Green Chair Project furnishes more than home decor for Raleigh families

Posted March 19, 2016
Updated March 20, 2016

— Clutter. That’s what inspired Jackie Craig and Beth Smoot to start The Green Chair Project. Six years later, they’ve helped more than 1,400 needy families furnish their homes.

Craig says the best part of the non-profit is working as a team to better the area.

"I love how every community member can come in and help a community in need," she said.

Every item in the nonprofit’s Raleigh "furniture store" comes from a volunteer who was ready to part with it.

Four times a year, Green Chair hosts a fundraiser, opening their doors to the public for shoppers to buy some of the donated furniture. When they do, there's a guaranteed line out the door.

"Every Friday is busy because people are out and about shopping. They always stop by and ask if they can buy something. I have to tell them, 'No, we're a non-profit organization, but you can come by quarterly,'" Kathleen Lichtenstein, Green Chair volunteer coordinator said as she placed tags on paintings and stools for the March 18 fundraising event.

As usual, the event was popular. Women and men stood at the storefront 10 minutes before the event started and "there were more than 100 people at the preview event" the day before, Craig said.

Every penny spent serves the larger purpose: turning houses into homes.

Green Chair provides home furnishings to needy clients through a point system, which allows them to stretch their dollars and have the pride of having purchased furniture. A single point is worth $2. For about $200 (or 100 points), a client can furnish an entire home. That includes bed frames, comforters, sheets, kitchen tables, silverware, lamps, night stands, couches, shower curtains, decor and more.

At the end of the experience, clients are offered an "accessory basket" of their choice filled with decorations, table settings and matching items.

"Instead of saying 'Green Chair gave me this furniture,' our clients can say, 'I bought this furniture,'" Craig explained. "It retains their dignity."

Green Chair steps in after other local agencies have helped those who were once homeless find a place to live.

"We do not provide our clients with new houses. We partner with 60 organizations who refer clients to us. When they're ready, they come to Green Chair," Lichtenstein said.

Decorating a house through The Green Chair Project is the last step to recovering from homelessness.

"Usually there’s a lot of tears when they leave here, because it’s really the icing on the cake to their recovery," Craig said.

 The Green Chair Project

Green Chair doesn’t normally get the chance to keep up with former clients. They occasionally get updates from one of the 60 organizations that sponsor the clients.

So it was a pleasant surprise when WRAL News brought Wendy Lyons back to the store.

Last year, Lyons, a recovering heroin addict, was one of nearly 4,000 homeless people in Wake County. Since January, she has been comfortable in her new home, furnished through Green Chair.

Lyons said she has turned her life around, and the generosity of Green Chair helps her keep it that way.

“When I was here, I got just about everything I needed for the house. I was sleeping on the floor. I didn’t have anything. I came here, I got a sofa, a dish set…” she said.

That's the goal: To have every client walk out of Green Chair with everything they need. The entire process is a team effort.

"It takes a village to run this place," Craig said. "Everybody’s welcome here. Everyone can come in and make a difference."

Passage Home is the sponsoring organization that helped get Lyons a permanent home and connected her to Green Chair.

"I came out of a program called NCRSS, that’s North Carolina Recovery Services, for people in recovery of substance abuse," Lyons said. "I stayed there for six months. They have women’s houses, they have men’s houses, and upon leaving there, I interviewed with Passage Home [and] was accepted immediately. That was a blessing."

Lyons said if it weren't for Passage Home and their referral to the Green Chair, "I wouldn’t have the opportunity. It was a great experience. I just felt rich," she exclaimed.

Craig knows The Green Chair Project can't make a large impact alone. "Without volunteers, donors or the partnering organizations, we would not be able to help these people," she said.

Forbes ranks Raleigh as the second best place in the United States for business and careers, and Lyons can now contribute to that statistic. She says she’s taking business classes, is an active member of her church and a loving grandmother.

Life's trials and tribulations can often clutter up what's right in Raleigh. Lyons' example proves that charity doesn’t have to start at a home. Sometimes it simply starts in a chair.

While at Loyola University in Chicago, Alex Whittler has volunteered around the city and tutored high school students. She also earned membership in Alpha Sigma Nu, the highest honor at Loyola for students dedicated to service. She plans to continue her studies in the Master's of Journalism program at Northwestern University.


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