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Dionne Williamson of UPward Design for Life

Home. It is where we start and end our day. It should be a safe haven. It should contain the essential items that help us live comfortably. Doesn’t everyone deserve a bed on which to rest? What about a sofa to relax on after a long day or a dining table to gather as a family, to share a meal and talk about their day? It should offer an environment in which special memories are created. It should feel like HOME.

Photo by Katie Jane Photography

UPward Design for Life furnishes homes and transforms lives, helping restore hope, dignity, and independence to those in need in Erie and Niagara Counties.

Executive Director, Dionne Williamson founded the organization in 2017 because she wanted to use her design and organizational talents to serve a purpose greater than herself. She originally started an interior design business, but it ended before it really got off the ground, because she knew the people who would most benefit from her service could not afford it.

When a friend told her about an organization in Detroit furnishing homes for those in need, Williamson knew immediately that was her calling. She reached out to see if the organization would bring the concept to Buffalo, but since no one responded, she sat on the idea for three years before starting the non-profit herself. UPward Design is the only organization in Western NY that specializes in furnishing homes for these families and individuals.

Williamson says UPward Design restores hope by transforming empty spaces into homes. They serve domestic violence survivors, refugees, people transitioning from shelters, young adults aging out of foster care, and other individuals and families in need. They work with clients referred by nearly thirty local human services organizations.

Many partner agencies help clients find housing, but when the client moves in, Williamson says they’re usually on their own to furnish the space, which causes additional stress on families with little or no income. That’s where UPward Design comes in. Since its inception, UPward Design has furnished over 76 homes, with 86% of the families served having female heads of household.

UPward Design encourages the community to donate their gently used furnishings, which then help create safe and comfortable spaces for those looking to make a fresh start. Williamson says, “When we see the relief on a parent’s face and joy on the faces of their children when they see their newly furnished bedrooms, that’s when we know the project is successful. Families are no longer sleeping on the floor.”

Repurposing and reusing are at the heart of UPward Design’s furniture installation projects. 95% of items used to furnish homes for families come from generous community donors. The incredible gently used furniture, décor, small kitchen appliances, etc. are in fantastic shape; donors simply no longer need or want them. Donations stay out of the trash, which makes the venture also good for the environment.

Williamson says they take great pride in respecting donations, ensuring they get used for their intended purpose. Because of limited storage spaces, they primarily take items requiring little or no refurbishing so they can go into the homes of families as quickly as possible. However, when they occasionally take items that need a little refurbishing love, their skilled volunteers sand, repaint, or reupholster them to bring new life and beauty. Donors sometimes purchase new items, and mattresses and bed pillows are always brand new and in original packaging. They maintain an online list of items they can and cannot accept.

UPward Design is guided by a dedicated Board of Directors who give so much of their time and energy to advance the organization. Volunteers help pick up, accept, organize, and move furniture into the homes of those who need help and love. Their referring partner agencies provide clients working to rebuild their lives. Donors make it possible to provide clients with the beautiful furnishings that help transform empty spaces into homes.

UPward Design will host its 2nd Annual UPlift Design Challenge and Fundraiser in September! In this initiative, three local companies each furnish a home for a family in need using furnishings from UPward Design’s donation inventory. This furnishing takes place during the summer months, captured by a videographer. UPward Design shares the finished video with the public in September, and the community votes for their favorite design team project. The UPlift Design Challenge Awards Event is a private event in September to celebrate the lives changed through the design challenge projects, to celebrate the corporate sponsors, and to announce the winners of the challenge! Check out the video of last year’s design challenge on the event page of UPward Design’s website.

UPward Design has created a new Corporate Team Building program! This is another wonderful opportunity for companies and colleagues to build trust and boost morale by making an immediate impact on the lives of individuals and families making a fresh start in life. Corporate teams conduct home visits with clients, work together to pick out furnishings and other items to meet the needs of each family, and move those furnishings into the empty spaces to create a comfortable and safe home. This is team-building and community service at its best, and this program helps further UPward Design’s work in the community.

It’s easy to support the mission of UPward Design! Anyone can donate gently used furniture and other household items; volunteer your time and special skills to help advance the mission; provide a financial gift to ensure the organization can continue to offset costs; and share with others about the work done in the community.

Photo by KC Kratt

To see more of Dionne Williamson's transformations, visit


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