“Now I can have a playdate every day!”
These words were uttered by a little girl some months ago when she and her sister set eyes on their brand-new living space, courtesy of Dwell with Dignity. A drastic change from her former living conditions, which included little more than a mattress on the floor, the new quarters came complete with a playroom and designer touches from Dwell with Dignity founder Lisa Robison, 46, who has dedicated her interior design prowess to worthy causes since 2009.
Her organization, which she runs with fellow designer Kim Turner, not only helps put families back on their feet but also inspires them to keep striving for a better future. “There’s so much about your home environment that can form your life,” says Lisa.
Working with a variety of generous vendors and suppliers, Dwell with Dignity uses donated or cheaply acquired furniture and home accessories to set up “dwellers” from ceiling to floor.
Families are chosen from places such as Interfaith Housing Coalition and nominated based on their determination to move forward.
“We team up with about 12 different agencies in Dallas [that have] programs to help move families out of homelessness and into self-sufficiency,” Lisa explains.
Establishing a successful nonprofit in such a short period of time is impressive. But add the fact that prior to founding Dwell with Dignity, the Dallas resident was actually on a decade-long career hiatus so she could raise her children, and Lisa’s story becomes even more remarkable.
As an interior designer, Lisa stayed busy. But when she had her daughter Zoe, now 16, she realized that maintaining her roster of high-profile clients would be at odds with the schedule (or lack thereof) of taking care of a baby. By the time she had her son Zac, 11, Lisa began mulling over the idea that would eventually become Dwell with Dignity.
“Oftentimes, people who can least afford good design are those who can benefit most from it,” she shares. Her vision for Dwell with Dignity came into focus after taking a bit of advice from an Oprah Winfrey book (“A bit corny,” she quips) to heart: Find what it is that you’re passionate about, what makes your heart beat fast and what you’re good at, and figure out how you can factor that into giving back to your community.
With a generous “nest egg” from her husband of 20 years, Doug Robison, CEO of DSI Systems, Inc., Lisa was able to start her organization.
As a working mom, balancing work and home has always been the conundrum. How do you manage? I try not to compare myself to other moms too much. We all have struggles maintaining our sanity, whether we work full time or stay at home with our kiddos. Luckily, I’ve been able to experience both (and neither one is easy … and both are very rewarding). The past five years of working have made me more sensitive to the challenges we, as mothers, face in trying to balance our lives. I rely on my husband a lot. We work as a team and pick up each other’s slack when we need to. Learning to let my husband help (and not feeling like I had to do it all) was an eye-opening experience for both of us. Saying yes to help with cooking, cleaning and picking up the kids has given me a sense of relief and allowed me to spend quality time with my kids that isn’t frenzied.
What are your work hours like? When I first started [Dwell with Dignity], I was working way too many hours. Now, I have such an amazing team and I have learned to set boundaries that make family my priority. Sometimes, by the time we all get home from sports practices and work, it is pretty late, but we make having dinner together a priority. Family dinner is my favorite part of the day!
How do you spend your weekends? It depends on the time of year. This past summer, we decided to build a lake house, so we spent a lot of time on the lake. We spend a lot of time attending the kids’ sporting events. Between the two of them, they play soccer, football and basketball. We also love watching movies, going to Cowboys games in the fall and playing cards together.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what do you think you’d be doing instead? I can’t imagine doing anything else. I really have the best job ever. I get to be creative, work with the most positive people and give back to my community at the same time. If I had to do something else, it would probably involve travel. [There’s a TV show called Man Shops Globe] where the buyer for Anthropologie travels around the world and discovers incredible one-of-a-kind decorative items and furniture and meets the creatives behind all of the products. I would love to do that, but I’d have to pack my family in the suitcase and take them with me!
Can you share one of your more challenging experiences as a mother? Balancing work and home life is challenging! I keep working at being easier on myself and being in the moment when I am home with my family. I think it is so funny when people say they think I have it all together … if they only knew what was going on inside sometimes.
How do your children feel about Mom’s job? I think my kids are proud of what I do. I think they realize how fortunate they are when we talk about the families we help through Dwell with Dignity. I hope they are inspired to give back to the world in whatever way feels best for them personally. Being passionate about what you do is a gift. Being able to do what you love to do and give back is amazing and humbling. It makes you more thankful for being born into the life we were born into.