Nelly Arnold believes space is sacred. Do you remember that word? Sacred. It’s a word from a time before flashing screens and beeping devices. It’s a moment of stillness, of peace in a busy world. And for Nelly, sacred is what happens when four walls and a roof are filled with the things that we love. That’s why, once a week, Nelly makes time to volunteer at Pathways signature program, the Philadelphia Furniture Bank-because she believes everyone should have a space that they love.
“Coming to the furniture bank is the part of my week I look forward to most,” says Nelly. Connecting with the furniture bank was part of a major life shift for her. She’d just quit her job in product development for homewares to begin personal | space, an interior design and personal styling company. “I want my life to dictate my work, and not my work to dictate my life.” Nelly heard about the Furniture Bank’s model of helping people get furniture to begin life after incredible challenges. “I came in and met Tom and Howard. They were persistent in a way that only people who truly care are persistent.” And she was hooked.
This spring, Nelly is refurbishing a chair for the Philadelphia Furniture Bank’s Chair Affair, a fundraising event to further the bank’s important work (You can learn more and purchase tickets here). “In some ways it should really be called the Table Affair,” Nelly jokes, “because the heart of a home is the kitchen table. Having a kitchen table creates the opportunity to have life experiences you can’t have without one.” When Nelly helps clients at the Furniture Bank, the table is where she always starts. “I ask them what they like, their interests, motivations, what makes them happy-all the things that were suppressed until they had a physical space of their own.” She recalls a client recently who couldn’t pull his attention away from the art, so she spent time helping him pick out pieces for his own home. “For our clients, a physical home is the first opportunity to take a breath and explore who they are in a different way.”
The clients aren’t the only reason Nelly loves the Furniture Bank. She loves working with the formerly homeless men and women who are part of Pathways Supported Employment Program at the bank. “Pete is rapidly becoming my favorite coworker I've ever had,” Nelly says of one of the employees. “He has a big hello and a big smile every time he sees me-every time. Not a day goes by when he isn’t thankful or excited.” Nelly sees the work of the bank as impacting every part of her life. “I can’t believe how many people Pathways helps! We’re opening up space in society for people to step into, people who have historically been shut out.”
The homes that Nelly envisions, where clients feel peace and stability for the first time in months, where marginalized people feel reconnected to society and know they can belong, certainly sound like sacred spaces. Nelly’s attention for detail, passion for helping people, and eye for design have helped make our space at the Philadelphia Furniture Bank a little more sacred too.
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About the Author
Becca DeWhitt is an MBA candidate at Temple University. She is passionate about creating a world where everyone's experience and perspective is valued, and sees story-telling as a powerful tool to that end.
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