Designs for Dignity

Illinois / Oct. 30, 2012 / by The Team

"Design to me is a part of everyday life. It affects how you eat, breathe, sleep, wake up, do your everyday life and so I think making the world a better place for everyone is important.”

Nonprofits across the country work tirelessly to help others, often in the face of budget constraints. In Chicago, Illinois, Designs for Dignity is helping nonprofits stretch their budgets and refurbish their facilities to a higher standard than ever before.

Executive Director Jennifer Sobecki explains that Designs for Dignity works “with nonprofits in the area to transform their spaces and therefore enabling them to transform the lives of those that they serve from food pantries to affordable housing. You name it, we're there to meet the need.” 

When money is tight, very little of a nonprofit’s budget can be diverted into the design of their facilities. This is where Designs for Dignity steps in to help. “We take whatever budget there is and work to maximize that three and a half time fold so we can turn $10,000 into $35,000 to $50,000 with donated furnishings, materials, our design time,” says Sobecki.  

The success of Designs for Dignity comes in part from the powerful support of volunteers and donors. They take advantage of “volunteer interior designers, installers, carpenters, whoever might need to be on a project at any given time,” says Sobecki. Some volunteers will give a day or two to a project and some will work with the nonprofit for several months or years if it is a much longer project. 

Designs for Dignity has worked with nonprofits of all kind. Sobecki explains that they “don't focus on one service area. We know need so we work with affordable housing, community health centers, food pantries, battered women shelters, youth drop-in centers.”

The process for a new design is started by filling out a Designs for Dignity application. The nonprofit’s application is then reviewed by a committee which ascertains who would most benefit from their assistance. 

As soon as the application has been approved, Designs for Dignity puts together a design team. The team is picked based on the needs of the nonprofit and their goals in refurbishing the space. It’s vital that the design team knows how to best transform the nonprofit’s facilities. 

“Really paying attention and listening is key in any design project, whether that's for profit or nonprofit, you have to know what your client's needs are,” says Sobecki. 

One nonprofit that was able to take advantage of Designs for Dignity’s design team was Rimland Services, a nonprofit that supports individuals with autism. Tina Jones, the nonprofit’s Associate Executive Director, explains that, “Designs came in and really suggested paint colors and furniture,” for their foster home.  

But they do more than just suggest paint color. “They really got to know the population that we serve and what colors would be most soothing for adults with autism. They really took the clients that we serve into consideration with really all the touches that they did with the homes.”

One design team member for the Rimland Services project, Momi Jahn, thought carefully about how their design would affect the home’s residents. “The environment that a human being is put into ... psychologically has a big impact no matter who you are. Of course, if you’re going to have adults with autism, or if it’s children, it’s going to have a different impact and you have to look at all those things.”

Jahn put a great deal of thought into the best way to help the people they were designing for.  “The thing that hits me the most is this is their home ... This isn’t just something that was slapped together without that in mind. It was definitely well researched, well thought about, and well executed.” 

Design is more than just some bright colors and throw pillows. “From functionality to healing to getting back on the right path from their life, it's important to us as an organization,” says Sobecki.

Sobecki explains that, “We've had instances where somebody walked into a community health center and walked out because they thought they were in the wrong place because of the difference that we've made.” 

The design of a drop-in health center or a domestic violence shelter can be instrumental in creating a safe environment in which people are able to heal. Designs for Dignity is devoted to touching as many people as possible by helping the nonprofits that serve them.  

“I think in the past couple of years, we've served over 30,000 individuals through our design services. I hope to grow that number even more,” says Sobecki. 

Thanks to the volunteer design professionals, donations from furniture and design stores, and other connections in the design world, Designs for Dignity can transform a nonprofit’s facilities extremely efficiently. They produce an end product with a value –  both emotional and monetary – far beyond that which the nonprofit would have achieved with its initial budget. 

Their work may only directly change one room or building at a time but that design work affects hundreds of people as soon as they walk through that nonprofit’s doors. 

While it is hard work to bring everything together, the work is very rewarding. Sobecki says, “It's great for me to see the end-result and to know that what my 60 hours a week put into operating the organization, it really makes a difference for so many.” 

To learn more about Designs for Dignity, visit their website and Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.