The dates were set, the contracts were signed and the wheels began to turn on the demolition of Gross Hall, which had housed Concordia-Chicago students since 1969. There was just one problem: the University still had a building’s worth of dorm furniture that had not exceeded its useful lifespan. Multiple calls to area nonprofits didn’t yield any takers. Yet, with an eye toward project sustainability—the exterior bricks, for instance, would be saved and used in new projects around the region—an unlikely champion emerged.

While listening to Chicago radio stalwart WGN Radio 720, Concordia-Chicago’s public safety chief Dave Witken heard mention of one last potential opportunity to donate the furniture. During his weekly broadcast of HouseSmarts, local home improvement guru Lou Manfredini discussed an organization called Humble Design, which helps furnish homes for families, individuals and veterans who are exiting homeless scenarios. Witken was on the phone first thing Monday morning.

Julie Dickinson, director of Humble Design’s Chicago location, was elated to receive the call. “When COVID hit, we doubled the number of people we served, but we also blew through our inventory,” she says. “We work in a lot of vintage Chicago apartments with large families and limited space. So furniture designed for tight areas, like tall dressers from a residence hall, are key—we never have enough of them.

“Imagine the impossibility of trying to furnish an entire home from scratch,” she offers. “Landlords might assume that residents don’t have their act together because they’re sleeping on the floor next to their clothes in a bag. The reality of it is that they can’t afford a dresser.” For some children, Dickinson explains, Humble Design provides the very first bed that they have ever slept in.

So on a recent spring morning, just days before Gross Hall’s demolition was slated to start, Witken, Dickinson, Manfredini and a small group of volunteers worked together to move furniture into waiting moving trucks that would deliver it to Humble Design’s warehouse. Manfredini, who also owns two local Ace Hardware stores, even brought his own delivery truck to load up. In all, more than a hundred items filled six large vehicles including beds, mattresses, dressers, tables, chairs, desks and microwaves.

“At CUC, we don’t just teach service leadership, we live it out in all we do,” Witken says. “I feel blessed that we could play a small role in making life better for so many area families.”

For the rest of the story, including more about the history of Gross Hall, continue reading in the Spring 2022 Forester.