Summerville teen helping community members transition out of homelessness | News
SUMMERVILLE — One of the most obvious priorities with helping someone transition out of homelessness is finding them a place 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 your whole day,” said 18-year-old John Michael Stagliano, a lifelong Summerville resident.
Stagliano is also the founder of Home Again, a nonprofit dedicated to supplying furniture and household items to families leaving former conditions behind and moving into new homes.
It all started with Stagliano volunteering at a Summerville homeless shelter where he learned the needs of the residents didn’t end with them simply moving out of the shelter.
For the past five years, Home Again has furnished the homes of nearly 500 people and has helped raise thousands of dollars for local shelters.
Stagliano managed to accomplish all of this before graduating high school.
“You can always do something to help somebody else,” he said.
While acquiring something as simple as furniture may seem small to some people, it’s been life-changing for those who have benefitted from Home Again. Connie Ross, who is among those recent furniture recipients, said the organization’s help took away a lot of stress.
“Because I had nothing,” she said. “Not even a chair to sit in.”
Doing something good
Ross today 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 more than a year. Between November and this summer, she was living at the Hope’s House, the Dorchester County Community Outreach’s homeless shelter for women.
Prior to getting a spot in the shelter, she had also spent a year living in her car all while recovering from drug addiction. She said she still remembers rainy nights sitting in her car alone, including during the pandemic, which made the isolation worse.
“I did have some crying nights, but not many,” Ross said. “You just have to find your inner strength.”
She became homeless after moving out of a space where she was living with others. Ross learned someone had been charging furniture and other items under her name and hurting her credit.
That made her spend the bulk of the pandemic in her car.
“I had to pay off a lot of debt,” she said.
She was able to keep her two jobs and save money, enough to eventually afford her own place.
The shelter didn’t allow the women to buy anything because everything was donated. “It was a breath of fresh air,” she said.
When Ross finally was able to find a place to stay, she connected with Home Again. Stagliano and his team gave her a bed, lamps, dishes, toiletries, a television and many more items.
She said as a Black woman, it felt good to see someone out there willing to help her. When she was looking for apartments after repairing her credit, she said there were moments where she could see property managers were disappointed when they discovered 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 good,” she said. “And I think people should support him anyway they can.”
Who gets help
Home Again recipients have ranged from people like Ross to entire families and local veterans. Stagliano said what he looks forward to the most in his work is seeing the shift in people’s personality when they receive help.
He remembers helping a veteran who was sleeping on the floor of his apartment for at least a week.
When they visited him after delivering the furniture, he noticed him being more social with his neighbors and happier overall. He said he got the same level of excitement when he saw two kids jumping on the beds his team had brought for them.
It was a feeling of accomplishment that Stagliano knew well with having spent much of his childhood doing volunteer work.
Volunteering and giving back to the community is something the Stagliano family is very familiar with.
In addition to Home Again, John Michael’s sister, Katie, founded and runs Katie’s Krops. It’s another Summerville nonprofit that creates community gardens to support food drives to end hunger.
That organization was started after Katie grew a 40-pound cabbage when she was in the third grade. John Michael was 4 at the time.
The cabbage went on to feed nearly 300 people and propelled Katie toward launching Katie’s Krops. The nonprofit now spans across 31 states in the U.S. with dozens of community gardens.
“I think it was just meant to be,” Katie said. “The entire Summerville community as a whole, they’ve been amazing.”
Years later, while making meals at a Summerville men’s homeless shelter called Home of Hope, John Michael started helping the shelter residents get furniture. He and his family would reach out to the community for donations. After connecting with the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and supporting homeless veterans, Home Again was born.
“He is truly changing lives and helping to bring families together,” Katie said. “I could not be more proud to be his sister.”
If it hadn’t been for that giant cabbage, the family isn’t sure both nonprofits would’ve taken off. But, they said the enthusiasm around supporting the community would’ve still been there.
“It’s kind of who we are as a family,” said Stacy Stagliano, John Michael and Katie’s mother.
She said she never imagined either of her children would be overseeing the organizations. With Home Again, she said she was surprised because John Michael was always her shy child.
“They just see the possibilities,” Stacy said.
If it weren’t for the support of the community, she said the nonprofits would never have had the impact they have now.
John Michael agrees.
“I could not do this on my own,” he said.
During the peak of the pandemic, Home Again wasn’t receiving a lot of calls. John Michael’s best guess was that, unfortunately, not many families were transitioning out of homelessness.
But recently with the vaccines, there has been a noticeable increase in outreach. So community support is definitely still welcomed and needed, he said.
With Ross, she said she’s not only grateful for Home Again but for the Summerville community in general for supporting her so much.
She can’t wait until it’s her turn to do the same for someone else.