Transforming Homes, Transforming Lives

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By Colleen Kilday

Though a homeless mother and daughter had found a living space, they still had a problem – they had no furniture or means to acquire any.

Their homeless shelter contacted a church to see if they could help, and Danielle Woodhouse Johnson, who volunteered on the outreach team, immediately realized she could make a difference beyond simply furnishing their home. With a background in case management for social services, as well as home staging, Johnson decided to leverage her combined expertise to create a space that inspired hope.

The result was highly successful. When it came time for the big reveal, the mother and daughter duo broke down in tears.

“It was just an emotional experience that I had never had before. I knew at that point that this is what I want to do with my life,” Johnson said.

This led to her creation of The Oasis Alliance, a Woodbridge-based nonprofit organization that transforms trauma survivors’ living spaces into homes. Many people who suffer trauma get stuck in “survival mode,” Johnson explained in an Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity talk, but an intentionally-designed home can evoke positive emotions that accelerate their overall growth and recovery.

To date, the organization has redesigned upwards of 60 rooms for clients who have suffered from traumatic experiences such as homelessness, abuse and cancer. They have also recently aided in the renovation of two women’s homes, including Bethany House and Friends of Guest House.

In planning a design, Johnson first draws on her case management experience to sensitively discuss the client’s trauma or situation. This information guides the basics of the design, such as changing furniture, layouts or other aspects that may trigger memories of traumatic events.

Next, she incorporates their personality, like favorite colors, hobbies and interests. Here, the attention is in the details.

“If we have a person who loves to make jewelry, we’ll create a little jewelry-making station and even buy a couple books about jewelry making and put them on the nightstand,” she said.

The organization’s clientele, referred from third-party agencies such as shelters, child advocacy centers, and other community organizations, are typically already undergoing counseling and other services in pursuit of recovery. For many, The Oasis Alliance provides brightness in the midst of an oftentimes dark journey. In fact, 100 percent of clients described feeling “more hopeful for their future” in follow-up surveys.

While the Oasis Alliance primarily utilizes local resources through partnerships in the community, they have recently attracted attention on a national scale that has fostered their growth. The organization was featured in a “Hyundai Journeys” commercial as part of a series that showcases how Hyundai owners serve their community.

The collaboration was sparked by a letter Johnson sent to the company, expressing her gratitude for her car that enabled her to serve her community through loading and transporting furniture to clients’ homes. To her surprise, the company wrote back and invited her to participate in their campaign shot by renowned celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz – an experience Johnson described as surreal. But the surrealness didn’t end there.

A few weeks ago, Johnson was contacted unexpectedly by representatives for screenwriter and television producer Mara Brock Akil, known for shows such as Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane, who wanted to make a generous donation.

“Her donation will help us get some breathing room…to not always be concerned about how we will afford the next install,” said Johnson.

She envisions the organization expanding further into an “alliance” of designers and furniture providers that can serve families impacted by trauma all across the nation – and for that, she needs the community’s help.

To support, please consider applying for a new executive board position, signing up to volunteer at an installation, picking up or dropping off furniture with your personal truck, organizing the storage unit or donating. The average cost of an install is $2,500 and one month of furniture storage costs $550. Visit to learn more.

Colleen Kilday is a contributing writer for Prince William Living.


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