Sharing Connections—Deb Rickert
Photography by: Michael Dar
Model: Sharon Talcott, Stewart Talent; Hair and Make Up: Alisa Radoi, Factor Artists; Styling: Theresa Alleva, Factor Artists
Sheer Elegance — The season’s finest looks
“Tonight, everyone eats at a table and sleeps in a bed.” That’s the simple yet powerful vision statement for Sharing Connections, a Downers Grove nonprofit now in its 30th year.
It all starts with gently used furniture that families in DuPage County no longer need. Sharing Connections’ volunteers pick up and transport it to a furniture warehouse. “You have these items, whether it’s a couch or a table, that have served your family, and now you have a way to actually make a connection to another family to allow them to build memories and hope around those same pieces,” said Deb Rickert, who has lived in Naperville for 30 years and became CEO of Sharing Connections this past July.
The organization partners with local social workers and agencies to invite individuals in need to shop at Sharing Connections, which is set up like a furniture showroom. “When a guest family comes through…we know No. 1 what the need is, and we know the need is legitimate,” said Rickert. Since 2007, Sharing Connections has served 10,256 households in DuPage County.
Rickert was drawn to Sharing Connections because its origin story is similar to that of Operation Support Our Troops, the organization she founded in 2003 and ran for the last 13 years. “Neither one of us set out with the intention of, ‘I’m going to start a nonprofit,’” Rickert said.
After Rickert’s son joined the military in 2003, she started gathering items to send to troops deployed overseas; it started with treats for Valentine’s Day and snowballed from there. “People kept dropping things off; it took over the house, the garage and we ended up getting a warehouse,” said Rickert, who still serves on the board of directors, but stepped down from her role as executive director. “I felt like it was time and I stepped down and just started looking for other ways that I could serve and grow,” she said.
For founder Leeanne McGrath, Sharing Connections began similarly. “[She] had a conversation with a social worker about how vital a baby sleeping in a crib is to safety, health and well-being,” Rickert said.
McGrath started by providing one crib for a family in need. “That was contagious to the people around her, and once she was able to provide that one crib, she wanted to keep going and doing it to the point that it was taking over her house and garage to the point that now, 30 years later, there are two warehouses and thousands of families being serviced and moved beyond cribs to furniture and bedding,” said Rickert. Sharing Connections also has a holiday toy program and a school supply program as well.
TEAM BUILDING FOR GOOD
Sharing Connections has a program called the Dresser Challenge for community groups or companies looking to partake in a charitable team building activity. The group forms three-person teams, purchases one dresser kit per team and either schedules a time to build the dressers at Sharing Connections, or at their own facility.
“Each dresser is signed on the back by the team members and provided directly to someone who needs it,” said Rickert. “There is something very gratifying about putting [a dresser] together with your own hands, to take that extra step to make something that is going to be an integral part of someone’s life.”
Sharing Connections also welcomes volunteers to assist with everything from furniture pick-ups to inspecting items in the warehouse to assisting with their annual golf outing, now in its 10th year.