Students, parents turn ‘Houses Into Homes’

Eight-graders Janie Owens and Maya Hoffman, members of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, carry a table from the Houses Into Homes warehouse into a distribution truck during a service project last month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Earlier this month, junior/senior high youth group members and parents from St. Patrick Parish helped transport gently used furniture to local households in need through the Houses Into Homes program.

The Coralville-based program provides gently used beds, furniture and household items for families and individuals in Johnson County who are exiting homelessness, domestic violence and other crises. Houses Into Homes relies on volunteers to load and unload transport vehicles on delivery days.

Sofia Livorsi, parish youth group coordinator, said she had been looking for a “hands-on but socially distanced” service opportunity for the teens and heard about Houses Into Homes from Emily Sinnwell, co-founder of Iowa City Catholic Worker. “I’d never heard of them before,” Livorsi said of Houses Into Homes. “I called them and found out they do deliveries on the first and third Sundays of the month, which is when our youths typically meet. It worked out perfectly.”


Students and parents chose to volunteer during one of two, two-hour shifts on March 7. Parents and older students helped load furniture into Houses Into Homes’ transport vehicle, then followed the transport vehicle to each location for unloading.

Before each session, Livorsi asked the parent and teen volunteers to embrace the dignity of people in difficult situations and to be aware of their own blessings. “It could just as easily have been (one of us),” she said. “We were just lucky to be born into a (stable) situation. These are not just ‘homeless’ people. They are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter or friend.”
“It’s not about us reaching down to help,” Livorsi explained. “This is brothers and sisters reaching across.”

The students didn’t get to interact much with the people they were serving due to social-distancing protocols. The volunteers left the household items in front of the houses and apartments. Livorsi did interact with one parent and adult child receiving household items. “Both were grateful and seemed happy.”

About 30 teens and parents volunteered, Livorsi said.

She noted that service projects tend to have higher turnout than other activities. “Service projects can bring kids out of the woodwork that don’t do other things; maybe it’ll encourage them to want to go to other youth group activities later on.” She also loves to see parents and students volunteering together.

Student Janie Owens said she had a good time and would help again if the youth group volunteers with Houses Into Homes in the future.

Adult volunteer Kristen Flick said, “It was great to meet some new people and work together to accomplish a common goal. I thought (Houses Into Homes) was pretty organized overall, between the labeling of the furniture, the order in which they loaded and unloaded the truck, and addresses they handed out. I think it was fun/helpful for the group to work together to find a system to efficiently load and unload everything, working together to get it done.”

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