Daytonian of the Week: April Alford creating welcoming homes to treat everyone with dignity

April Alford would like everyone to feel at home.

Two years ago, Alford founded Welcome Home Dayton, an organization designed to furnish and decorate homes for people transitioning from homelessness.

Welcome Home Dayton, which recently received 501c3 status, grew out of her own experience as a child living without a home.

Recently we caught up with Alford, our Daytonian of the Week, and learned more about her and her plans to help the homeless.

You founded Welcome Home Dayton in 2017. Tell me about the organization and its purpose. 

At Welcome Home Dayton, we furnish and decorate apartments for people who are transitioning from homelessness. We recently added foster youth to our mission statement. As foster youth age out of the system, they may not have a lot of resources. So, we want to make sure that furnishing and decorating their new space isn’t one of the things that they have to worry about.

In July of 2017, before I officially founded Welcome Home Dayton, I partnered with Homefull to furnish and decorate one of the empty apartments in their River Commons unit. At that time, I had not decided to start a nonprofit. I just wanted to give back to the community. After the unit was completed, and I got feedback on the look and also heard back from the new resident who moved into the space, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do more of.

Why was it important to you to start Welcome Home Dayton? 

When I was a child, my mother and I were homeless. We struggled when I was young, even living in a space without heat and hot water for a certain amount of time. She had a friend named Jeanette who helped us tremendously during this time. She made sure that we had food to eat. That was one less thing that my mother had to worry about. Over the years, I never forgot about Jeanette, and I made a vow to myself that if I ever had the opportunity, I would give back to my community. It is the main reason why I volunteer so much.

I have had conversations with people who feel that homeless people should be grateful for whatever you give them. I don’t feel this way. It is my belief that the homeless community are human, just as I am, and they should not be happy to receive leftover scraps. It was important for me to start Welcome Home Dayton so that we can give them a space that they love. A space that has new or gently used furnishings. I wanted them to have a safe, dignified and welcoming home, which would allow them to focus on improving the other areas in their lives, such as education (if they have children), employment and building a better future.

Can folks in the community get involved with the organization?

The community can definitely get involved with Welcome Home Dayton. We recently obtained 501c3 status and will soon start getting funding to help with our projects. Interested people can volunteer with us once our projects start up. They can also donate funds and gift cards, gently used or even new home items (furniture, towels, sheets, dishes, silverware, etc.). They can also refer friends and/or family who may have fallen on hard times and have moved into a new space. Watch the Welcome Home Dayton Facebook page for ways to get involved.

What have you learned about yourself / the community since forming Welcome Home Dayton? 

I have learned that I have to trust in my vision and my passion for Welcome Home Dayton. There have been times when I have questioned if I can pull this off, and every time that I question myself, someone that I don’t know will pop up and say, “Tell me about Welcome Home Dayton.” I need to trust in what God has put in me and know that what He has for me will not pass me.

As far as the community, I have learned that there are people who want to be involved and connected. There are people who want to sow into Welcome Home Dayton. When I did the unit at River Commons in 2017, I posted pictures on Facebook. One of my friends and a co-worker contacted me and told me that I needed to move forward with more projects, and that they would love to be involved. These two women have stood by me through every step of the process, and they are currently on my Board of Trustees. It feels amazing to know that other people are buying into my vision and want to see it come to fruition.

What would you want people to know about homelessness in our community? 

According to statistics, (Homefull’s website) in Dayton and Montgomery County on any given night, approximately 550 of our fellow citizens are considered homeless. Individuals make up 83% of the overall population and nearly 17% are families and children.

Homelessness is prevalent in our community. Moving them from the downtown area to another community does not solve the problem. At the end of the day, there are many people who are a paycheck or a job loss away from homelessness. So, my hope is that people will show a little more compassion when it comes to the homeless community.

What brought you to the community? 

I was born in Clinton, N.C. and raised in Jersey City, N.J. We moved to Jersey when I was 5 years old, after the death of my grandmother. I moved to Dayton in 2000. I was in a long-distance relationship, and working for the USPS at the time, which allowed me to transfer locations. After the end of that relationship I had already fallen in love with the Dayton area, so I decided to stay.

I have a degree from Sinclair Community College in social work, and a degree from Wright State University in organizational leadership. I am involved in quite a few organizations, and I am a mentor to a young woman who aged out of the foster care system and is successfully living on her own.

I didn’t know anyone in the Dayton area when I moved here, but I now have a great network of friends and love living here.

What do you love about living downtown? 

I love the fact that everything is easily accessible. I work downtown, so I can walk or ride my bike to work on most days. We (my girlfriend Shannon and I) ride our bikes around the downtown area, go to the movies at The Neon, eat at the many restaurants downtown, and we go to the theater and opera as well. I love the fact that the downtown area is on the upswing, and that we are here to partake in all that it has to offer. I am an avid volunteer, and I love the fact that there is so much that I can get involved in living downtown. My newest volunteer venture is with Levitt Pavilion.

My apartment is usually open for the Downtown Dayton Housing Tour, so I never get to see The Arcade when they open it up. I have heard so many stories about how great it was, so I look forward to seeing it for myself.

What is your occupation and what do you like about it? 

I am a registration clerk at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. I love the fact that I am involved in putting on fair elections for the citizens of Montgomery County. Before I started working for the Board, I never knew everything that was involved in putting on an election. I have been with the Board for almost 13 years now, and I am still amazed by the process. I love the friendships that I have made over the years, and the fact that we all come together, Democrats and Republicans, to ensure that none of our voters are ever disenfranchised.

If you could wave a magic wand for Dayton and the surrounding communities, what would you make happen? 

I would offer a seat at the table to more people of color. When I go to certain events or when I volunteer, I look for people who look like me. Not just among the volunteers or event-goers, but also among the people who are running said events or corporations. I believe that representation matters, and when I don’t see people like myself out in the community, it makes me wonder what place I can hold in the community in which I live.

I would also give surrounding communities (the Wright Dunbar area, the East side and West side) the same resources that are being poured out in the downtown area. I think it’s important to rejuvenate Dayton as a whole.

You are on the board of the African American Visual Artists Guild. Tell me about the organization. 

The African American Visual Artists Guild was founded in 1992 by Dayton artists Curtis Barnes Sr. and Willis “Bing” Davis. Their vision was to bring together artists and art patrons to share their passion for the visual arts. AAVAG’s membership is made up of professional artists, patrons of the arts, hobbyists and interested members of the community. AAVAG’s programming has an education component, where we provide resources to the community, as well as AAVAG members. We have workshops, open studio drawing and painting, presentations, seminars, lectures, demonstrations and exhibits. Our major programs are Annual Art Day, The Black Cultural Festival, Black Heritage Through Visual Rhythms exhibit and Expositions Through Art exhibit.

Why is it important to support our community of artists? 

When I was a child growing up in Jersey City we couldn’t afford music lessons or art classes. It’s something that I have thought about sometimes in my adult years. When AAVAG has our Annual Art Day for the community, and I see young students learning or perfecting a craft, it warms my heart. There is a quote that I love, and I repeat it to myself whenever I work with children. I became a mentor because of this very quote. “Be who you needed when you were younger.” It is my goal to help nourish this passion within children, to help them reach the goal of being called an artist one day. I see the gleam of pride in their eyes when it clicks for them, and I feel better knowing that I have helped them access something so major.

I think it is important to support our community artists because it helps them make an impact in the community. I believe that art brings communities together, and because of this we should all foster an appreciation for art by supporting our local artists. When I purchase art for my apartment I feel like knowing the artist and their story increases the value of the piece for me, and it makes me feel like I am a part of the story.

What would be the perfect Dayton date for you? 

We recently adopted a little Yorkie (Marlee), so he would come along on part of the date with us. We would grab a picnic basket, and head to Third Perk Coffee House and Wine Bar to fill it with some of our favorite snacks (The chicken salad is amazing!!!) Then we would head over to Levitt Pavilion to enjoy one of the many free concerts that they put on during the year. (Can’t wait to see Ruthie Foster perform again.) After the concert, we would swing by the apartment to drop Marlee off and pick up our bikes, then head to RiverScape for a leisurely ride. On the way home, we would stop by Twist Cupcakery to get one of her delectable cupcakes. There are so many fun things to do in Dayton that I could probably remix this date at least 30 times and not repeat anything.

What inspires you about Dayton? 

I am inspired by the connections that I have made here. I used to get out and do things when I lived in Jersey, but I am more connected here in Dayton. I hear a lot of people complaining about not having anything to do, or that Dayton is boring. These statements make me wonder what they are trying to do because I find something to do in this city all the time. I am inspired by the growth that is going on, and I am definitely looking forward to the opening of the Gem City Market.

I am also inspired by all of the initiatives that allow artists like James Pate and Morris Howard (AAVAG artists) to do murals around the city that represents the culture and heartbeat of the Dayton area. I feel that all of the art is helping to bring the city to life.

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