Good People Doing Good Things

By Susan Hunt-Bradford,
Healthy Planet Publisher

Betsy Reznicek is the executive director and founder of Home Sweet Home in St. Louis.

Home Sweet Home mission statement: The mission of Home Sweet Home is to give under-served families a sense of pride and to improve the quality of their lives by providing basic household furnishings.

SHB: What is your occupation?

BR: I am the founder and executive director of Home Sweet Home.

SHB: When did you start Home Sweet Home?

BR: 2015

SHB: What were you doing before Home Sweet Home?

BR: The story of how it came to be…I had been working at a women’s residential facility that worked with women coming out of incarceration, it was a two-year program. And as they would move into their own place, I remember distinctly trying to find the client a couch and the case manager was trying to find a bed, etc. So, the next organization that I went to already had something like this so they started doing permanent supportive housing in the city a few years prior to me working there and they realized if they were going to support women with mental health issues and addiction issues in the city that they should put them into places that are furnished. They went to their church partners, they said here’s our challenge how do we solve it, and the church partners came up with this idea and called it Furnishing Homes. So, when I started working there, which was a fundraiser and other agencies were asking can we get that furniture but that was not our mission and we did not have that much furniture. But how it worked was every six weeks or so when one of our ladies from our residential center would move out she would go into a job and pick up her stuff and then we would use groups of people to deliver it and so like enough people asked me that question that I finally just said, it like somebody needs to do this furniture thing for everybody. I remember googling it and a furniture bank is a thing. It just wasn’t a thing here in St. Louis. It was a cute idea but I had a job with health insurance which I needed so the idea kept gnawing at me and then I was laid off from the organization and the organization ended up closing and everyone said you need to do the furniture thing. I honestly tried really hard not to, because I didn’t know how to move furniture and I’m color blind so I can’t match anything, and I needed health insurance but I got turned down by two jobs on the same day. So, I woke up and said now I guess I have to start this furniture thing. And that was kind of like the start of it. I was working in nonprofits and fundraising and getting people to do stuff that’s my talent.

SHB: Do you have a personal philosophy?

BR: I don’t. I have a bunch of mottos written on my whiteboard. One of them is lyrics to a song….Bad shit happens but good shit happens too (by Michael Franti and Spearhead). So whenever anything negative happens and I want to get down in the dumps I’m like you know what…bad shit is going to happen but good shit is going to happen too. Other mottos I have on my whiteboard are: Under promise, over deliver. Humble hustle. Eat the bigger frog first. Assume positive intent. Don’t chase squirrels. Be intentional. Celebrate Wins. Surprise and delight. Find a yes.

SHB: Do you have any hobbies?

BR: That’s the only thing that keeps me balanced. I do like to spend time with my kids, I do like to read a lot. I like to do outdoor adventure stuff like backpacking, kayaking, I have a group of 50 other women that we do all kinds of adventures together; canoeing down the Mississippi and camping, we’ve gone in caves, we’ve gone on backpacking trips. There’s a book I read, The Nature Fix, it’s what nature does to your body. Weird stuff that you wouldn’t think about like how we spend so much time indoors that our eyes are growing oblong instead of round because we are searching for sunlight. The book talks about the physical and emotional good of being outside in nature.

SHB: Why help others?

BR: I’ve been very privileged and blessed my whole life and it’s our job to help people. I have a really hard time living my best life knowing there are other people out there that are just struggling to survive. It’s just the most basic human thing we should do, be kind, help people, give a shit. Until other people have their needs met it feels selfish to try to have extra needs met. That’s the challenge I have.

SHB: What is your personal goal in the future?

BR: Myself and 19 friends are going to be backpacking Isle Royale this fall, it’s a national park.

Another backpacking goal would be to hike the John Muir trail, it’s 211 miles. That’s after the kids are out of the house. That will take a month.

For Home Sweet Home, our goal is to serve as many families as we can and to serve them well. We put a number on that technically, but it’s to serve them well. Serve as many people with as much quality furniture as we can. I anticipate Home Sweet Home will be a more regional organization within 5 years.

SHB: In the last few years, because of the pandemic and because of the economy, have you had more families in need?

BR: I think one of the challenges is that with nonprofits the need will continue to rise until we address the root cause of poverty. There are always going to be kids that need a bed to sleep in. The need has increased. We currently have 50 organizations on a waitlist for services. We work with 60 organizations; that’s how people find us. The need is great and will continue to rise for us and all nonprofits.

SHB: Who inspires you?

BR: Our families that we serve. They are so resilient. I wish they didn’t have to be so resilient. But they come in with a much more positive attitude than I would ever have. They are overwhelmingly grateful and positive and excited in spite of the challenges that got them there when they need to ask for help from strangers. They have a different spin on life. They are very inspiring. And, the volunteers who continue to come back time after time and week after week. And that’s not easy what we do. It’s physically hard work. The warehouse is either freezing or it’s hot. It’s loud and noisy and chaotic but the volunteers keep coming back and donating money and time and resources. All those volunteers are really amazing.

SHB: What does a normal day look like for you?

BR: Get the kids off to school. Get to the warehouse, have some coffee, and tackle some meetings, walk around and talk to volunteers, go to board meetings with people in the community. Hopefully head home early enough to get in a walk, hang out with the kiddos and do some reading.

SHB: What have you learned in life about being a motivator?

BR: In terms of motivating a team or a whole group of people towards a common cause a big part that we have learned is how to ask for help, because people want to help. And as somebody who doesn’t like to ask for help as an individual, but knowing how to ask for help and telling people the why of that why it’s so important and when you do that, and you do that very genuinely then people respond overwhelmingly. The other thing I’ve learned is that you have to admit when you’re wrong and talk about it. You have to be OK making mistakes. Being very genuine in both of those areas is what has helped make Home Sweet Home the success that it is because we’re not just pretending what we’re doing. And we’re talking about what we’ve learned along the way.

SHB: Is there any achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?

BR: If my kids can grow up to be decent people that’s what I’d be most proud of. The Home Sweet Home stuff anybody can start an organization. It’s running a business. Some people can do it better than others. But raising your kids to be a little bit better than you are, would be terrific.

For more information about Home Sweet Home, go to www.homesweethomestl.org