ABOUT USOur History
Co-Founders Marsha Roberts and Greg Hansen spent a couple of decades in domestic and international corporate executive management positions. They then formed Lapis Group Inc., a management consulting firm focused on organizational development, total rewards and Board of Directors advisory services.
While running their consulting practice, the two became increasingly drawn to the problem of homelessness and how they might contribute to solving it in at least a small, grass roots way. They did a lot of research on how newly housed, formerly homeless people could be helped. Just before starting their own 501 (c) 3, they learned about Grateful Gatherings, an existing nonprofit, headquartered in the East Bay, with that exact focus. For several years, Marsha served as the Marin chapter head for that organization. Marsha and Greg then formed Welcoming Home as a separate, fiscally sponsored nonprofit entity in 2020.
ABOUT USInterview with Founders Marsha Roberts and Greg Hansen
What inspired you to start Welcoming Home?
Marsha: Several years ago, I noticed all the furnishings being posted for sale on sites like NextDoor or being left on sidewalks by residents who were moving or remodeling. Much of the furniture was in great condition. I wondered how many people who were selling these items really need the money. Would they be willing to donate them to people in need? And if these items didn’t sell or no one picked them up, they’d end up in landfill. That seemed like a terrible waste.
At the same time, the number of homeless in Marin County where we live was rapidly increasing. I came up with the idea of furnishing apartments for the formerly homeless with gently used furniture from donors. Then I discovered there was an organization already doing that—Grateful Gatherings, headquartered in the East Bay. I became their Marin Chapter head. Greg and I started Welcoming Home as a separate nonprofit entity after about five years.
Greg: My experiences through work and travel in both the U.S. and Latin America created an affinity for other cultures. We have a very diverse population here. The families we help come from all over the U.S. and the world; some being recent immigrants to the U.S., just like the ancestors of the vast majority of American families. Helping to start Welcoming Home as a neighbor-to-neighbor supporting organization was the perfect next step for me after leaving the corporate world. So, when Marsha found a path to provide this type of service in our community—and eventually in other communities—I was definitely in! I liked the aspect of ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ and the positive impact we can make in repurposing household goods. That’s a big part of our mission.
What does “home” mean to each of you?
Marsha: For me, it means the place that makes you happy; the place where you feel comfortable, at ease, and safe—the place you want to share with your family and friends. That’s why at Welcoming Home we first interview the individuals and families we help, to learn what they like and to tailor the furniture and layout with their preferences in mind as much as possible, recognizing that we are working with donated items.
Social service agencies have the really hard job of helping the homeless find affordable housing. But once in their “new” homes, residents are usually on their own in terms of trying to furnish them.
Greg: We help a lot of people who come from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador; in addition to long-term Bay Area residents. Regardless of origin, all parents want a better life for their kids. Having a home—a bed to sleep in, a table to share meals, a desk to work at—gives everyone the sense of dignity and belonging that all deserve. Having a home is the beginning of real stability for many formerly homeless families. It builds self-confidence and self-esteem as they all pull together to make the family work. I saw it in my travels and see it here once families have the security a home can foster.
How do you define and support the service you provide?
Marsha: Greg and I consider our mission to be two-fold: to furnish the apartments of the formerly homeless and to engage the community in doing so. We also believe firmly in “recycling” furniture that is in good condition, rather than sending it to the landfill.
We enlist volunteers directly from the counties we serve—at this point Marin and Sonoma. We also have several volunteers from other counties in the SF Bay Area. They pitch in their talents, skills, and time to make it all happen. It’s quite an operation, as you might imagine, to find and then gather enough furnishings for three or four apartments at one location on one morning, pack them up and distribute/install them to create homes in the afternoon of the same day.
Of course, it doesn’t really all happen on the Welcoming Day. A lot of preparation and planning goes into the weeks beforehand. And this takes a village.
We also depend on financial donors so that we can purchase new, good quality mattresses, frames and box springs, as well as other essentials that aren’t donated. Sometimes we have to hire extra moving trucks; funding for those comes out of cash donations, too.
It’s important to note that 100% of cash donations go directly to serving our “clients.” We personally fund administrative support costs at this point.
What do you think are the influences from your backgrounds that led you to start WH?
Marsha: I grew up in Europe and Washington, DC. My family moved a lot because of my father’s job. While our location changed, home was always home. I realize today how important that was to me.
More importantly, though, Greg and I have been very fortunate to have the opportunities that enabled us to reach the point in our lives when we can devote our time to this mission. I feel that it’s our responsibility to help others in our communities who have not been as fortunate.
Greg: Marsha is absolutely correct that we have been fortunate in our lives to be able to focus on more social good activities now. I grew up in the East Bay and worked nights in Hayward canneries for nine seasons as a high school and college student. I worked with a lot of immigrants from Latin America during those years. That experience led me to work in South and Central America a few years after starting my first corporate job.
I love seeing the smiles on the faces of the new residents when they see their empty apartment transformed into a warm & functional home. That’s ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ in real life.
What do you do with any spare time you have?
Marsha: I’m a playwright and writer—and on the Board of Playwrights Center of San Francisco. My website is www.marsha-roberts.com
Greg: I’m on the board of The Crucible, an industrial arts school in West Oakland and a wannabe artist/maker. We love to travel when we can.
[Interview conducted by Vikki Cooper on June 17, 2021]