This spring, Susan Stein coordinated lighting and draping for her garden club’s flower show with Molly Robinson from Luma Designs. Impressed by Susan’s knack for layout and knowledge of the set-up process, Molly asked Susan about her expertise.
“I used to work as an interior designer, then I worked in development for The Chambliss Center, and I also sold clothing. Now, I’m hoping that, somehow, all of the things that I have enjoyed mesh together into my next venture,” Susan said.
Boom. Molly mentioned that Homes and Havens, a new nonprofit started by her friend, needed Susan’s expertise, and the seed was planted.
True to form, Susan listened. “I checked out Kaysie Strickland’s Homes and Havens Instagram, Facebook and web pages, contacted her and met with her the following week,” Susan said. “I was so moved by her efforts that I immediately offered support and my expertise if she thought I could assist the growth of her idea.”
While Kaysie was working with the Renew Program at Calvary Chapel on Broad Street, she found a gap in the services provided to bolster a successful outcome for women in recovery. Kaysie realized that many women endure hardships, suffer and, finally, hope to begin anew, but they often return to the toxic living environment where much of their pain began. Researching the benefits of living in a tranquil environment to promote healing, Kaysie utilizes the concept of therapeutic design.
Both she and Susan shared difficult times in their lives when their homes were their sanctuaries, offering them calm spaces to heal.
“Extensive research has proven that environment impacts emotional and mental wellbeing, especially for individuals recovering from trauma. Homes and Havens developed and implemented Trauma Informed Design, which uses specific color palettes, textures, space considerations and layouts to promote visual comfort, order and peace within a home. This is the design lens that we use when we create a restorative healing environment for every client,” Susan explained.
Currently, Homes and Havens partners with 14 different agencies, including Partnership for Families and Adults, The Renew Ministry of Calvary Chapel, Love’s Arm, The Next Door, Family Promise and Chattanooga Room at The Inn. “Our clients come from various backgrounds, nationalities and age groups. These women are on the healing side of severe life crises such as sex trafficking, addiction, abuse, incarceration and homelessness,” Susan said.
Many of Homes and Havens clients have fled a home or have no home, and no furnishings. Returning to an environment of blight is sending these women right back to chaos and trauma from which they are recovering.
“Research proves that these unhealthy environments can trigger a nervous system that is trying to heal from trauma, neglect and abuse, often leading to relapse,” Susan says.
Homes and Havens volunteers step in to work with caseworkers and meet with each client in her new home, coming up with a design plan for her needs and those of any children in her care. “We start with a wish list of needs that usually includes beds, blankets, sofas, chairs, dressers, lamps, artwork, and curtains. We then go gather what we can,” Susan says. “Most of the furniture we receive is donated from the community. We ask for slightly used sofas, dressers and tables. We use what we call the ‘sister standard.’ If you would not put it in your sister’s house, then we can’t use it. We are very cautious as to what we put in these women’s homes. They are used to getting the worst of the worst, and our mission is to let them receive and experience a clean, organized, healing environment. That can’t happen on a soiled ripped sofa. We believe the furnishings communicate value, and we want each client to know how much we value them as women, mothers, members of our community and, most off all, survivors,” Susan says with a smile.
The team selects items with each client in mind, often painting furniture pieces to offer a fresh look. Once ready to completely renew their clients’ homes, they schedule a day to install and arrive with a team of volunteers and movers.
“We come with a team of volunteers/movers and set up the entire space while the client and children are away. In about three hours we are ready for the reveal, as we welcome the family back home into a completely designed, furnished and healing space,” Susan explains.
A generous local artist heard of this amazing concept and donated his talents to provide custom painted pieces for these beautiful new spaces. “In collaboration, we can all add something to encourage these women and their families to stay healthy,” Susan says. “When we hang the pieces of art painted specifically for these women, they are visibly moved by the compassion of others.”
Homes and Havens was selected by Causeway’s Social Innovation Studio, which is a pilot program to assist projects in their growth to the next level. Susan says they are looking for a larger studio space in which to house and refurbish donations. They have a goal of becoming self-sustaining by training clients to sew and paint as they learn a trade and become part of the mission that assisted them. Homes and Havens envisions that this new space could also be leased to host small events in the future.
Once Homes and Havens completes a home, the caseworker resumes contact with the client, and Homes and Havens keeps in touch to continue to encourage her recovery. In the past year and a half, Homes and Havens transformed homes for dozens of women, and, at this writing, 100 percent remain in recovery. This remarkable team of women includes: Kaysie Strickland, founder and president; Meg Littell, project manager; Susan Stein, director of development; Brooke Ritterbush, director of events; Lexi Bozarth, community relations; and Suzanne Zimmerman, Nashville community relations.
Go to homesandhavens.com to hear Kaysie Strickland explain the mission of this venture. She calls each home a “tangible piece of redemption” as she explains that she is “a fighter for their stories” as these women try to “step out of the darkness into the light.” In the video, a quotation by Mary Oliver hangs on the wall, which reads, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Kaysie Strickland and her team are doing just that.