On any given night in Dayton and Montgomery County, approximately 550 people are considered homeless. Individuals make up 83 percent of the overall homeless population, and nearly 17 percent of the homeless are families with children. It’s a harsh reality April Alford knows all too well.
When Alford was 6 years old and living in New Jersey, she and her mother were homeless for more than a year. They sometimes lived with friends, but they were also on the street. Alford’s mother was eventually able to afford rent on an apartment, but they lived without heat and hot water for three years.
“It was a rough road,” Alford recalled. “It has definitely shaped who I am.”
Even in the darkest of times, human compassion managed to shine on the family. A friend of Alford’s mother always helped them out. While this friend couldn’t provide a place for Alford and her mother to live, she always made sure they had food.
“Her kindness to us was almost a catalyst for me,” said Alford. “As a child, I always told myself that when I got older, I would give back to whatever community I lived in.”
Today, Alford lives in Dayton and is the founder of Welcome Home Dayton, a nonprofit that furnishes and decorates homes for people transitioning from homelessness.
Based on her childhood experience, Alford knows what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. She understands that someone who might be able to afford rent may not have the means to furnish their space and make it feel like a real home.
Alford started Welcome Home Dayton in 2017, when she partnered with Homefull—a Dayton nonprofit that works to end homelessness by providing housing, services, advocacy, and education—to furnish and decorate one of their transitional housing units at River Commons on Helena Street.
To fund the project, Alford raised several hundred dollars through GoFundMe. When that money ran out, she spent her own money to purchase what was needed.
Alford transformed the one-bedroom, one-bath unit with a combined kitchen, living, and dining area into a place anyone would be proud to call home. She replaced a metal, institutional-style bed with a twin bed from her guest bedroom and added other furniture, decorations, and wall art.
Since then, Alford has established 501(c)(3) status for Welcome Home Dayton and secured funding for future projects.
“My biggest goal is to help as many people transitioning from homelessness as we can,” she explained.
Alford is also passionate about utilizing Welcome Home Dayton to assist youth aging out of the foster care system. In 2009, she became a mentor for a high school student in foster care. When her mentee turned 18, Alford helped her find a place to live. That’s when Alford realized that many foster youth don’t have the life skills needed to flourish on their own.
“If they’re in a good home, they get those skills,” said Alford. “But sometimes, they might be in a home where people are just doing it for the money and they’re not teaching them life skills. So, they don’t know how to search for an apartment or how to get the lights turned on.”
Moving forward, Alford would like to form partnerships with retailers, furniture stores, and moving companies willing to donate goods and services to Welcome Home Dayton. She is also looking for interior designers and other volunteers to help with furnishing and decorating. Cash donations are always appreciated, and Welcome Home Dayton accepts new or gently used household items such as dishes, silverware, and glasses.
Alford encourages people to think about Welcome Home Dayton the next time they host a birthday, holiday party, or any other type of celebration. She suggests that hosts ask their guests to bring an item for Welcome Home Dayton in lieu of gifts.
“There are lot of people who believe the homeless should accept whatever you give them,” said Alford. “Just because they are homeless doesn’t mean that they have to accept less. It makes people feel good to know you’re giving them something of quality.”
With one look at Alford’s downtown Dayton loft, it’s clear she has a keen eye for decorating and interior design.
“I’ve always loved decorating and trying to see how I can make a space unique and make it mine,” said Alford, who recently started taking classes for interior design. She also enjoys purchasing items from thrift stores and refurbishing them and frequently gives decorating tips as part of her Transformation Tuesday series on Welcome Home Dayton’s website and social media.
Alford’s work with Welcome Home Dayton is quite a contrast from her day job as a registration clerk with the Montgomery County Board of Elections, where she is proud to be part of a team that ensures fair elections take place in the county.
When she’s not working at the Montgomery County Board of Elections or pouring her heart and soul into Welcome Dayton, Alford volunteers with UpDayton, St. Vincent de Paul, and YWCA Dayton. She also enjoys traveling and is looking forward to taking photography or ceramics classes this summer.
Alford graduated from Wright State in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. “I enjoyed Wright State,” she said. “Once I got there, I found a community. It was almost like we were a small family.”
Alford bonded with many of the students in her organizational leadership cohort, and she continues to stay in touch with some of her former classmates.
She hopes Welcome Home Dayton will inspire her Wright State family and others to look at the homeless population in a new light.
“They’re human,” she said, “and have feelings just like we do.”
Visit welcomehomedayton.org for more information on the nonprofit organization Welcome Home Dayton.
This article was originally published in the spring 2020 issue of the Wright State Magazine. Find more stories at wright.edu/alumnimag.