Stephanie Schlappi-Kindred

Volunteers make apartments ‘homes’

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

For the past 17 years, it has been my privilege to help people experiencing homelessness transition to safe, stable housing through Catholic Charities’ Housing Case Management Department in Lake County. Having a place to call home is critical to people leading healthy lives that enable them to live in dignity and reach their fullest potential.

Catholic Charities is very blessed to have incredible, highly trained professional staff to meet the unique needs of those needing housing. But we also have another critical ingredient — amazing support from volunteers and donors who help us welcome homeless families home. We could not do this important work without them.

As housing costs have risen and homelessness has grown, Housing Case Management in Lake County has also grown and now includes three distinct programs: Housing Advocacy and Youth Housing Advocacy, which serves youth aging out of the foster care system and families involved with the Department of Children and Family Services; the Critical Time Intervention-Representative Payee Program, which serves people who have been chronically homeless and have a documented disability; and the Rapid Rehousing Program, which serves families living in domestic violence shelters; homeless shelters; or cars, tents or other places not meant for human habitation.

In total, we serve an average of 88 people each month and transition 12 households into apartments each month. Individuals and families served in these programs receive subsidized rent for a period of time and a full range of professional supportive services from Catholic Charities.

It is truly a happy day when clients move into an apartment. They have endured so much already.

Getting into a place to call home is foundational for moving their lives forward. But most of our clients  start from scratch. They have nothing. This is where our incredible volunteers and donors step in and truly help us create a home. 

The first order of business is to find furnishings for their apartments, and the Sharing Hands Furniture Ministry at St. Mary of Vernon Catholic Church in Indian Creek is a saving grace. The ministry is run by retired Catholic Charities’ employee-turned-volunteer Jim Wogan.

For the past 32 years, Jim and his team of dedicated volunteers have faithfully picked up furniture donations, stored them and delivered them to needy families in central Lake County. The ministry has grown over the years as volunteers have multiplied and a generous donor purchased five trucks for them. For people without any furniture and without a truck or any means to acquire even a “free” item, this furniture ministry is vital.

Once furnishings are covered, next up are household items. A few years ago, Catholic Charities’ Women’s Board of Lake County started the Welcome Home Project, which provides bedding, cooking utensils and other household items to clients moving into apartments.

Started by Women’s Board member Colleen Bowman and now run by members Gina Zisook and Sondra Adam, the Welcome Home Project has become a well-oiled machine.

Catholic Charities’ caseworkers complete a request form marking needed items. Gina and Sondra review the form and compare it to their inventory of donated goods that overflow from organiz,ed shelves in Gina’s garage. If there’s anything that they don’t already have, they send a group text out to Women’s Board members, and, often within hours, the needed items appear on Gina’s doorstep.

Then, Gina and Sondra pack up the items and deliver them to Catholic Charities Waukegan office so caseworkers can give them to clients. They are often making at least two, and sometimes four to five, deliveries per week.

The way that Jim and his army of volunteers and our Women’s Board members have rallied around homeless families in Lake County is inspiring. There really are no other resources for what they provide to our clients.

Their dedication truly witnesses the call to serve one another and shows what can be achieved when we all work together. Many thanks to Jim and his team and to all of our Women’s Board members for helping Catholic Charities welcome homeless families home. We could not do it without them!


  • catholic charities
  • homelessness