SUMMERVILLE – One of the most obvious priorities in helping someone get out of homelessness is finding a place for them to live.
But what happens when they move into a space with nothing but a crate full of clothes and rent money?
“The difference between having a bed or not really changes all day long,” said John Michael Stagliano, 18, a lifelong Summerville resident.
Stagliano is also the founder of Home Again, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing furniture and household items to families leaving behind their old conditions and moving into new homes.
It all started with Stagliano volunteering at a Summerville homeless shelter, where he learned that residents’ needs don’t end with just leaving the shelter.
Over the past five years, Home Again has supplied the homes of nearly 500 people and helped raise thousands of dollars for local shelters.
Stagliano managed to accomplish all of this before graduating from high school.
“You can always do something to help someone else,” he said.
While acquiring something as simple as furniture may seem small to some people, it has been life changing for those who have benefited from Home Again. Connie Ross, one of these recent furniture recipients, said the organization’s help took a lot of stress away.
“Because I had nothing,” she said. “Not even a chair to sit on.”
Do something right
Ross now has two jobs – one at a local fast food restaurant and another for a cleaning service. She recently moved into a new apartment after being homeless for over a year. Between November and this summer, she was living at Hope’s House, the homeless women’s shelter at Dorchester County Community Outreach.
Before getting a place in the shelter, she had also spent a year living in her car while recovering from drug addiction. She said she still remembers the rainy nights sitting alone in her car, including during the pandemic, which compounded the isolation.
“I’ve had a few nights of crying, but not a lot,” Ross said. “You just have to find your inner strength.”
She became homeless after leaving a space where she lived with others. Ross learned that someone loaded furniture and other items in his name and damaged his credit.
This caused him to spend most of the pandemic in his car.
“I had to pay off a lot of debt,” she said.
She was able to keep both of her jobs and save money, enough to eventually afford her own place.
The shelter did not allow women to buy anything because everything was given. “It was a breath of fresh air,” she said.
When Ross was finally able to find a place to stay, she hooked up with Home Again. Stagliano and his team gave him a bed, lamps, crockery, toiletries, a TV and more.
She said that as a black woman it felt good to see someone willing to help her. When looking for apartments after fixing her credit, she said there were times she could see that property managers were disappointed when they found out about her race.
With Stagliano being so young and doing so much volunteer work in the community, it was inspiring, she said.
“He’s doing something right,” she said. “And I think people should support him in any way they can.”
Who gets help
Home Again recipients ranged from people like Ross to entire families and local veterans. Stagliano said what he expects the most in his job is to see the change in personalities in people when they get help.
He remembers helping a veteran who slept on his apartment floor for at least a week.
When they visited him after delivering the furniture, he noticed that he was more social with his neighbors and happier overall. He said he had the same level of excitement when he saw two children jump on the beds his team brought them.
It was a sense of accomplishment that Stagliano knew well from having spent much of his childhood volunteering.
Volunteering and giving back to the community is something the Stagliano family know well.
In addition to Home Again, John Michael’s sister Katie founded and runs Katie’s Krops. This is another Summerville nonprofit that creates community gardens to support food drives to end hunger.
This organization was formed after Katie grew a 40-pound cabbage when she was in third grade. John Michael was 4 at the time.
Cabbage then fed nearly 300 people and propelled Katie towards the launch of Katie’s Krops. The nonprofit now spans 31 states across the United States with dozens of community gardens.
“I think it was just meant to be,” Katie said. “The entire Summerville community as a whole, they have been amazing.”
Years later, while preparing meals at a Summerville homeless men’s shelter called Home of Hope, John Michael began helping residents of the shelter obtain furniture. He and his family would solicit the community for donations. After joining the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and supporting homeless veterans, Home Again was born.
“It really changes lives and helps bring families together,” Katie said. “I couldn’t be prouder to be his sister.”
Without this giant cabbage, the family is not sure the two nonprofits would have taken off. But, they said the enthusiasm for supporting the community would have always been there.
“It’s kind of who we are as a family,” said Stacy Stagliano, mother of John Michael and Katie.
She said she never imagined that any of her children would oversee the organizations. With Home Again, she said she was surprised because John Michael has always been her shy child.
“They just see the possibilities,” Stacy said.
Without the support of the community, she said nonprofits would never have had the impact they are having now.
John Michael agrees.
“I couldn’t do it on my own,” he said.
During the height of the pandemic, Home Again was not receiving many calls. John Michael’s best guess was that, unfortunately, few families were getting out of homelessness.
But recently with vaccines there has been a noticeable increase in awareness. Community support is therefore always welcome and necessary, he said.
Along with Ross, she said she was not only grateful to Home Again, but also to the community of Summerville in general for supporting her so much.
She can’t wait for her turn to do the same for someone else.