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From a garage to 2021

In 2012, Restoring Dignity arose from a desire to provide much needed home items and home repairs to a family who had suffered the unthinkable loss of a child. We gathered as friends and family, and completed our first home-makeover — an act meant to create an environment where this family could grieve in dignity. Shortly after completing this one-time event, we found out about a widowed mother and her children who were also in need of home items and repairs. As a community, we responded, and kept responding, as more and more families came to our attention over the years. 

It’s hard to believe that nine years ago, we started in a living room, and then moved to a garage two years later, to store donated items for home-makeovers. Our first garage had NO electricity, NO plumbing and NO toilet! For those of us who remember volunteering during those early days, if nature called, we had to book it to the gas station that was a few blocks away. In the dead of winter, we would sit in our cars, warming our hands and feet and waiting for community members who were dropping off beds, dressers and other home items. There was no heat and no air conditioning, so it truly is accurate when we say that Restoring Dignity was built out of love and sweat (and sometimes tears!). 

The garage where we stored donations
Eventually, we moved into the garage space next door, and there was electricity, heat (but no A/C) and a bathroom (but it didn’t have a door!). We were so ecstatic to finally have a working toilet and sink, that it didn’t matter that we had to use a piece of large styrofoam to cover up the open doorway. Many community members donated items for refugee families and helped us move our donation center from one garage to the next. We were even able to build shelves that had been left there by the owner! Donations never had it so good! 
Our second garage, complete with heat, electricity and a working bathroom!
In 2018, we were completing a home-makeover and noticed that the family had no air conditioning, and was having a hard time sleeping at night, due to the heat. A lightbulb went off in our heads at that moment, and we decided that in addition to providing home-makeovers, we would also begin accepting donations of window air conditioning units and installing them in family homes that needed them. We launched our first ever “Window A/C Drive” and community members were incredibly supportive and provided us with several dozen units. The summer of 2018 was busy with volunteers installing air conditioning units all across Omaha!
While this was an exciting time, and expanded the scope of what we offered, it ended in a way that none of us could have anticipated. As many of you are familiar, the fall of 2018 completely flipped Restoring Dignity on it’s head and changed the trajectory of our small, all-volunteer, community run charity.

While installing A/C units at an apartment complex in Omaha, tenants brought to our attention conditions that were unacceptable and unconscionable. In a whirlwind of events, the City of Omaha got involved and ended up shutting down all of the units in one day, after finding many gas leaks, dangerous electrical conditions and a vast array of other issues. What had started as an effort to bring people relief from the heat, ended up in over 500 people being displaced. 

While many people told us that lives were saved, it didn't make it any easier to process what had just happened. The very heart of Restoring Dignity and what we did and stood for was put to the test.

With no staff, no budget (minus enough to pay our garage rent and heat every month), and no officially established organization, we had to decide how to respond to this distressing situation. Families were receiving help finding new places to live, but nothing was setup to help them replace all of the items that couldn't be taken with them, due to extreme infestations. Even though we were volunteers, and worked other jobs, we decided we were going to step up to the plate and help families put their lives back together. Our task became matching every single family that had been displaced (99 in total), with a sponsor (local church, business or group of friends) who would bring them the home items they needed for their new home.

A gargantuan endeavor involving one desktop computer, a group of volunteers, cellphones, half a dozen interpreters and Excel spreadsheets began. Hundreds upon hundreds of volunteer hours went into this task, and one by one, each family was fully sponsored. By sponsored, we mean that every family received the mattresses, bedding, furniture, kitchen items, hygiene products, lamps and other home items that they needed to start over. Coordinating 99 sponsorships over the course of a few months was the equivalent to completing 99 home-makeovers, almost one per day.

We also went on to provide in-depth case work for every family for over a year. During this time, Restoring Dignity received angel funding to cover expenses we were accumulating and to pay for one employee’s salary. We also applied for our 501(c)3 status, so that we could start asking for monetary donations to support our endeavors. Out of this dark and challenging time, Restoring Dignity the organization was born
Mattresses being transported to family homes after the displacement. 
Since receiving our 501(c)3 non-profit status, we have taken off running and haven’t looked back. Over the course of the last two years, we have gone from impacting a few hundred people a year, to making a difference in the lives of over 7,000 people in 2020!

We went from having zero staff to TEN employees (2 full time, 8 part-time), 80% of which are former refugees. We are not solely providing services, we are also creating jobs!

Our donation center that used to be run out of a single garage, has been transformed into a Community Donation Center where families come and pick out items they need for their homes (it even has a bathroom with a door!). With resources in our hands that we didn’t have before, we have been able to support the amazing Omaha refugee community in ways that are sustainable and effective.

Our Cleaning Education Program reached over 1,600 people in 2020 and we taught over 500 classes!

We also began advocating for the populations that we serve and learned how to go before City Council and the State Legislature to ask that changes be made so that safe housing can be a reality for ALL Nebraskans.
And we’re not even close to being done! 

As 2021 ramps up,
our plan is to continue full steam ahead. We want to expand the programs we offer (ie. add more languages), so that more people can access our cleaning classes and our donation center. We also plan on creating a new program (launch goal of 2022), focussed on in-person education for refugee families who have purchased homes and would like more education on how to maintain them (ie. how to change furnace filters, how to turn off the water in an emergency, how to change batteries in smoke detectors, how to clean gutters, learning the rules of snow shoveling and grass cutting, etc.).

There are additional ways that we are planning to expand what we offer, and partnerships that we are forging. The details just aren’t ready to be released yet! 
Restoring Dignity doesn't exist in a vacuum, and we know that! It isn't our staff alone who make up our organization. 

Our local Omaha community is the life-giving blood that runs through our veins
  • Community members drop off donated items on a weekly basis
  • Volunteers make community events possible
  • Supporters purchase items for families off our Amazon wish list
  • Donors sustain us financially
  • Organizers host supply drives at schools, churches and social clubs
  • Foundations provide funding to cover the organizational and programatic expenses of running a non-profit
  • Local non profits provide partnerships, referral support and donated items
So what's the plan for 2021? 
We've got PLANS with a capital "P" this year! And we need YOUR help to achieve them.  
Goodbye Tuesday evenings, hello Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays! 
 
We recently hired a new Donation Center Manager (please welcome Eh Htoo Gay to our team!), changed our hours and created a new online calendar where community members can sign up for a 10 minute drop-off time.

2021 is going to be a year of unprecedented need for household items and furniture. Not only are refugee families that were resettled in other states moving to Omaha in tremendous numbers (for example, a few years ago there were about 2,000 people from Somalia in Omaha, now there are over 6,000)... starting this year, the number of refugees allowed into the United States by the Federal government will increase dramatically.

Under the former administration, only 15,000 refugees were allowed to be resettled in the USA in 2020. The new administration recently increased that number to 125,000, which means that Omaha will be gaining many new neighbors soon! We have a large capacity for meat packing plant and factory jobs, and we have many vibrant and diverse communities, which makes Omaha a desirable location for many families. 

Considering all of these different factors, we are actively preparing now for the substantial increased need of items for new refugee family homes! We have formed a partnership with Refugee Empowerment Center and The Furniture Project, and we now share donation center space and resources. With all of our heads, hearts and community supporters combined, we should be more than ready to warmly welcome many new families in the near future! 

Did all of this reading get you excited to drop off items? 
 
Click the link below to sign-up for your drop-off time slot! 
Sign Up to Drop Off Donations
Do you love what we do?
Join a growing group of supporters who contribute MONTHLY! We have big plans for 2021, 2022 and beyond, and we need YOUR continued support to make these visions a reality. We currently have FIVE incredible monthly supporters and our goal is to reach 20 by the end of February! 
Sign Up for Monthly Donations
End of the Year Report
2020 was a "candle lighting" year for Restoring Dignity. We faced more challenges, served more families, and increased our organization's capacity more than any year to date. We put together a "snapshot" of 2020, including lots of pictures, stats, and a list of our donors! Please take a few minutes to look through our report and let us know how we're doing! We appreciate any and all constructive feedback from the community. 
Check out our End of the Year Report!
Volunteers make our world go around! If you're interested in helping out at our Community Donation Center on the weekends, check out our Volunteer Sign-Up Calendar and snag a spot! 
Sign Up To Volunteer!
Our partner spotlight this month is Girls Inc. of Omaha! When Covid started last year, Girls Inc. didn't miss a beat! They gathered large containers of hand sanitizer and distributed them to non profits across Omaha, including Restoring Dignity. Because of this generosity, we were able to fill hundreds of hand held bottles of sanitizer and gave them out to families participating in our Cleaning Education Program. The giving could have stopped there, but it didn't! Girls Inc. then began distributing large amounts of cleaning supplies, hygiene items, toilet paper, soap and laundry detergent to local non-profits. Altogether, we have received hundreds of complete cleaning and hygiene kits and have given them away to families who visit our Community Donation Center. We value and greatly appreciate Girls Inc. and their approach of partnering instead of competing. Thank you for being a true role model and an excellent partner! 
We are not only excited to see what the future holds... we are excited to play a role in creating the future here in Omaha, Nebraska! Join us in continuing to cultivate a city that accepts families from all over the world AND provides the supportive services necessary so that ALL people can thrive here!  We are incredibly excited to serve alongside all of you this year! 
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