Sundays are often a work day for teachers. It’s the last day available to make preparations for the coming week of school. Some teachers are at their school pulling materials together. Others are planning, making copies or rearranging their classrooms.
And yet, sometimes life pulls people, even teachers, in a different direction. That’s why on a recent Sunday afternoon, 23 teachers from Putnam City’s Arbor Grove Elementary School (and 20 more spouses, children and other members of their families) worked out of a warehouse and busily went about their task: Loading a truck with beds, furniture, pots and pans, dishes, towels and everything else necessary to help a family start a new and better phase in life.
The Arbor Grove teachers are volunteers for a nonprofit organization known as “Focus on Home.” The organization supports families in need by providing donated furniture and household necessities. It’s practical, necessary help for families transitioning out of homelessness or families remade after substance abuse, tragedy, loss or other troubles.
While the help Focus on Home provides might seem to be about furniture and other goods, the real meaning is much more than that. When an apartment or a house with no more than a mattress or a chair is in one afternoon transformed into a full-fledged, fully furnished home, family life is no longer dominated by stress, struggle and scraping by. Instead, time, energy and resources can be refocused by families on being comfortable in the home and creating their best possible future.
How it works
Helping families is a process. Focus on Homes’ director, Joli Sanders, identifies families in need by working with local organizations and agencies such as YWCA, the Department of Human Services, Homeless Alliance, ReMerge, Positive Tomorrows, Hope House, Red Rock Behavioral Health Services and NorthCare. Caseworkers submit applications on behalf of the families they are working with and who are ready for the kind of help Focus on Home provides.
Four families are selected each month to receive help. Sanders meets with the families in their homes to create a plan for furniture based on families’ needs. The majority of items that go to families are donated, gently used items from the Focus on Home warehouse. Each family also receives some new items that fill in gaps in donations.
Typically the second Sunday of each month, Focus on Home volunteers meet at the warehouse to help select and load furniture and accessories for each family receiving furniture that day. A team leader directs them in the hourlong chore of loading the truck, and once that’s done, team members head to the house or apartment they will be delivering to.
When the truck arrives, beds, couches, chairs and other needed items are unloaded, and anything that needs assembly is put together. When volunteers leave, the family is equipped to live in and use their home.
Making a difference for children
Arbor Grove teachers and members of their families have volunteered for Focus on Home on several Sundays. Teachers from Putnam City’s Coronado Heights Elementary, Wiley Post Elementary and Windsor Hills Elementary have also volunteered their time. What keeps bringing teachers out to help?
“There are always kids,” says Arbor Grove principal Brenda Davis. “As educators, we know how important this is. We know what a difference it makes to a child to come to school having had a good night’s sleep in a bed that is their own, and go home to a comfortable home that they feel good about.”
For Arbor Grove kindergarten teacher Erin Camp, it’s personal.
“Having little to nothing and just starting out as a single mom is close to my heart. I had people step up and help me during my time of need. It feels great to give back,” Camp said.
Marquita Vann, a fifth-grade teacher at Arbor Grove, is also involved as a way to give back.
“I volunteered because I was intrigued by the idea and the process of helping people with their homes. I have been looking for ways that my daughters and I could give back to our community and this sounded like a perfect fit for us. The first time we went was amazing, and my daughters and I can’t wait to help again,” she said.