As is often the case with worthy ventures, Healthy Homeworks was not planned, but emerged spontaneously.
In January 2016, Amy Smith of Portland was interested in investing in affordable housing in downtown Lewiston. The research process acquainted her with “a tough situation.”
Smith, who manages intown properties part-time, and her husband, Nathan, worked through a number of older buildings and met a lot of tenants, and “learned where the pain points were … The generally poor condition of the housing. Lead paint poisoning. And so many people were really in need – didn’t even have their basic needs covered.
“Most people were sleeping on the floors, many of them on mattresses dragged in off the street. And those had bedbugs.
“The challenge was how to help out, from a health standpoint. And since there was clearly such a need for beds …” Healthy Homeworks was born.
As its mission states, the nonprofit in the larger sense is “dedicated to helping landlords and tenants work together as shared stewards of the aging housing stock, building practical skills, healthy homes, and collaborative relationships.”
In specific, practical, hands-on terms, just now that means building and supplying beds. Quite literally, helping people up off the floor.
“We wanted to create a social enterprise that could fund itself, rather than a traditional nonprofit dependent on on grants and donations, and one that would be totally in line with our mission,” Smith explained.
“So, we were suddenly starting up a small business: A bed factory. The goal is for it to be self-sustaining within three years.”
The early months of 2016 were spent “figuring out what kind of bed to build, and designing them.” This was done with the help of Smith’s husband, who works at IDEXX, and with that of Sam Eddy of Yarmouth, who as Healthy Homeworks’ director of manufacturing both designed beds and set up the nonprofit’s workshop last May. A “friends and family” fund-raising campaign, and many tool donations helped fuel the startup.
The space of about 2,000 square feet includes storage, working space and a smallish office on the second floor of the vast and venerable Pepperell Mill building on Lisbon Street in central Lewiston.
Smith and her partner-in-HH daughter, Allie – who is also an education specialist at New Beginnings, which serves homeless youth and their families – are in the shop two or three days a week. They receive and stock wood for making beds (Hancock, Hammond and Dimension lumber companies are generous partners) and teach volunteers how to build beds.
Amy learned her woodworking skills by rehabbing buildings, and Allie was taught by her. “We make one thing, so it’s not as if we’re master craftsmen,” Amy jokes. “But we’re really good at making the beds.”
Earn-a-Bed is HH’s “flagship” program. In it, participants volunteer 16-20 bed-building hours, and they not only help create a bed to keep, they also help produce the beds that are sold to fund the effort.
The sturdy pine beds come in twin, full, and bunk versions, and include mattresses and bedbug encasements. Every bed sold covers the cost of a bed built and delivered to the home of someone who did not have a bed. So Amy and Allie are also focused on developing their retail market, and they are actively seeking grants, corporate sponsors, and donations, “on our path to self-sustainability.”
Last year, 17 Earn-A-Bed volunteers earned and received a bed, and 51 beds were sold. The first sale was by Allie to Preble Street Resource Center in Portland. Avesta Housing now has an order in for 30 beds by April 1.
This year, said Allie, “Our goal is to accept 10 earn-a-bed volunteers a month. In order to finance that, and keep the work flowing, we need to sell 20 beds a month.
“The program is oriented towards education,” Allie continued, “and designed to provide people who have real needs the simple pleasure of owning and waking up in something of value, something that they built. And to empower them, with a new skill, to succeed and to achieve a better quality of life.”
307 Cumberland Avenue
Portland, ME 04101
Toll free: 800-339-6516 (voice/TTY)
Hours: Monday- Friday - 8:30-4:30
Applicant walk-in hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday – 8:30-4:00
NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICE
4 Meeting Place Drive
Exeter, NH 03833
Toll free: 800-339-6516 (voice/TTY)
Hours: By appointment only