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LightHouseDC: Turning Houses into Homes

While attending college, Jingwen Sun discovered a “critical gap” for individuals and families transitioning from homelessness in the District: many of them were sleeping on the floor. Since 2017 LightHouse DC (1726 7th St. NW), co-founded by Sun who now serves as the Director of Operations, has been at the forefront of closing this gap.

In an effort to turn “houses into homes” volunteers work together to provide furnishings and HGTV-style home makeovers for DC residents in need. While the organization’s services, including building, moving and design, help to transform the physical spaces, the nonprofit’s impact far surpasses aesthetics.

The expense and logistical challenges of purchasing furniture can make it impossible for transitioning residents to furnish their new homes with basic necessities. “It was another hurdle that people have to jump through to be on their feet,” Sun said. “An empty space is not really a home, and, without a good night of sleep, that can impact the next day.”

Sun says it’s “the things we really don’t think about” that have the biggest impact on their clients. Dressers to store their clothes, lamps for reading and couches for common spaces, he said, can make a big impact. When families have their “basic human needs” met, Sun said, it allows them to “rest well and do well next day.”

The home furnishing program provides home goods and furniture at no cost to families. Chief Program Officer, Shelley Carter, said their “narrow” focus on furnishing exclusively allows their outreach to operate at maximum efficiency.

LightHouseDC also works with several community partners including A Wider Circle, Pathways to Housing, American Red Cross and the DC Department of Human Services (DHS) to identify those in need of their services. These organizations help streamline their operations so that all of the organization’s resources can be allocated to providing for their clients.

Volunteers help move home furnishings into a client’s new home. Photo courtesy of LightHouseDC.

Both furniture and monetary donations from the community are key to making these houses feel like home. Mattresses, lamps, desks and more are accepted by the organization for distribution across the city. Financial donations are used to purchase more unique furniture items like bunk beds for their clients.

The LightHouse impact is far-reaching. Beyond providing home furnishings, the organization also offers “Welcome Home Day” moving and design service where volunteers work together to assemble furniture and decorate the space. Everything from linens to kitchen supplies are included and the day culminates with a big reveal of the family’s new home. “Truly from top to bottom, we make it a home for the family,” Carter said.

Volunteer Nick Bolger reflected on his experience at Welcome Home Day and the opportunity to meet with the clients to help design the unique space, perfectly tailored to their needs.

“They’re getting a complete rebrand of their place and they feel much more comfortable in the space,” Bolger said. “The icing on the cake is that you really get to see firsthand how much you’re impacting their lives.”

Visit lighthousedc.org to learn more and to get involved with upcoming projects and donation efforts.

Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.

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