When she founded Room for Restoration last year, Cassandra Vera planned to help California inmates reconnect to their children.
She didn’t expect to hear from families in Texas and New York, wanting to know if the nonprofit could help children in those places, too.
Room for Restoration, which gives “room makeovers” to the children of eligible prison inmates, wasn’t equipped to travel to other states and remodel bedrooms. But Vera didn’t let that stop her.
“I don’t want to turn these people away!” she said.
Bedroom in a Box was born, along with Freebird BOHO bags, to raise funds for the nonprofit group’s work.
The BOHO bags — BOHO stands for “Buy One, Help One” — are all handcrafted from recycled materials by Room for Restoration’s designers. They’re on sale at the Local Collective on Sacramento Street, and proceeds go to support Room for Restoration’s mission.
The purses and wine bags are hand-stitched, and each one is unique.
“The bags make space for things that are important, and that helps us create a space for who is important,” Vera said.
Room for Restoration got its start in 2017, when Lodi teen Josh Pogue became the first recipient of a room makeover. His father, who was serving time in Tuolumne County, wrote a letter to the new nonprofit nominating his son for the honor.
Pogue, then 15, got a Hollywood-themed room complete with a space to practice special effects makeup.
“It’s amazing,” Pogue told the News-Sentinel in May 2017. “I feel honored to be the first one, and to have them pick my dad’s letter.”
As part of helping inmates re-forge their bond with their children, Room for Restoration asks them to write a letter explaining why they want their child to be part of the program. The purpose is both to push inmates to actively participate in something positive, and to show their children — many of whom have been badly hurt by their parent’s decisions — that they are loved.
Room for Restoration has done other room makeovers, which involved painting, redecorating (including new furniture), installing new flooring and more — think “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” but limited to a single room.
Vera and her volunteers have reached out to prisons in California and Idaho to find eligible inmates who might nominate their children, but at the moment, it’s a slow-going process.
Bedroom in a Box helps bridge that gap. Each of the boxes includes about a dozen items, such as rugs, light fixtures and bedding, for a less extensive room makeover.
For example, a recent box went out to a young girl in New York, who wanted a space-themed room. Vera and her team packed a box with outer space-inspired bedding, a wall tapestry of a rocket, a mood lamp, a model of Saturn made of papier-mache and fabric, and a rug.
“We had a lady in Sacramento do an art piece that was space themed,” Vera said.
Another recent box went out to two young boys in Texas, on behalf of their grandfather, who has been in prison as long as the children can remember.
The nonprofit is grateful to PostNet in Galt, which helped with the shipping.
Room for Restoration is currently raising funds to make over the room of a Stockton teen.
The nonprofit is welcoming volunteers as well, especially someone who would be willing to donate their time to run the group’s social media accounts, and an accountant or other financial guru to lead fundraising efforts and handle bookkeeping. They’d also be happy to connect with anyone who has experience helping to direct a nonprofit organization.
“We need a board, but we don’t want just people we know,” Vera said.
They’re also hoping that a person of influence — a celebrity or athlete — might see the work they do and help them gain some wider attention.
The goal is to help inmates redeem themselves and begin restoring the bridges they’ve burned with their choices. Many inmates have made bad and hurtful decisions, Vera said, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change or work to improve themselves moving forward.
Room for Restoration is also happy to be a resources for the community, or to speak at fundraisers, club meetings or churches.
“We want to help whoever needs it,” Vera said.
In the meantime, she hopes people will spread the word about Room for Restoration, donate to upcoming projects, or better yet, buy a bag to support their work.
“The room is a daily reminder to the child (that someone cares), and the bag is a reminder to its owner what they’ve done,” she said.