Written by Jordyn Hunter

4 Lessons from D4D

A Reflection on My Summer Internship

By: Erin Socha

As my summer at Designs for Dignity comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what the summer has taught me. I learned and experienced a lot this summer – from moves to internal file structures to CAD plans to everything in between.

  1. Furniture is everywhere. A big part of my internship was researching furniture, looking up pricing or upholstery options for various pieces. After hours of searching through fabric memos for a certain piece, you tend to remember the piece pretty well. Pretty soon, you start seeing the same lounge set everywhere you go.
  2. Always buy the party bag of skittles. Or M&M’s, or whatever your sugar choice of intake may be. We sometimes use skittles as a prop when staging spaces for professional photography, and – just like life – you never know how many you’ll need to add a pop of color to the frame. And they provide a great 3 o’clock snack the next day.
  3. Moves take time. Not only does moving the furniture itself take hours, there are hours of planning and preparation that go behind every move in order to make it as efficient as possible. Thank your movers and coordinators, they do a lot of work you don’t realize.
  4. People are awesome. I feel like I write this in every blog, but it’s just so true! At a time when the world is filled with cruelty and sorrow, it’s amazing to think how far an act of kindness can spread. D4D is that first act of kindness, and watching it spread has been simply incredible.

These lessons only begin to scratch the surface of what this summer has taught me. Thank you, D4D, for a summer I’ll never forget.

A Date With Dignity

Designer Dating 101

By: Erin Socha

Date nights are fun. You look great and are glowing with confidence as the evening quickly becomes filled with laughter and smiles. It’s an evening of being doted, a reminder of why you are truly spectacular. A Date with Dignity was no exception. I had been looking forward to this event since I first heard about it. What better way to truly experience the D4D community than to be surrounded by a hundred people who passionately believe in D4D’s mission? Members of the Associate Board, Executive Board, and Corporate Sponsors filled Chicago Roof Deck + Garden as they munched on tacos, played cornhole and giant Jenga, and enjoyed the summer night.

A Date with Dignity is one of D4D’s annual fundraisers, planned & hosted by the Associate Board. A silent auction and raffle served as a means for party-goers to give back, raising over $13,000 by the end of the night! Prizes ranged from a bicycle to a vacation, and everyone was eager to take their chance at winning. Every time I walked past the table of prizes, I’d eye which one I would want to place my bets on winning.

As I meandered through the space, I couldn’t help but smile. I was far enough into my summer internship that I recognized many familiar faces, but around every corner was someone new to meet. I had already met so many incredible people, and I just kept meeting more as the evening progressed. The D4D community is constantly expanding, drawing in designers and volunteers from every corner of Chicago through collaborative impactful work. To be a part of that community is indescribable. The dating world can be hard to navigate, but A Date with Dignity made it evident that D4D has it’s own very successful matching system in place.




*This scenario of a date night is not the only option. There are many positive and healthy forms a relationship can take. For more information on healthy relationships, please visit

A Day in the Life of a D4D Intern

A Life Fueled by Colors and Coffee

By: Erin Socha

I suppose I haven’t introduced myself to you yet. Hello! My name’s Erin and I am D4D’s summer intern. I’ll be going into my fourth and final year of my architect undergraduate career at Miami University (OH) in the fall. Like any college design student, I thrive in an environment filled with colors, crazy days, and coffee. And that is exactly what kind of environment D4D is.

8:40 AM: Meet at the office to drive to an upholstery meeting.

9:00 AM: Brainstorm various ways to reuse fabric donations – pillows, table runners, quilts…

9:20 AM: Off to the warehouse to tag furniture pieces before our client meeting. Stop for coffee along the way.

9:57 AM: “What if we move the stools up front so they’re all together…” “No they’re in the back of the task chairs when we get to them in the move we can tag them then.” “Wait can we have the movers take down those side chairs-” “And open up the rack for the donation coming in, genius!”

10:30 AM: Close up the warehouse to go to the client meeting. Complain about the radio.

11:15 AM: Talk about the room, donation drop-off logistics, and other practical matters. Everyone seems excited and pleased with the space!

12:00 PM: Shake hands all around, excited for the collaboration that’s going to happen.

12:03 PM: Wait with Jordyn when Claire brings the car around. It’s raining.

12:30 PM: Hop out at the Mart with Jordyn to look at donations from Herman Miller.

12:50 PM: Back in the office, time for lunch and emails.

1:20 PM: Begin researching appropriate language to update our documents to give to the design team and volunteers at the start of each new project.

2:24 PM: “Wait, Erin, can you look up these KI values really fast?”

2:40 PM: Get lost in KI’s product price list.

2:43 PM: Find my way back to the start of KI’s product price list.

2:57 PM: Found the values, and back to language research I go.

3:15 PM: “Do we have everything for the photo shoot tomorrow?” Put together the bag of props for the shoot.

3:30 PM: Back to language research.

4:20 PM: Save research draft, we’ll have a staff meeting to talk about it in more detail tomorrow. Open survey forms to edit and update.

5:13 PM: “How is it already after five!”

It certainly hasn’t been an internship of getting coffee for the boss. Instead, it’s been an internship of trips to the Mart, moving tile, and meeting clients. Every day is different. You do a little bit of everything – fundraising, client meetings, furniture moves, days of service, the list continues. I’m so incredibly thankful for my summer at D4D. It certainly hasn’t been dull!


*Please note, this particular day has been fictionalized but is based entirely off my D4D experiences.

UIC Hospital Parent Lounge Remodel Site Visit

The Above Image is Before D4D’s Remodel

By: Erin Socha

I try not to spend a lot of time in hospitals. I have nothing against them – other than the needles and blood. I have therefore never had an interest in pursuing healthcare design. It made me squeamish just thinking about it. But after visiting D4D’s remodel of the UIC Hospital Parent Lounge, I realized healthcare design covers much more than the operating rooms.

No one ever tells you about the other side of hospitals. Waiting for medicine to work, for the surgery to be over, for the recovery to begin… there’s a lot of time spent doing nothing. Left unattended, this empty time can become overwhelming. It is our job as designers to stop that from happening. Spaces that welcome those in waiting can make the waiting experience much more inviting. Waiting can be a chance to relax and refresh rather than stress. Keeping this in mind, D4D is beginning to remodel what it means to be waiting.

The space will include a kitchenette, storage for toys, and relaxed seating. A wood-grain vinyl floor and pictures of nature add a touch of nature. After all, there are proven health benefits to surrounding yourself with nature. Working with the hospital to take advantage of the resources they already have, the design is able to relate to the rest of the space while giving it a new feeling of peace in their temporary home away from home.

Although the lounge is still under construction and blocked off to the public, you can still sense the curiosity of onlookers as we walked into the room. They know a remodel is occurring, but they don’t know the final plan. It’s these moments that make working at D4D so exciting, knowing that D4D is behind a plan to make the lives of so many better. There’s always two sides to a story – it’s just about which side you choose to take.


Aspire CILA Home Days of Service

Volunteers Painting a Home and Hearts

By: Erin Socha

I have been fortunate enough to meet some pretty special people in my lifetime. At Designs for Dignity’s Days of Service June 9th and 10th, I got to add to that list of incredible individuals. The Days of Service were spent painting at the Aspire CILA home, a beautiful example of the importance of inclusion and the impact even the simplest of details can make on a community.

CILA stands for Community Integrated Living Arrangement for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to build their skill sets with the supervision of the Aspire services. Staying true to Aspire’s vision, “To create a community where people of all abilities live, learn and grow together,” D4D worked with the residents to help develop a new training kitchen for the house. There were four residents involved in the process, working collaboratively to decide details such as floor pattern and paint color. D4D also learned more about the untraditional needs of the house from the residents’ perspective. For example, almost every suburban house has one main dining area. In the Aspire CILA home, there are two, as the residents enjoy the diversity the two dining areas create.

Our task was to paint the two kitchens and two living room spaces in the home. With 28 volunteers ready to help D4D and the Aspire staff see their vision become a reality, we set to work. I can honestly say I have never walked up and down so many stairs in my life, let alone in those two days. I was running downstairs to get more paint brushes and drop cloths, then back upstairs to deliver them and grab the paint to bring back downstairs. But through all the organizes commotion, I was able to hear the stories of our amazing volunteers. Two volunteers went to the same college and were fondly comparing memories, while two other volunteers were creating some of their first married memories together.

To me, that’s what a Day of Service is meant to accomplish. Not only do you create memories for yourself, but you also create a lasting memory for others – especially the residents of the CILA home. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint is the fresh start someone was looking to find.

NeoCon 2017

Cirque de Couleur – Circus of Color

By: Erin Socha

As I walk throughout the show, I cannot help smiling as colors zoom across the stages in excitement – after all, it is their first time in the spotlight. Sapphire and indigo run the show, enticing guests with a cloud of comfort and warmth. But ruby and blush draw in guests with their ingenuity. They shimmer and dazzle with every touch, the soft caress of a hand leaving a mark brighter than the sun. There is a sense of longing amongst the guests. To see the colors perform is one thing, but to have the colors dance in your own space – it is this blissful desire that drives the crowds. But which color to pick? Each stage is so different. How do you know how the colors will behave on a new stage? The show owners know this, and one by one make their way around to guests to let them in on the secrets of each stage – the customization that went into each one, the training of each color to adapt to a new stage. As guests understand the various functions and components of the stages, they return once again to a feeling of awe. The colors are beaming. As guests begin to drift out of the show, the colors quietly settle down on their stages, still smiling. They know the guests will be back to see them again.

NeoCon is the largest trade show in the Midwest, and ranks as one of the largest in the country. 50,000 design professionals walk millions of square feet of exhibition space and show rooms in the Merchandise Mart to learn, network, and celebrate the newest designs. Seminars are held, with presenters such as D4D’s own Jennifer Sobecki. With designers and corporate employees flying in from across the country, it’s a show that places a lot of pressure on the stars of the show: the colors.

There are so many moving parts of NeoCon, it was hard to label what stole the show. But there is only one shared component amongst everything at NeoCon, and that is color. I’ve learned a lot about color at D4D. It creates the tone of an entire space, and can drastically impact the emotions of the inhabitants of that space. There were endless walls of color at NeoCon – who would have thought there could be so many different shades of the seemingly same blue upholstery. Every showroom was bursting with emotion powered by the multitude of shades in the room. Surrounded by so much excitement, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with design again.

Networking and product recall is important, but it’s also important to remember why we are designers. D4D’s mission vows to transform “nonprofit environments through pro bono design services and in-kind donations — empowering lives through design.” D4D is determined to bring the same atmosphere of excitement at NeoCon to everyone in the community. Design is meant to be shared and colors should shine vibrantly on every stage, no matter how small the stage may seem. Add some color, and it’ll shine like a star.

Refugee One Refresh Project

A D4D Refresh Project in the Uptown Neighborhood

By: Valeria Degutis

Last time I left you all in August, I mentioned a Painting Day of Service. We had a lovely group of volunteers join us bright and early on a Friday & Saturday to help D4D paint the common spaces of Refugee One in the Uptown Neighborhood. It’s a lot of fun to get to know the volunteers of Designs for Dignity because they always have such mixed backgrounds and connections. Many of the volunteers that participated were some of our design volunteers or Associate Board members that are repeat participants for Days of Service. A lot of the volunteers are also new to the organization through friends and acquaintances.

Events with D4D can be such adventures. I remember walking in that morning to no power in the reception area, and maybe a few too many volunteers – but that is never a bad thing! Mostly, however, I remember the faces of the volunteers so eager and ready to work – after donuts of course! There is always so much adventure when we’re on a D4D project site. The best part is seeing our volunteers roll with the punches no matter the situation.

Since then, the Refugee One ‘refresh project’ has been completed and installed for a few months. We were able to provide donated seating for the various programs that Refugee One offers, such as tablet arm chairs for their classrooms that might offer English classes. Some of the other items included tables, task chairs & side chairs for offices.

Working with Refugee One was a very enjoyable experience for me. It was great to see the project through, and make an impact in a small but effective manner. It was also a really great experience to work with volunteers to get this project done. Designs for Dignity needs its volunteers to make the impact that we do. Impacting lives is a collective effort of many who care, and I’ve been very lucky to have shared the mission of D4D with all of the staff and volunteers that I’ve come across in my short time here.

A Story of Collaboration


A Story Of The Chicago Non Profit Community’s Support For Each Other

By: Valeria Degutis

Urban Initiatives (UI) was founded in 2003 by two teachers who saw a need for after school programs in the neighborhoods of Chicago. They started as “Work to Play” with twelve students in an after school soccer program and since then they’ve grown to serve over 15,000 students in 50 schools.  As time progressed, UI added more sports and programs for the continuing students such as “Take the Lead” which allows students to take on leadership roles within the programs. UI is using the power of sport and play to build up school and community culture while taking Chicago’s youth out of the violence that is burdening our city. 50 schools and 35 communities are impacted by the powerful work of Urban Initiatives by creating strong leaders in the community and by teaching the youth to access situations and look for positive outlooks in life. UI brings people out of their small neighborhoods and lets them collaborate with the greater city of Chicago for better learning opportunities. UI is not only saving our youth, they’re saving our city.

Longtime friends of D4D, Blutter Shiff Design (Janet Blutter Shiff, ASID, Principal & Lynn Boutross, ASID, Senior Design Partner), was assisting UI with their office expansion. They reached out to the design community for help with furniture procurement, and D4D was able to jump on board.

Janet and Lynn were originally put in contact with Jim Dower, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Urban Initiatives, at a Meet and Match event hosted by WomenOnCall, A Margot Pritzker Organization. WomenOnCall provides professional women with the opportunity to volunteer their skills and expertise in high impact ways for the non-profit community. UI has been benefitting from these connections since the very first Meet and Match in 2006.

Designs for Dignity was able to assist this project through multiple furniture donations including a conference table from Holly Hunt, a desk benching system from ThreeH, lounge pieces from NELSON’s office space, as well as various pieces donated by Assurance who D4D was connected with through HED. Although a smaller scope of work for D4D, the gesture made a big difference. UI was able to arrange the donated furniture in such a way that creates spaces with a flexible and professional atmosphere for the many faces of Urban Initiatives. UI now feels that they have an efficient space to accommodate the different sides of their organization. The new expanded side of the office now houses the operations team and offers everyone in the organization both an open space for collaboration and quiet spaces for focused activities.

This story of amazing non profits working together for the benefit of each other is a sensational example of collaboration for the greater good. Everyone in this story has been able to impact so many individuals in the Chicagoland area and it is a perfect example of everything that these organizations stand for. We are all in need of collaboration on foundation, individual, and corporate levels and this is a true success story of partnership for the benefit of so many.

“We’ve grown because of need; the needs of our communities, the needs [of our] kids and the needs of our city.” – Jim Dower, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Urban Initiatives


A Day Out Of The Office

Design Intern Recaps Day Out Of The Office

By: Valeria Degutis

It is week ten of my internship and although I will have to go back to school soon, things are still going strong and I am being introduced to new projects everyday. I spent most of my Tuesday this week out and about in the North Shore sitting in on meetings for projects in varying stages.

Our first stop was in Evanston with Y.O.U. which stands for Youth & Opportunity United. Y.O.U.’s philosophy and mission is to provide positive youth development and services such as life skills,  leadership, and social skills to youth and their families in the community. D4D is working on FF&E (furniture, fixtures & equipment) for Y.O.U.’s new headquarters in collaboration with Studio Talo. D4D presented furniture as they are ready to take a look at how they can create collaborative spaces. It seemed like such an exciting stage in the design process for Y.O.U. After a few years of raising money and going through multiple different design options, they’re finally selecting furniture for their space. While all of this was going on there were still new things being brought up in the meeting such as slight programming changes and new concepts for touch-down work spaces. We were all able to successfully discuss our furniture recommendations and we came out of the meeting with a better understanding of how to proceed with the project as we go through the final phases of design.

After our meeting with Y.O.U., we went to Northfield for a kick off meeting with The Josselyn Center. The Josselyn Center is an affordable behavioral healthcare center that is in need of some updating.. Currently, the center is not ADA accessible and no work has been done in the building since the sixties. We sat in on this meeting with roomTEN Design who is collaborating on the renovation.This was a preliminary meeting where we discussed the details for the scope of work. Both D4D & roomTEN discussed their separate scopes of work, but also all of the work they will do together. D4D will take on the interior core of the building to create a more open and relaxing space for the reception and high traffic areas such as corridors and conference rooms. Talking with the clients and answering all of their questions was probably the most important part of this meeting. We were able to put them at ease and give them an idea of the type of impact we might have on their organization. Leaving that meeting gave me a sense of excitement and hope for The Josselyn Center and their future space.

On our way back we had a final stop to make at Apna Ghar for a quick meeting on finish selections. This project is just a bit further along than Y.O.U., but they were having trouble finding a floor finish that would accommodate their needs. We went to their offices armed with some more samples to assure them that they had many options. With little time for them to decide without delaying construction, we gave them the quick rundown of their options. The next day, I prepared a package with some information on the products to help Apna Ghar make a better informed decision.

The best part of our meeting filled day was working with the clients. Even though all of the projects were in different stages of the design process, there was so much excitement in all of the clients and I could tell that they were looking forward to the positive changes in their facilities to improve their organization. There was so much to learn all throughout the day and I was so lucky to be able to sit in on the meetings and interactions. I’m looking forward to my last few days here and the opportunities that will come with it.

I’ll get to finish up my summer with D4D  with painting days of service at RefugeeOne on August 12th and 13th, and you can join us too! Email for more information.

North Dearborn Garden Walk

By: Valeria Degutis

It has been a busy weekend for Designs for Dignity. On Thursday we wrapped up a successful Date with Dignity event hosted by our lovely Associate Board, and on Friday morning we were preparing a garden for the North Dearborn Garden Walk hosted by the North Dearborn Association (NDA). About three weeks prior, we were introduced to the event by D4D’s Board President, Hunter Kaizer, who has participated in the garden walk in years past. Our team got to work going through our inventory to see what we could use to create a vignette in the selected garden and transform the space in a short amount of time.

After prepping the garden for our design, we decided that we wanted the ability to showcase what a D4D space could look like. There were six chairs and a small side table that were used to create a dining space and a reading nook. We enhanced the dining setting with a beautiful floral arrangement and place settings. Included were quotes from those who’ve been impacted by previous projects on the plates and hints of green from our logo. The reading nook area was distinguished by green and white paper lanterns, a side table and two armchairs for a more intimate, personal space within the garden. Having used pieces from the D4D inventory, the donated Aura Chairs from Lane Venture and the Boxwood Side Table from Janus et Cie will now find permanent homes on one our future project sites.

The goal of participating in this event was for D4D to get our work in front of a new audience. While we did not know what to expect in the beginning, we encountered some people whose lives had been affected by D4D through their work environments. For example, one of the Garden Walk attendees who we were talking to had worked in a D4D transformed space and didn’t even realize D4D had provided the pro-bono interior design services.

We hope that through our work this weekend, we were able to open new eyes to a need of quality design for all. The work that is done by Designs for Dignity is so important to the non-profit community of Chicagoland. D4D has impacted over one hundred thousand people through their work with those spaces continuing to have a positive impact everyday. With the help of gracious volunteers and attendees at our events, such as the upcoming annual Kitchen Walk, D4D is able to create spaces of comfort where people can truly be themselves in healthy and safe environments.


Want to get in on the action? To join our Associate Board please contact Robby at 

To join a project team please follow this link to our volunteer form. 

Missed us this weekend? Be sure to get your tickets to the Kitchen Walk here!


For more information on the North Dearborn Garden Walk or the NDA, please visit their website: