal Flanders July 10, 2012 | 10:46 PM

I have had an opportunity to see the show and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Motor City Rising. What Treger is doing is amazing and I know we will be able to help with this effort

Joey June 29, 2012 | 4:20 PM

Treger this story is so inspiring! Reading this as i sit here with my nephew Learning his abc on the computer, I think how We should all be trying to help those less fortunate than us! Your success & compansion for others is just incredible.

Rob June 29, 2012 | 9:46 AM

It's true. Supermom's do exist. Go Treger! Go Humble Design!

Rochelle Treger June 29, 2012 | 8:58 AM

Every time I read a variation of this story, I grow a bit taller with pride. It is an amazingly true story of the daughter I raised. I have been fortunate to have helped Treger furnish a family's home and meet the mother; what a life changing experience. Thanks to Julie Weingarden Dubin for writing this article to inform others about what Humble Design is about and the dignity of a new start they bring to so many women with their families.

Patti Hopper June 29, 2012 | 8:56 AM

This is a program that should be duplicated across the country. Great story!

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