In Milwaukee, a woman named Sade Franklin celebrated Christmas this year with her three sons under her own roof in a home she now owns. It might not sound spectacular, but in this case, it took a major collaboration of charitable organizations and a BrandSource member to pull it off.
Colder’s Furniture and Appliances in Milwaukee got involved thanks to a series of word-of-mouth conversations between Ashley Furniture, real estate company Keller Williams, Habitat for Humanity and the Warrick Dunn Charities.
Eventually, the request came to Tom Balistreri, vice president of merchandising for Colder’s: Would the store be interested in helping to furnish the house that Habitat for Humanity built for Franklin’s family? Balistreri didn’t hesitate, and then he turned to his vendor partners for help.
Just days before Christmas, Franklin and her sons, aged 9, 7 and 4, joined a crowd outside their new house – which Franklin had helped to build along with many Habitat for Humanity volunteers – to officially take possession of the home.
What she didn’t know was that the home was completely furnished, right down to a Christmas tree and art on the walls, thanks largely to Colder’s generosity and relationships with its own partners. “We believe it’s great to give back,” Balistreri said. “And we feel that something like this, where we can change somebody’s life, give them something they can build on and be proud of, is a great opportunity. We do it because we want to help.”
In most cases, Habitat for Humanity builds a home, with volunteers and the “sweat equity” of the recipient family, and then with great hoopla turns the keys over to the family when the house is ready. Furniture, beds, appliances and extras are usually not part of the project. That’s where the Warrick Dunn Charities comes in. In projects with Habitat, the Warrick Dunn Charities reaches out to businesses like Colder’s and other partners to furnish the homes, as well.
Dunn’s organization has become well known for providing services and programming to single parents and children all over the country. Working with Habitat for Humanity and other home ownership programs, the Warrick Dunn Charities is trying to give families a better chance at success by improving their quality of life.
The charity stems from Dunn’s own amazing story: When he was 18 years old, his mother was killed on the job as a security guard, leaving him and his five younger siblings. His mom, Betty Smothers, was a single parent who worked two jobs and dreamed of owning her own home, but never had the opportunity. Now her eldest son is making sure other moms get the chance his mom never got. He started by establishing the Homes for the Holidays program and later the Warrick Dunn Charities.
Franklin’s house was the first he’d done in Milwaukee, and the contents of the house were a surprise to the new homeowner. That meant an especially emotional reveal when Franklin stepped into her new house, and it also meant Balistreri couldn’t say anything about Colder’s participation until after it was all over. “We didn’t have a chance to say too much because the furnishings were a surprise,” he said.
But Balistreri was on hand when Dunn gave Franklin a tour of her new home, and he saw the impact the project made on the family. He met Franklin and her kids, as well as Dunn, and could see what the donated items meant to the family. “He’s a phenomenal guy,” Balistreri said. “He’s done a lot of great things for families.”
Colder’s donated merchandise for nearly every room in the house: mattresses, furniture for the living room, den, three bedrooms and dining room as well as kitchen appliances. Ashley Furniture, through Colder’s, made a monetary donation and helped with furniture as well. “Without our partnerships, we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he said.
This wasn’t Colder’s first experience with Habitat for Humanity, and Balistreri said he hopes it won’t be the last. Roughly 15 years ago, employees of Colder’s became Habitat for Humanity volunteers to help construct a home for one of their own – a fellow employee who needed a hand.
“We told Warrick Dunn Charities and Keller Williams we’d love to do a couple more houses in the future,” Balistreri said.
The project got a lot of media attention, both in the local Milwaukee media and nationally – probably thanks to the Dunn’s name recognition – but Colder’s got a share of the attention as well. A Colder’s banner hung on the front porch on the big day, and shows up in every photo and video clip from outside the house. The store was at least mentioned in most news stories about the event and Balistreri was interviewed by a videographer hired by the real estate company to produce a short film about the project.
The media attention was nice, Balistreri said, but it wasn’t the point of Colder’s participation. “The benefits would maybe be long term,” he said. “Some of these things come and go, but we got a little recognition for what we did in the community.”
Being part of a Habitat for Humanity project makes perfect sense for dealers in the appliance, furniture and bedding industry, Balistreri said, and he encouraged his fellow BrandSource members to consider getting involved in projects in their own areas.
“It’s a charity that is so tied into our industry all across the board – furniture, mattresses, appliances and electronics,” Balistreri said. “It’s very, very meaningful and fulfilling to help a family.”