A house will not feel like a home when a mattress pad doubles as your bed, but that was Air Force spouse Emily Davis’ introduction to military family life.
“It was hard because I didn’t have friends or family nearby,” said Davis, whose husband Joseph was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base after completing training. “I didn’t feel like I was a part of the base. My mom had gotten us a couch and coffee table, but we basically had nothing. For six months, we slept on a mattress pad on top of carpet.”
The couple’s spartan existence ended when Davis was introduced to Homefront Room Revival. Their house’s empty spaces were transformed using home décor plucked from the curb of the North Carolina base and then repurposed and reimagined by Emily and program volunteers.
Homefront Room Revival is the “passion project” of Air Force veteran and military spouse Katelyn Tinsley, who formed the 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2016. Tinsley recalls joining the Air Force “with no more than a backpack on” and then going into debt buying furniture to make her military house feel like a home after marrying her active-duty spouse.
“A lot of military families come into the service like I did with next to nothing and really aren’t connected into resources or creative outlets to cope,” Tinsley explains. “Many feel isolated and struggle with adjusting to military life. Through our program, we’re able to pull them into the studio to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences as they work on creating pieces for their homes side by side.”
Davis credits Homefront Room Revival with doing more than making over her home.
“They blessed me with so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get for myself like lamps so I can read next to my bed,” says Davis, who now volunteers with Homefront. “They thought of all the small things that would help me feel like I had a home. On top of that, I made my best friends at Homefront. They are like my family here in North Carolina.”
While Homefront Room Revival teaches furniture upcycling and DIY skills, Tinsley points out its mission is to build resiliency and interconnectedness within the military community. An added bonus is the program keeps thousands of pounds of discarded furniture out of community landfills. Partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and small businesses cement ties to the local civilian community as well.
“[Homefront] ends up being a soft entry to traditional resources,” Tinsley said. “The military has tons of resources available to families but not all of them are really approachable. Our entire program puts a fun-face forward where it feels like a safe space to ask for help.”
Homefront Room Revival’s core project, Furnish Hope, is open to Seymour Johnson families E-5 and below. The program has refurbished 82 rooms for more than 50 service members while hundreds more have participated in open art studio time, workshops and life-skills socials. Each December, Dec’ the Deployment not only decorates homes of military families and single service members but also delivers a dose of holiday spirit.
Tinsley, whose five years in the Air Force included assignments spanning mental health services and sexual-assault-victim advocacy, is convinced creative arts can inspire healing in the midst of chaos. She recalls being pregnant with her second child when her husband deployed and being unable to muster energy to put up a Christmas tree for their daughter. She pulled herself out of her funk by repurposing thrift store furniture and items found during “curb alerts,” when PCSing military families discard unwanted items curbside.
After separating from the Air Force and obtaining an MBA, Tinsley founded Homefront Room Revival from her Goldsboro garage, hosting get-togethers where military families repurposed furniture while learning upcycling skills and thrifting tips. As the program grew, Homefront moved from Tinsley’s garage to a community art studio. Today, the nonprofit has a permanent home in Seymour Johnson’s new Connect 4 building, a military families co-op housing Homefront’s studio and warehouse, Airmen’s Attic, Cinderella’s Closet and a food pantry.
Tinsley’s goal is to build Homefront Room Revival into a model that can be replicated across the Air Force and all military branches.
“Life experiences can drive you to your passion and you find your purpose,” she said. “For me, that was creating this program to help others struggling to better cope.”