Ongwanada’s New Beginnings program recycles furniture, raises funds for homelessness initiatives 

Ongwanada’s New Beginnings Furniture Program offers refurbished pieces, such as this dresser, in an effort to raise funds for local shelters and other homelessness initiatives. Photo via New Beginnings Furniture Program.

A new program at Ongwanada’s Crescent Centre, located at 114 Wright Crescent in Kingston, is seeking to breathe new life into old furniture in an effort to raise money for homelessness initiatives in Kingston, all while teaching clients important skills like woodworking and design. Ongwanada’s New Beginnings Furniture Program, launched in 2021 by staff member Daysi Acosta, offers refurbished and recycled furniture at a low cost, with the proceeds going to local shelters and other initiatives through a not-for-profit model. 

According to Acosta, the program was inspired by her own family’s experience fleeing South America decades ago. “When I was a child, a war broke out and my family migrated to Costa Rica [after fleeing] El Salvador in the middle of the night. We landed in Costa Rica, and our family of five, with my mom being pregnant, found ourselves with no food. We just had the clothes on our backs,” she said. 

“With no shelter, we ended up living in an abandoned building, and we slept on the floor,” said Acosta. “All we had was a blanket my dad brought along. We basically survived on the generosity of the community around us.”

Because of those experiences with poverty and housing insecurity, Acosta can empathize with people experiencing homelessness in Kingston, a problem she has seen get significantly worse since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

In fact, it was during the early days of the pandemic when Acosta and her clients at Ongwanada began to realize the enormity of Kingston’s housing crisis and the needs of those who find themselves unhoused. “When COVID broke out, we basically were only allowed to take drives. It was on one of our outings when we started to notice a lot of individuals [living on the street]. We realized that COVID had taken a big [toll]… A lot of people ended up unemployed, and there are all kinds of people out there with shopping carts or living in tents,” she said. 

As Acosta began to think of ways she could contribute to shelters and other programs currently supporting Kingston’s unhoused population, she realized there might be a way to raise money by refurbishing unwanted furniture, something she had already been doing in her personal life for over five years. Acosta brought the idea to Ongwanada’s management team and was given the green light to launch New Beginnings. 

Items like this table are refurbished by clients of Ongwanada’s Crescent Centre. Photo via New Beginnings Furniture Program.

Ongwanada’s mission is to support people with developmental disabilities while helping them participate in the community, and Acosta said the furniture program involves clients in every step of the process. “Our [clients] help out from cleaning furniture pieces to sanding, priming, and painting. Even our photography class is involved, and they take pictures of the items. We get the whole building involved in some way or another.”

Acosta emphasized that the program accommodates clients with a wide range of abilities: “Everyone tries to help out in one way or another with the abilities they have. So some people might only be able to help out with wiping down pieces or spraying cleaning sprays onto the pieces of furniture. And then some people… can help with taking off… and putting on hardware. Most people can help with sanding the furniture, and they also enjoy painting with the roller. The photography class takes display pictures for us, and they’re [currently] working on an album with before and after pictures. Everybody gets a chance to help with this big team process.” 

As for how the clients have benefited from the program, Acosta said they have been able to learn new skills, an important part of the organization’s goals.

“They learn skills that they didn’t know before, like using a wood filler… gluing pieces to furniture, stuff they aren’t usually used to doing… We try to keep things creative, as well… So we go online and find out new techniques, and then we practice it together, and we’re excited about creating something new and unique,” she explained. “They feel very empowered to be able to do something [new], so they’re very proud.” 

After running the program rather quietly over the past two years, Acosta was recently given clearance to start posting online about New Beginnings, so the program now has its own official Facebook page.  “At first we were just selling items at Ongwanada’s Resource Centre, and that was great — but we were kind of beholden to the limited [number] of staff who were there,” acknowledged the New Beginnings founder. “When we finally got approved, we’ve been able to post on local sites… which has really made a difference, [allowing] our pieces [to] move a lot faster.”

Acosta (right) delivers bags of essential items to staff at Lily’s Place. Photo via Daysi Acosta.

Acosta said that, since 2021, the sale of furniture restored through the program has gone to support local shelters like Lily’s Place and other initiatives such as the Integrated Care Hub (ICH). Last winter, the program received a $5,000 donation from the Kinsmen Club of Kingston, which assisted Acosta’s team in its mission to help those struggling with housing insecurity. “With the funds from our furniture program, as well as the donation from the Kinsmen, we were able to donate much-needed items to the ICH, Lily’s Place, and In From the Cold. Back in December, we helped about 150 individuals [by] handing out bags full [of essential] items.” 

After supporting clients at the ICH with their bags of items, members of the New Beginnings program were invited to the ICH’s 2022 Christmas party, which allowed Acosta and her clients to interact directly with those they were helping.

“It was nice to be at their Christmas party because they had live music, and our guys were able to… see how people are living in tents… It was very shocking to see all kinds of folks from all walks of life living in these [conditions]. It was a very eye-opening experience for us, and we were thankful they invited us,” she said.

In addition to the work done through New Beginnings, a Crescent Centre Kindness Crew has also been established, which supports the work of New Beginnings; the Kindness Crew collects essential items for those impacted by house fires and also collects, sorts, and donates clothing for local shelters.

For those interested in donating to the New Beginnings Furniture Program, Acosta said they are currently seeking smaller items that can be easily refurbished, in an effort to keep costs down. To facilitate a drop-off, call Ongwanada at 613-548-4417, or send Acosta a message through the program’s Facebook page, which is also where items available for sale will be listed. Besides furniture, the program also accepts donations of paint supplies, such as brushes, rollers, sandpaper, wood glue, wood filler, and sanding tools.

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