This Washington Nonprofit Provides Trauma Survivors With Pro Bono Home Design
The Oasis Alliance started after Danielle Woodhouse Johnson experienced an unexpectedly life-altering event through a home staging project. She was a part of the outreach team at her church when a local shelter called because a mother and her daughter were homeless and moving into their first home. “The experience was so beautiful," says Johnson of moving them in. "The tears and joy were the moments I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That planted the seed for Oasis Alliance."
After that first home installation, Johnson began to enlist other creative friends with humanitarian streaks to help in her efforts to change the lives of trauma victims through design. Now, five years later, the group is a registered 501(c)3 and has undertaken close to 80 pro bono projects.
To Johnson, the Oasis Alliance is the ideal culmination of her two passions: social services and design. Before Johnson started the Oasis Alliance, she served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Later, she went into social services helping undocumented immigrants in mental health clinics for services like housing, where she would often reach out to the community for donations to help with the housing needs of those in need.
What most struck Johnson about her work in that capacity was the quality of goods donated to individuals in need: She would receive items that, in her words, were "disgusting and broken."
“There's this idea that folks who don’t have anything should be grateful for what they get, even if it's something you wouldn’t even give to your worst enemy," Johnson says. "It used to make me so angry. Just because people are struggling at this moment, it doesn’t mean they deserve trash.”
The concept that all people deserve a safe and happy home—and one that reflects their personality—became a foundational tenet of OA. "People deserve choice and quality," says Johnson.
The Alliance's design director is Cat Guerra, whom Johnson met when Guerra served as her supervisor at a home staging company. Much like a designer at any for-profit firm, Guerra works directly with each client for design consultations and installation, taking care to create spaces that work for them. She keeps everything on track through fundraising efforts, coordinating between teams, and ensuring the installation process is smooth for each client.
“For trauma survivors, home isn’t a safe space, and we’re trying to change that,” Johnson tells House Beautiful. “Many of our clients are victims of domestic violence or sexual violence. We want to create a new space where you are not feeling triggered, and you can feel protected.” To achieve this, Guerra focuses on creating sensory spaces and choosing elements that bring the outside in for trauma survivors.
"At Reveal Day, many clients feel like they don’t deserve it," notes Johnson. "So to overcome that feeling during the design process, we really try to over-deliver and give a message of abundance. Every project starts with a design consultation so we can understand what they want and need in their home. We also have each homeowner involved in the design process by doing an art project like painting a room or creating a piece of art."
All of this contributes to creating a home that's not only safe and secure, but in which its inhabitants can truly feel at home.
The Alliance has big plans for its next few years: The group hopes to tap into commercial spaces in the DMV that work with trauma victims, expand fundraising, and, longterm, establish a framework for other cities to adopt the Oasis model (this would also entail teaching designers how to engage with trauma survivors in a dignified way beyond design principles). Johnson, Guerra, and team were recently profiled on Fox5 Washington DC for their work, an exciting milestone in spreading the word about the organization (see the clip here).
Want to help the mission? The Alliance operates on a donation and volunteer basis—to support its efforts, you can volunteer your time or provide a monetary donation.
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