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Good Works: Project Home Sweet Home

Ricki Syufy and Paula Beritzhoff are helping formerly homeless families get on the path to success, one piece of furniture at a time.
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Ricki Syufy and Paula Beritzhoff
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Victoria Yee

The Cause: Project Home Sweet Home

Ricki Syufy, 44, and Paula Beritzhoff, 51

Hometown: San Rafael, California

Ricki Syufy and Paula Beritzhoff aren't your typical movers. But it's not just their petite stature that sets them apart—it's their customers. The two friends have brought approximately 1,200 items to 200 needy families. "Many of these kids are eating and sleeping on the floor," Ricki says. "Making a home for them is the most rewarding thing."

Ricki, Paula, and their kids—five boys between them, ranging from ages 11 to 16—were volunteering at a shelter in 2005 when they noticed substandard furnishings like blankets hanging in windows instead of curtains and dangling lightbulbs in lieu of lamps. They transformed the shelter into a comfy house, but when the families moved on to their own place, they couldn't take any of the furnishings with them. So Ricki and Paula founded Project Home Sweet Home (PHSH) in October 2006, a nonprofit that provides formerly homeless families with basic furniture, including beds, kitchen tables, chairs, and lamps. They find the recipients through referrals by local agencies, such as social workers and housing services for the needy. "We wanted to do this for the kids because if your home is comfortable, there's a greater chance you'll have more confidence to succeed in school and beyond," says Paula.

Ricki and Paula used financial donations from supporters and friends to purchase a van, and new mattresses and linens for each family. Word of mouth spread quickly and people began donating their used furniture, which is stored in a warehouse space provided by their town. "People who give things to us are so happy knowing it's going directly to someone who needs it," Ricki says. "Then we deliver to a family who is delighted to get it too, so it's a win-win."

The team dedicates two full days a week to PHSH. Ricki and Paula visit each recipient's home to check out what is needed, then do the deliveries themselves. Their sons also pitch in when they're off from school. "It's important for our kids to have a sense of responsibility to our community and to those who have less than we do," Ricki says.

PHSH is the only organization of its kind in their area, so Ricki and Paula plan to grow and serve more families. "PHSH is so fulfilling because we know we're making a difference," Ricki says. "We have a lot of fun driving in the van and moving furniture together, so it's a blessing all around."

Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.