The Heart of a Home – A Design Project for Catholic Urban Programs’ Emergency Shelter

Volunteer design project for emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs


Woman and child holding hands thinking of homeIf you and your children didn’t have a place to sleep tonight, what would you miss the most?

Would it be the sense of security that comes from knowing you’re safe in a house of your own? Or would you long for the comforts of your home – a soft bed, a private bathroom and a closet full of clean clothes?

Maybe it would be the little rituals you didn’t even know that you treasured, like waking up each morning to enjoy breakfast together at the table.

I know I’d miss tucking my son into bed at night. I’d miss my morning routine – letting our dog out before pouring coffee into my favorite mug and savoring a few moments of quiet in my bright and airy kitchen.

I can imagine all the small day-to-day things every mother misses – for herself and for her children – when she comes to the emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs (CUP). I know these families must crave the stability, comforts and routines of the lives they once led.

Life hasn’t been easy for anyone in the last two years, but for a family living on the brink of homelessness or in a temporary emergency shelter, the uncertainty must be unbearable.

“Experiencing homelessness is hard for women and children. The pandemic greatly magnifies a really tough situation,” said Jenn Lyke, director of development and community engagement for Catholic Urban Programs.

Giving Struggling Families Emergency Shelter

Existing dining room at emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs

Existing dining room at Catholic Urban Programs’ emergency shelter.

I spoke to Jenn recently about the effects the pandemic has had on the families they serve through Catholic Urban Programs.

For families struggling to make ends meet, I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for mothers to maintain jobs and pay for daycare and healthcare throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 18-bed emergency shelter operated by CUP gives women in these situations a place to stay in the short-term while they get back on their feet.

The goal is to give the family unit a safe place to find a little normalcy while the mothers work on getting back to work or into a more permanent housing situation.

The average stay at the shelter is 90 days, but since the pandemic, many of the women and children have needed to stay longer in this temporary home.

To get a better understanding of how this facility is changing lives, take a look at the latest CUP newsletter here  and read Kam’s story, one of the shelter residents. Just be sure to grab a tissue before you do!

JSB Designs Plans to Redesign Shelter Dining Room

Catholic Urban Programs is constantly working to make the shelter feel more like “home” for the families who transition through the facility. It can be an uncertain, stressful and even scary time, particularly for the kids.

Dining room at emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs

Part of the existing dining room at the emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs.

The nonprofit sent out a call several months ago via social media, asking for help from the community to revamp the dining room in the shelter.

That’s how the team here at JSB Designs got involved in this project.

When I saw the images of the dining room, I knew that we could help make the room feel more like a home. The space looked too clinical and not-at-all comforting.

“We all know the kitchen and dining areas are the heart of the home,” Jen said. “They are often where life’s problems are discussed and figured out, where laughs are shared, and memories are made.”

I know that’s true in my house. And I believe that these families, like all families, deserve a warm and welcoming space to call home. The fact that this is a dining room really spoke to me. The kitchen and dining room truly are the heart of the home.

For any family, anywhere, the dining space is the place to gather, break bread, to start the day and to end the day. It’s the place where we share stories, laugh, do homework, and bond as a family.

I believe it is important, necessary even, for all people to have a place where they feel welcome, safe and comfortable – a place where they belong.

This room serves as the hub of the emergency shelter and I knew our team at JSB Designs could make the dining room more functional, comfortable and beautiful for the families utilizing the space.

But we can’t do this alone! 

How You Can Help


Proposed redesign of dining room at emergency shelter

Drawing of our proposed redesign of emergency shelter at Catholic Urban Programs.

My team at JSB Designs is donating all of our time to this project. But we need some help from our generous community and supporters to make this project a success!

We need monetary donations to purchase the supplies, from cabinetry and tile to paint and a new table and chairs. (We’ll share our detailed project plans in an upcoming blog!) 

In addition, we also need some in-kind donations of labor from trained professionals, including a painter, carpenter, tile-layer and electrician. If you are or know someone who would be willing to help, please contact us at

You can make a donation straight to the project through our Facebook fundraiser for Catholic Urban Programs here:

I am asking for help from my clients, family and friends to help me make the vision for these women and children a reality.

Your donation is tax-deductible, and will make a difference to all the women and children who stay at the shelter. Please help us add a little more heart to this temporary home!

Catholic Urban Programs (CUP) is a 501 (c) 3 organization that is affiliated with the Diocese of Belleville. The mission of CUP is to advance human dignity, remediate the effects of poverty, and empower people to become self-sufficient through crisis intervention, housing security, and out of school time programs. CUP operates programming in seven facilities located in East St. Louis. CUP serves people throughout the Diocese with a concentrated focus on St. Clair County, and East St. Louis specifically.