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Furnishing a Habitat to Make it Home
December 24, 2007

‘Tis the season for holiday cheer, and this story about a deserving family moving into a newly built home with beautiful donated furniture, just in time for the holidays, certainly fits the bill.

Habitat for Humanity built the home for the mother and her three children in Rocky Point. The cost to the homeowner: 250 hours of sweat equity in the construction, plus a 20-year, no-interest mortgage for about $70,000. Donated labor, materials and federal and state affordable-housing grants paid for the rest.

The furnishings, however, are the result of a new relationship between Habitat and a small business with a charitable heart on Long Island’s East End. The ClearingHouse, with stores in Southampton and Greenport, is donating the furniture for this house and others now under construction.   And its owners, James “Nick” Nicolino and Victoria Collette, say they hope this arrangement can serve as a model for philanthropy nationally.

The ClearingHouse sells high-end furniture and accessories at below-market prices on consignment for homeowners of nearby “fine homes and estates,” says Nicolino. It also receives numerous donations, from pricey settees to mundane household objects.

The high-value donations are sold at the ClearingHouse’s charitable No Place Like Home Foundation shop in Greenport to raise funds for its charitable operations (although, with charitable activities and expenses rising, ClearingHouse’s owners say they are looking for corporate sponsorships to help defray some of the costs of trucking, insurance, warehousing, sorting and staff.)

The rest – from sofas and lighting to mattresses and microwaves – is trucked to agencies with clients who can put it to use. The Retreat, the East End shelter from domestic violence, and the women and children who move on from there to apartments, get much of it, says Nicolino.

“We’ll pick up the table set, the blankets and couch and recycle them back into the community,” he says. “The need is unbelievable. We didn’t realize it ourselves until we started doing it.”

The Habitat for Humanity houses, says Nicolino, seemed like a natural fit, but surprisingly, he says, “no one has ever said we can consistently give you the furniture you need so you can furnish the houses as you build them. It’s a radically new concept.”

He says he and Collette, a designer, think this concept “could go national.” They belong to a national furniture bank, with a membership of 70 businesses, that recycles furniture into the communities in which they operate. “If we can do it here locally, then why can’t it be implemented across the country?”

Nicolino and Collette are working with Christine Baker, family services director for Middle Island-based Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk, which has built more than 110 houses in the county in the last 20 years. She’s enthusiastic about the new arrangement.

“I’m very psyched,” she says. “It’s very exciting, and I’m hoping this thing explodes. Maybe we could go worldwide.”

“Whatever we can do to help these low-income families is a good thing.”

The new owner of the Rocky Point house is Joannie Toro, 35, a school district employee who lived in a water-damaged apartment in Brentwood with her children, ages 6, 8 and 11, until Habitat moved them into transitional housing.

Under Habitat’s rules, families selected for houses agree to sweat equity of 250 hours of labor on their home and other Habitat houses, plus they agree to take out a 20-year, zero-percent interest mortgage of about $70,000 to pay for costs not covered by, in Toro’s case, $35,000 in state and federal affordable housing grants, and by donated labor and material.

Recently, Baker brought Toro to the ClearingHouse to give Collette an idea of what she and her kids liked.

“She was very shy about asking for anything; they’re overwhelmed that this is happening to them,” says Collette, who is busy choosing, rechoosing and stockpiling pieces for the new home. “She was very drawn to colorful things with flowers … She liked a yellow floral chintz sofa, and I have something very similar that just came in. Every time something new and better comes in, I save it for her.”

She adds, “She said she always wanted a table in back of the sofa to put pictures of her family, and I registered that in my mind … It’s like when the kids give you the Christmas list and you go out and find them, and they show up under the tree miraculously.”

In fact, the charity will donate everything from drapes to towels to a whitewashed armoire and captains’ beds.

Baker says in the past, families came to their new Habitat houses with old, usually insufficient furnishings and had to acquire and set up the rest. Not anymore.

“For everything to arrive instantly, it’s a wonderful gift,” Baker says. “I know the family is overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Contact The ClearingHouse, 640 County Rd. (Route 27), Southampton, at its Web site or call 631-287- 6653 (ask about its tag sale with deep discounts on merchandise).

Southampton Press Dec. 21, 2006
Giving the Gift of Comfort & Joy

A new foundation helps the needy fills their homes with furniture

By Alex McNear

When Dorothy clicked together her ruby slippers, she might well have had in mind No Place Like Home, a charity foundation in Southampton dedicated to providing furniture and home furnishings to people in need.
No Place Like Home is the offspring of The Clearing House, a consignment store on County Road 39 in Southampton opened in 2003 by Victoria Collett and Nick Nicolino of Hampton Bays. The store quickly grew from a fledgling business to a thriving one, according to the couple. In fact, the store now has such a large roster of consignors-approximately 300-and so many of them with “excellent” furniture and household goods that don’t fit the criteria for display in the consignment store, that it occurred to Ms. Collett and Mr. Nicolino to encourage people to donate the excess furniture and furnishings to people in need.

In February, the couple launched the not-for-profit No Place Like Home Foundation and began making monthly deliveries to local organizations and agencies that assist people in need.

“We are committed to giving local people a hand. The working poor, they are our most important recipients,” said Mr. Nicolino.

Donna Calvert, a single mother holding down two jobs, recently received furniture from No Place Like Home and said she felt “blessed.” Living in a two-bedroom house in North Sea with three of her children-two teenage daughters and a 20-year-old son-Ms. Calvert said she works hard to make ends meet.

“After I’ve paid all my monthly bills, I have $32 left,” she said.

A co-worker at the Southampton restaurant where Ms. Calvert works told her about Ms. Collett and Mr. Nicolino and their foundation. When No Place Like Home found out she was unable to afford even the cost of one bureau, Ms. Collett and Mr. Nicolino provided her with several of them for her house, as well as a mir-See HOME, Page R7 ror and television set.

“They are very loving, generous people,” Ms. Calvert said.

The idea for the charity foundation was such a good one that when Mr. Nicolino and Ms. Collett asked one of their regular consignment store patrons, actress Lorraine Bracco, if she would “lend spotlight” to the charity, she said yes. Ms. Bracco, who signed on to work with No Place Like Home a few weeks ago, said she was “thrilled” to be involved.

“I’m a big believer in supporting women and children who are trying to get their lives back together,” the Golden Globe Award-winning actress and star of “The Sopranos” said during a phone interview on Monday. Ms. Bracco was referring to the fact that No Place Like Home donates furniture to The Retreat, a local organization that provides support, shelter and legal assistance for victims of domestic abuse.

Ms. Bracco said she will be involved in future fund-raising events for No Place Like Home when she is not busy filming “The Sopranos.” She is also expected to be at a charity auction in May at the Home Expo convention in Southampton. Included on the No Place Like Home website is a personal statement from Ms. Bracco asking prospective contributors for their “generous tax-deductible financial support.”

Long before No Place Like Home came to fruition, Ms. Collett got the idea for The Clearing House when she realized the area had no consignment stores, which provide a display setting for people selling their furniture or household goods, and then receive a percentage when the object sells. “I’m from the San Francisco area, and there are consignment stores everywhere,” she said.

In the beginning, when the store was a daily hustle, Mr. Nicolino and Ms. Collett pounded the pavement and “knocked on every door.” They went to tag sales advertised in the paper and convinced the owners to let them try to sell whatever furniture didn’t sell at the tag sale.

Later, as the business grew, they became more discerning. Eventually, “it took on a life of its own,” Ms. Collett said. People with large estates started coming to them. Homeowners selling their house in the Hamptons and moving on to other communities who were looking to unload entire contents asked Mr. Nicolino and Ms. Collett to sell, or in some cases dispose of, their furnishings.

Furniture was stacking up in our store, Mr. Nicolino said. “We had to start turning things down,” he said. However, it didn’t take long for them to realize that the things people no longer wanted that they couldn’t sell at their consignment store would be, well, consigned to the trash.

They decided that No Place Like Home would be dedicated to helping people in the community, Ms. Collett said. Mr. Nicolino mentioned numerous charities that raise money in the Hamptons and then send that money elsewhere. “We are neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

In the last year, No Place Like Home has delivered hundreds of items to the The Retreat’s shelter in East Hampton, which needs beds, couches and even children’s desks for families that have fled violent homes. In addition, the charity foundation will help furnish the house of a woman leaving the shelter and starting a new home.

Lauren Walsh, deputy director of The Retreat, said that they get regular deliveries from No Place Like Home. “If we need a couch and a table, they bring it,” Ms. Walsh said. A lot of household items from estate sales-items in excellent condition that for one reason or another didn’t meet the criteria for being sold at The Clearing House-were offered to The Retreat, according to Ms. Walsh.

In cases of domestic abuse, “victims get out of the house with no more than the clothes on their back,” Mr. Nicolino said. “We’ll give them the pots, pans, pillows, blankets, and bunk beds,” Ms. Collett added. They will not, however, give anything that is stained or broken; furniture and furnishings given to people in need must be in good condition.

No Place Like Home also donates furniture and furnishings to Head Start, a federally funded program that provides numerous services to economically disadvantaged families with preschool children.

Carol E. Burnett, the manager for the Head Start center in Shirley, said her job is to “beg for funds.” In June she saw an article about No Place Like Home and sent them an e-mail. “I asked if they would be willing to help, because I have families I work with that are really struggling,” she said.

One of her caseworkers discovered that a woman and her child were sleeping in their bathtub. “We’re going to make sure this woman gets a bed,” Ms. Burnett said. She added that there is poverty right here on the East End: “You don’t have to go to the Third World to find it.”

Now, No Place Like Home makes deliveries to Ms. Burnett’s Jamesport house several times a month. She has a garage and barn to store the furniture and has no trouble finding a home for the goods. She canvases families from Bridgehampton to Amityville and finds families who need everything from pots to mattresses.

“We’re also trying to reach out to religious organizations and the local schools,” Ms. Collett said. “Guidance counselors know which families might be in need,” she added. Recently, they contacted Southampton Human Services and will eventually work with them, too. Houses built by Habitat for Humanity may also one day be recipients of furniture and household items. All recipients of furniture and furnishings must be referred by an organization or agency working with economically disadvantaged people.

A winter fund-raiser event for No Place Like Home is in the works, according to Mr. Nicolino and Ms. Collett. Details will be posted on their website. In addition, a fund-raising auction to benefit No Place Like Home will take place in May at the Home Expo convention, which showcases vendors displaying everything from plumbing fixtures to state-of-the-art hot tubs. The event will be held in the lot next to the Elks Club across the street from the consignment store.

“What we really need now is a warehouse or storage space to put all the furniture and furnishings for No Place Like Home,” Mr. Nicolino said. Overloaded with furniture donations, they are in search of a place to store everything. At the moment they are renting space from a nearby storage company.

“Maybe someone will donate a warehouse or a barn to store all this furniture,” Mr. Nicolino said with a laugh.

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