MOORHEAD — Jaquetta and William Smith are parents to five children. The family of seven has never really had a place to call home.
“I lost my brother in May of 2016. We were at my father’s house and he couldn’t bear with that, so literally on Father’s Day of 2016 my father committed suicide,” Jaquetta Smith said, as she retold events that led them to a bad spot.
Her father didn’t have a spouse, so Smith carried the financial burden of sudden loss, along with the emotional toll and a family to care for.
She also was extremely close with her brother.
“Today is his birthday. This is a real bittersweet moment. I was really down because I can’t call him like I used to and say ‘happy birthday,’” she said.
But on Sunday, Dec. 23, the Smith family moved into a four bedroom, two bathroom house, furnished by Down Home.
Down Home is a non-profit based out of Fargo-Moorhead that helps individuals and families make the transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
“It feels beautiful, it puts you in the Christmas spirit. At first, it felt like we couldn’t be in the Christmas spirit because we’ve been through so much to get here,” Smith said. “This is a gigantic step, from going from a box to having this.”
Until now, they have been going from state to state, shelter to shelter, just to have a place to sleep.
The family is renting the home on their own but have very few personal belongings, which is where Down Home comes in.
The organization collects donated furniture and decor from the community, then transforms the house from an empty space to a comfortable home. Part of their mission is to empower them to get involved in the community, make connections and never fall back in to homelessness.
“The space that you go home to impacts mental health, stability and everything,” said Down Home co-founder and director Jenessa Fillipi.
Early this morning, Donabauer Family Dentistry, which is the sponsor for the Smith home, and several other volunteers gathered to arrange furniture and hang art before the big reveal.
Fillipi handles administrative work for Down Home, which she and her husband started in 2017, but also uses her knack for interior design to make it cozy.
“It was way more than what I imagined,” Smith said. “I thought that, you know, coming in, decorating your house for you, what if you don’t like it? It turned out I loved it, it’s just gorgeous.”
They said above all else, watching movies and eating meals together is what they look forward to most. Having some extra space will be nice, too.
Their five kids, ranging in age from 1 to 13, ran to each of their bedrooms. Through the murmurs, they said things like, “I like this,” and, “we got everything now.”
The Smiths came directly from a shelter where they slept last night and look forward to settling in.
“We have to pray more and become a unit instead of being separate and maybe things will work out better for us,” Smith said. “It worked out more than we expected, being together and going through the fight together instead of alone.”
According to Fillipi, this is the 22nd home they’ve been able to furnish and also marks the organization’s first anniversary.
“Our business partners financially provide support for the home and they also get involved with volunteering and get to see the big reveal to the family,” she said.
This time, she used bright red furniture in the living room, a large entertainment center with a television, and presents for each family member under a donated Christmas tree.
“Dad’s kinda shocked right now, I’m just watching,” said William Smith, taking it all in.
“The devil is busy — you just can’t let him catch you, you’ve gotta be quicker than him,” Jaquetta Smith said. “Fortunately for us, we were a lot quicker than him and ended up with something completely gorgeous.”