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:


Synopsis Of A 6 month Post Project Interview With Ingenuity After Designs For Dignity Assisted Them With A Quick Move

By: Valeria Degutis

Ingenuity was in the process of a move into the building managed by the same company as Designs for Dignity. The Ingenuity team knew what they needed for their new space but they had no idea how to acquire it. They were put in touch with us by our great building managers Urban Innovations. With no starting point and a short amount of time, Ingenuity was referred to D4D. Without any expectations, they hesitantly sent out an SOS to the D4D office. AmySue, the Director of Public Affairs for Ingenuity, had little expectations from Designs for Dignity as she didn’t even expect a reply, but they were pleasantly surprised by the D4D team.

Designs for Dignity swooped in and took a look at the new space to see what they could do. D4D provided Ingenuity with a paint plan, donated furniture and suggested layouts for a more productive, collaborative, translational and flexible space. D4D also offered them some convenient solutions with their vendors, creating trust between the two organizations. It was clear that those going through this moving process were touched by the simple reassurance and confidence D4D was able to provide.

The new space is a beautiful, professional environment for people who work with the arts educators of our Chicago Public School system to promote art and culture with the resources that this city has to offer. The team members described the space as more comfortable for conversations and more flexible for collaboration. The space has multiple group areas for meetings in formal and informal settings with brainstorm friendly spaces and quick meeting spots. The layout of the space has good flow and creates a better sense of community within the organization by having more group friendly spaces and open areas. There is a new heightened respect for their space and people are excited to come to work everyday, one staff member mentioned he even likes to come in on the weekends.

“We’re more productive because we have those opportunities for collaboration.” – Ingenuity Staff Member

“I would guarantee you that without the support from Designs for Dignity we would not be nearly as comfortable as we are in those conversations spaces.” – Ingenuity Staff Member

“Our interns are now able to feel more a part of this space and work collaboratively with us as an organization.” – Ingenuity Staff Member

“It provides the exact space that we needed.” – Ingenuity Staff Member

A Day In The Life Of A D4D Intern

By: Valeria Degutis

A day in the life of a Designs for Dignity intern cannot be described. It’s probably because no one day is the same. So far, we’re usually on site visits all around the area trying to determine which projects will be in our future or we’re in meetings about current projects to check on progress and finalize some ideas. But maybe it can’t be described because it has been such a beautiful and inspiring experience. I have felt welcomed and I have been very involved since my first day here. I was invited to participate in a day of service where I put some of my art skills to the test. I tagged along on some site visits that opened my eyes to the needs of quality design services and overall social services for better quality of life, even in nice communities. I’ve had some talks that have motivated me to pursue more in life and work towards being a well rounded and conscious designer. But that was just my first week.

After that, I participated in more meetings, site visits and projects walk throughs with designers and contractors. I had the opportunity to go to NeoCon and enjoy a few days of fantastic products and demonstrations. I have even been able to work on a refresh project with Jordyn, D4D’s new Design and Logistics Coordinator, where we are basically taking control to serve an organization with a smaller scale interior refresh and suggestions to give their space a better feel for its clients. Each and every thing I have done here has had meaning and purpose. I’ve solidified my mindset on design and fulfilling my goals of serving those in need of design. Design impacts every part of our lives and we all deserve for it to be exciting, fun, functional, livable and great.

Group Home Renewal Initiative

Intern Describes Her Experience While On Site Visits For The Coleman Foundation

By: Valeria Degutis

Week five of my internship and another day spent visiting some great organizations. This particular day we had four different site visits to homes for a pilot program, in collaboration with The Coleman Foundation, called the Group Home Renewal Initiative. The goal of our collaboration with the Coleman Foundation and these other organizations is to engage the residents in the design process and create dignified spaces for the residents.

All of the selected  organizations serve people with disabilities by providing a permanent home with the assistance the residents need.  All of the homes we visited were in various parts of the Chicagoland area and blended in with the neighborhood family homes surrounding them. We walked into homes that had white walls and furniture that did not coordinate but had been donated.  The rooms were partially decorated by residents and they even included paintings by the residents themselves. There were family photos of the residents and you could tell that everyone there had their own comfortable place.  Despite all this sense of family  and character there was much need for creating a comfortable, beautiful home. With many of the homes, they were not purposefully built for people  with disabilities but were retrofitted as best that the organizations could with the resources they had available. Due to the lack of ADA accessible homes, some residents are  unable to enter their kitchens and have a big challenge with the bathrooms. Some of the homes used living room space to make extra bedrooms that there is not enough common space for residents to interact with each other and their visitors.

D4D is excited to get started on these projects and engage with the residents who seem eager to provide input. During our visit some residents stated that they wanted red rooms and carpet and better outdoors space. Designs for Dignity is hoping to create more functional, accessible spaces for these wonderful residents who deserve to live in great places thanks to this collaboration with the Coleman Foundation.

Refugee One: Impact In One Week

A Summary Of A Quick Project With Refugee One

By: Valeria Degutis

From time to time, Designs for Dignity works with deserving organizations to do a small refresh to a space without receiving a full Impact Grant. Refugee One is an organization that assists incoming refugees in finding housing, jobs and much more in the Chicago area. For the refresh of Refugee One D4D was able to aid in choosing finish selections, providing donated commercial grade furniture for public areas that have high foot traffic, sourcing furniture that needs to be purchased and selecting a new color scheme and a paint plan for the space.

This is a project that hits home for me personally because I worked with Syrian refugees during my previous  semester at school. We used technology, such as Skype and Facebook, to provide them with shelters, beds for people with disabilities, tricycles for women and shading devices to improve their quality of life at a refugee camp in Jordan. Each groups would come up with designs and we would Skype each other for presentations or use Facebook for smaller updates. We worked alongside artists, craftsmen and skilled workers to come up with collaborative designs that could be made out of reused materials such as corrugated metal, metal tubing and other various materials. We helped them improve their quality of life in the camp, but more importantly we gave them a sense of hope. The moment I walked into the reception area at Refugee One, I was hit by that sense of hope. I was in a room full of people similar to those that I had been trying to serve with my fellow students back in the Spring. Now I will be helping them feel more welcome here in the US in a space where the amazing staff at Refugee One are assisting them in securing  jobs, housing and maybe even childcare. Working with a service organization that aids refugees was a pretty grounding experience in retrospect. We’ve all come from somewhere and this organization is serving refugees to make them feel welcome,safe and helping them to find their place here in the United States.

The photo above is a before photo as there is currently an installation in progress. Stay tuned for the finished space!

NeoCon 2016

A Quick Recap Of NeoCon 2016

By: Valeria Degutis

So much excitement in my six weeks here and NeoCon was definitely one of the highlights. This was a different side of D4D that I had not seen yet. I have been on many site visits and sat in on a few meetings as we have many projects going on, but during the week of NeoCon we got the chance to step out of the office to go thank and support our in-kind donors.

Throughout the days of NeoCon, June 13-15, we visited various showrooms to sneak a peek at the newest products while being sure to find our contacts, new and old, to inform them of the impact that they’ve made through this organization.

Some of the coolest things I saw were Buzzi Space’s interactive and innovative showroom, Knoll’s slightly retro feeling velvet, Sedia System’s JumpSeat Collection, and so much more. It was lots of fun to be able to test out some great seating, including the trending mobile stools like the Neutral Posture Ongo Chair or the Izzy+ fidget friendly Dotti stool.

Of course, we also went and looked into  showrooms we have not yet worked with to enlighten them to this organization and ask them to get involved. Fortunately, there were many people who resonated with D4D’s mission and work. Everyone deserves well designed spaces for refuge, learning, gathering or whatever else we may be doing. Through the donations of products and services, Designs for Dignity and the amazing network of their volunteers we are able to impact  so many lives through design.

Day Two: Day Of Service

New Design Intern Describes Her Experience Participating In A Charles Schwab Day Of Service

By: Valeria Degutis

It was only my second day at Designs for Dignity and I was already being thrown right into the action. We were going to participate in a day of service at the Anixter Center, a client of D4D. The Anixter Center is a place that serves people with disabilities. They have 37 different programs that serve over 7,000 children and adults to support their overall quality of life within their communities.

We started our morning playing bingo with some of the clients and I was placed in the New Focus group. This group consists of people who have faced traumatic brain injuries and are on the road to recovery. I sat amongst some excited bingo participants and we were on our way to starting a two hour session of bingo with prizes. The stakes were high. The group around me varied in ability, skill and all other things imaginable, but the spirits were high with excitement and determination. Each participant had a quirk about them during the games. One woman consistently tried to keep a positive attitude and encourage the other players to keep there head up as the numbers were being called. Another participant was just happy to have someone helping him right by his side.

After learning about the Anixter Center and everything that they do, we all went to help out with three different projects. Some of us went to sort out donated clothes for clients and others went to repaint the factory, where the clients can make some money by doing tasks that improve their employment skills and connections. I went with another D4D representative to the art therapy room to help finish up some painting. The door was opened I saw nothing but color, the walls were covered top to bottom in a beautifully painted rainforest. This room was drawn by volunteers and clients and then painted by clients, and some of them stopped by to say hi. We had someone pop in and tell us we were doing a great job and then point out his part of the painting. We were only there to patch up the sky area, but once the room was mostly finished I was just amazed. The story of that room was about a bright and beautiful rainforest with a storm approaching, but then everyone in the rainforest overcame the storm and was back to a beautiful day. Art and design can be such a powerful thing and that was seen here and it is seen in the work that is done by D4D. Design impacts every moment of our lives and when we have the opportunity to make someone’s experience better with our talents there is no greater reward.