Raleigh to the Rescue

By Mark Brunetz, National Spokesperson, DFAD

“The measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” – Mahatma Ghandi

For those who have visited Raleigh, North Carolina, it’s easy to see why this year’s U.S. News & World Report’s list on The Best Places to Live ranks the Raleigh and Durham area as No. 2, sitting second to only to Boulder, Colorado. And while I don’t personally refer to Raleigh as my home, it certainly became that when my family relocated there from Cleveland, Ohio, back in 1976. And since then, they have all remained in the area.

Back in 2019, when Betty Eatman Nelson of Eatmans Carpets & Interiors located in Raleigh announced that a DFAD project was in the works I was thrilled. Not only to return the state to see my family, but to be a part of bringing the power of DFAD to this city on the rise. It would be a very personal and special milestone and certainly one for the DFAD books.

Meeting Betty for the first time was like meeting her Mom, Gay Eatman, a well-respected, gracious, and lovely interior designer, who together with her husband, Woody, and daughter Betty, continue to carry on the legacy of Woody’s father, Bill Eatman. Bill originally opened Eatmans Carpets in downtown Raleigh in 1957. Together, they have built a third-generation business with an enduring and impressive presence in the local design scene. It’s only fitting those close-knit relatives who truly understand the importance of family and the home, were able to see that despite Raleigh being a highly desirable place to live, it wasn’t necessarily a similar experience for many of its locals.

Spearheaded by Betty Eatman, DFAD Raleigh set out to transform eight individual spaces in the children’s wing at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization with a cause that was near and dear to Betty’s heart. In fact, she had volunteered much of her time in the past at a local women’s shelter, subsequently becoming friends with many women who suffer from homelessness.

With over 6,000 individuals seeking homeless services in the Raleigh and Wake County area, 70% of those are considered homeless due to a recent situation in their lives. Many have experienced trauma, domestic violence, family tragedy, job loss, addiction, or health issues. Raleigh Rescue Mission provides essential services to over 500 families per year.

The hope was that the uplifting effects of DFAD would be a dose of dignity and respect, a well-designed, safe haven, not only for the clients who receive services from the Raleigh Rescue Mission, but also for the staff who work tirelessly to assist the clients in making sustainable changes. With years of experience helping customers at Eatmans Carpets & Interiors create the homes of their dreams, the Eatman family set their sights on those who needed it most.

Rallying the expertise of fifteen local designers including a special partnership with Charlotta Sjoelin of A Lotta Love, together with over 45 contractors, manufacturers, community and family members and close friends, much-needed time and resources were donated to this makeover project. Coupled with the unparalleled support of two-time Emmy Award winning journalist and former news anchor, Sloane Heffernan, the entire project was filmed pro bono and later featured on WRAL-TV. The heartfelt project was a confluence of passion, contribution, love, and talent – a true recipe for success.

For Betty, it was about that and so much more…

“It has given me a sense of feeling, first, that I’m so blessed. And, that I don’t need to take anything for granted. It makes me want to teach my child that we need give back, and that this could be us. There’s nothing different between myself and my daughter than any one of these mothers and their children… a brand-new space is going to make them feel like they can achieve anything.”

Thanks to the kindness and grace of Betty, her family, and everyone who made DFAD Raleigh such a superlative success, I have no doubt the City of Oaks will remain high on The Best Places to Live list for many years to come. And while I was able to return home to be a part of this magnificent endeavor, sharing the big reveal at the charity with my family and a handful of friends from high school, many of whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years, this DFAD project was a highlight in my role as National Spokesperson for the movement.

It’s no accident that initiatives like Design For A Difference set out to remind us, that home really is where the heart is. And DFAD Raleigh did just that.

About Mark Brunetz

Mark Brunetz is the National Spokesperson for Design for a Difference.

He is a well-known interior designer who is dedicated and passionate about not only creating stunning designs that suit his client’s needs, but also giving back to the community.