Anne Battle likes to help people; she likes to accomplish something that will make a difference in their lives, and she is tireless in her determination to see the project through to its successful conclusion.
“Anne has a vision, and when she really believes in something, she finds a way to get it done, and she shows us that we are more capable of doing things than we realized,” points out Betty Smith, a partner in One Room At A Time, the organization founded by Ms. Battle.
Ms. Battle’s first project was decorating the community room at the Rescue Mission of Trenton last year. This led her on a continuing journey, which utilizes her decorating talents, combined with organizational skills, to enhance the surroundings of people in our area who have very few resources.
“I had been wanting to do something like this for the past four years, but I didn’t know how to execute it,” explains Ms. Battle, who has been involved in a series of businesses in Princeton, including Rooms For Improvement, a decorating company, which she operates with her daughter-in-law, Brooke Battle.
Formerly, she was associated with Family Born, Hi-Tops, and was a partner in two stores, Joan’s Attic and Birds of a Feather.
Born and brought up in Princeton, Ms. Battle considers herself fortunate to have the opportunity to do what she loves. It has created a strong desire to help others. “Many of us in this area are so lucky with what we have. It’s nice if we can give back to others. I’m a real homebody person. My house is important to me. I think everyone deserves a home where they can open the door, be surrounded by pretty things, and have a safe haven. Their home should be a special place for people.”
Following the Rescue Mission project, Ms. Battle began a partnership with HomeFront, the area organization that helps homeless families with limited means, but who are employed and able to pay some rent.
An anonymous $10,000 grant was very helpful in launching One Room At A Time, and last year, Ms. Battle and her other partners, Anita Trullinger and Barbara Straut, signed on to decorate a multi-unit vintage apartment house owned by HomeFront in Lawrence Township.
“When we first went to HomeFront, they asked, ‘How will you do it?’,” says Ms. Battle. “We weren’t sure, but we knew that somehow we could. It feels totally right. We believe that if we can get one room done, we’ll be able to do another and another.”
With the help of additional donations, services of builders, and contributions of furnishings, the team was able to complete the first apartment in March of 2011.
“This was for a single mother with two teenagers, and I told HomeFront that we would raise the money to fix up the apartment, including working on the kitchen, which had a broken stove, the bedrooms, living room, and put in a new floor,” continues Ms. Battle.
A new stove, cabinets, and sink were acquired for the kitchen, new toilet, vanity, and sink for the bathroom, closets and a new rug for the living room, and the entire apartment was painted.
The apartment has become a congenial setting for the family, a place where the children can invite friends over and the mother can cook meals for them and special holiday dinners for family and friends.
As Ms. Battle had hoped, one apartment led to another, and all five units were completed last month.
The One Room At a Time team has noticed a change of attitude and signs of optimism among the residents, reports Ms. Trullinger. “When I started working with this, at first, the residents seemed quite guarded. But over time, a sense of community began to evolve.”
“Once they saw that first apartment finished, they began to believe in us,” adds Ms. Smith. “Now, they have a sense of pride in their new home. And there is a sense of community. The children of different families are beginning to play together.”
The most recently completed apartment is the home of Maria and Guillermo Conde and their three children. It required extensive renovation, including the removal and addition of walls and turning the attic into upstairs bedrooms.
“In the beginning of One Room At A Time, we thought we were just going to do cosmetic work (new drapes, carpet, cabinets, etc.), but it has often turned into construction, taking the walls down to the studs,” points out Ms. Battle. “We have a contractor to oversee everything. In the case of the Conde’s apartment, Guillermo was a great help. He cleaned, assembled furniture, and did a lot of painting.”
Maria Conde could not be happier with the outcome. “I was thrilled and excited when I heard it could happen. They are all so talented and helpful. It is just magical to me. Someone came in and waved a magic wand! This can change your whole life.”
One Room At A Time makes an effort to provide new furnishings, focusing on the families’ taste and color preferences. As Ms. Battle notes, “If people have things around that are new and beautiful, they can have a feeling of self-esteem and a sense of ownership. There is nothing like getting something new.”
One Room At A Time has been able to get donations from a variety of individuals and organizations, including discounts from Lowe’s, which also donated new cabinetry. Skillman Furniture in Princeton has provided free delivery.
Now, the team is looking forward to the “icing on the cake”: outdoor landscaping. As Ms. Trullinger says, “In the back, there will be an area for a playing field. A play set will be donated, and we hope to have a picnic table and barbecue donated too. We will plant a garden that the residents can also work on. David Fierabend and John McDowd of Groundswell Landscaping Company, along with landscape architect Judy Venonsky of Olin Partners, will donate the landscaping. We also hope someone will donate a new black-top for the driveway, so that the kids can play basketball.”
Adds Betty Smith: “Once the landscaping is completed, we plan to have a celebration with a barbecue for all the residents. This is really building community.”
Raising money is a major challenge and underlies One Room At A Time’s ability to function. “We estimate that each apartment costs $20,000, even with the donations,” says Ms. Battle. “We now know what to expect and what to do. With each one, we’re getting better. We are able to do so much and make all these changes, but without the money and help, we can’t do anything.”
A recent anonymous donation of $100,000 will enable them to proceed with their next project with HomeFront: a four-unit apartment building in Hamilton, but ongoing fund-raising is essential.
“We will continue to need more money to go forward,” says Ms. Battle. “We are expanding our fund-raising efforts, and we hope to get more people to donate money, services, furnishings, and their time. We also have specific personnel needs, such as additional fund-raising and marketing help — someone knowledgeable with computers and graphics to help us with a brochure and website.
“Also, we want people to know they can donate furniture to One Room At A Time, and it can be stored at the HomeFront warehouse. People can call us at (609) 924-2867 and say the items are designated for One Room At A Time.”
Armed with the successful completion of the five apartments, the One Room At a Time team is optimistic about future projects despite the challenges. “I feel ‘Build it and they will come’ like the movie,” says Ms. Battle. “This is the kind of idea that could be replicated in every community, in every town.”
A Lot of Luck
Points out Ms. Smith: “Life is a lot of luck. When you are born lucky, I think you owe it to give back. And the thing is, we are getting so much ourselves from doing this. The residents are teaching us so much. Many of them had been homeless, with nowhere to live. But no matter how hard the struggle has been, the families stuck together. Sometimes, we forget that the most important thing is the family and the love that keeps them together.
“We are privileged to do this. In one case, a family had lost a child after a long illness. They said they had been so stuck in their grief, and the new apartment gave them hope again.”
Adds Ms. Battle: “What we say now when we’re raising money is: if you supply the dollars, we’ll supply the vision, and together, we can create beauty, build pride, and enrich lives — One Room At A Time.”
Donations can be sent to One Room At a Time/HomeFront, 37 Chestnut Street, Princeton, N.J. 08540. All gifts are tax deductible. (609) 924-2867.