‘Powered by the community’: La Jolla volunteers help make empty house a home for recently homeless family

To help a family settle into a new residence after being homeless, several volunteers from the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center & Medical Spa and the La Jolla-based philanthropic group Las Patronas participated in a “Day of Service” for the local organization Humble Design.

Humble Design is a non-profit interior design firm run by La Jollans Rob and Treger Strasberg that serves “families, veterans and homeless people,” according to City Manager Laura Lavoie.

During the Feb. 11 Day of Service, two volunteers from the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center and five from Las Patronas helped six members of the Humble Design team set up an empty house in Lakeside for a woman in her 40s and her 14-year-old son, who recently came out of homelessness thanks to the East County Transitional Living Center.

The group spent the day furnishing and decorating the house before its reveal at the end of the day.

Marie Olesen, founder of La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center & Medical Spa, has volunteered for years with Humble Design and has been on its board since last year.

(Courtesy of Humble Design)

Marie Olesen, founder of La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center, has volunteered for years with Humble Design and has been one of its board members since 2021. She said that “there are people coming out of roaming every week [who] are recommended by different agencies to consider participating in this program. »

Humble Design then works with a recipient to determine the colors and style of the home. “As someone who lives in a car or on the street, to receive that level of consideration and control is very powerful,” Olesen said.

The furniture is selected and loaded onto a truck and delivered to the house. During a day of service, volunteers place items according to the designers’ plan, Olesen said, although designers give volunteers some flexibility to decorate as they wish.

“Everyone is on deck, unloading the truck, getting the boxes to the right rooms, unpacking and washing the dishes, setting the table, making the bed, hanging the art,” Lavoie said. “Everything you need to do to turn an empty house into a home in a day.”

Humble Design is “powered by the community, both philosophically and voluntarily,” Lavoie said.

Olesen said the participation is “humiliating. … As a volunteer, you realize how much we have in our own lives. It gives you perspective.

Ingrid de Alba de Salazar, a member of Las Patronas, agreed. “We sometimes take for granted having a bed, a seat, a plate,” she said.

“It had a huge impact on [Las Patronas volunteers] to see … how well planned everything is,” said de Alba de Salazar, whose husband is a surgeon at La Jolla Cosmetic. Creating a home for the family was “very rewarding” and the revelation at the end was “overwhelming”, she added.

Las Patronas, which provides financial assistance to local nonprofits and raised more than $1 million last year, visits organizations receiving support from Las Patronas, but members rarely meet the people who directly benefit of their largesse, said de Alba de Salazar. “We never see the real emotional feeling of what’s going on.”

Lavoie said this is part of what makes Humble Design “such a magical organization. I have never been in contact with an organization where the volunteering experience is so close to the mission. [Every week]I go to bed knowing that my team and volunteers have actively changed someone’s life for good.

Many of the volunteers are parents, which made creating a home for the mother and her teenage son “really beautiful,” Lavoie said. “Everyone mentioned the relationship between this 14-year-old boy and his mother and how it’s going to make a difference in his life forever.”

Humble Design is “not yet” a Las Patronas recipient, Lavoie said, because it just met the philanthropic group’s requirements to apply.

“I just wish we had more people to continue volunteering and more furniture to donate,” said de Alba de Salazar. “It’s so powerful and it makes them so happy.” ◆

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