The idea rose from a moment of bottomless grief.
A Sudanese refugee woman had lost her teenage daughter, who died on the anniversary of her father's death.
The widowed mother was left not only to mourn, but to care for her four remaining children, in a strange land with a foreign language, in a house she didn't even know how to take care of.
Hannah Wyble, a post-graduate student and mother of two boys, knew the family well. While helping the mother make funeral arrangements, she thought of something basic she could do that would make a difference.
“The house was dilapidated,” Wyble said. “The mother was grieving. Everything was broken and falling apart. They didn't have cleaning supplies or garbage cans. They didn't have sheets or bedspreads.”
She and a Sudanese friend decided to give the family's rented house a makeover. They set up a website to seek volunteers and donated household goods. They gave the effort a name, Restoring Dignity.
Dozens of family, friends, teachers and strangers stepped forward. In fall 2012, volunteers emptied the house, deep-cleaned it and made minor repairs.
They threw away damaged furnishings and replaced them with donated items, new or gently used.
Wyble taught the family more about how to clean and organize their home, skills they hadn't learned when living in rough refugee camp shelters. She heard about another Sudanese widow who could use a home makeover. Then caseworkers referred another family. And another.
On Nov. 16, Restoring Dignity completed its eighth home makeover. Wyble and 40 volunteers emptied, deep-cleaned and put back together — complete with closet organizers, new bunkbeds and an airtight container to protect bulk rice from bugs — the Benson apartment of an ethnic Karen family from Myanmar.
The mother, Laday Htoo, a 56-year-old widow, works the night shift on a factory production line. Her 21-year-old son works at another factory. Her 11-year-old son, a fifth-grader, is the family's interpreter.
Laday had enough English to approach Wyble in the commotion and say, “I so happy.”
Many organizations help refugees in Nebraska and Iowa. And refugee agencies and other social services do a lot with a little in funding. But the needs exceed the resources.
Wyble, 25, stepped into one of those cracks, pulling her husband, Gerald, with her. A pre-med student at UNO, she works on the Boys Town National Hotline. She also teaches math and science to disadvantaged middle schoolers.
Wyble has made time to assemble good-hearted people to help struggling families create some order in their homes, with hope that it will restore more hope in their lives.
“I might be the face of this, but there are so many people who help,” Wyble said. “It's a total team effort.”