CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Since early September, Jerry Ondrias had been staying at the Comea Shelter on Stinson Avenue in Cheyenne. Ondrias is originally from Denver. In Colorado, he was staying with his partner, who began developing dementia.
Over time, as her dementia worsened, she started to abuse Ondrias. He served as her caregiver while they lived together up until she was moved into an assisted living facility. Ondrias was left without a home.
“I didn’t have a bed to sleep in,” Ondrias told Cap City News. “One of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced was becoming homeless.”
He went to the Comea Shelter in Denver, but they would only allow him to stay one night. So he packed whatever he could fit into his car and drove up to Wyoming. He left what he couldn’t in a storage unit.
It wasn’t until recently that Ondrias didn’t have a place of his own. Through organizations like Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County, Cheyenne Housing Authority and Community Action-Laramie County, Ondrias was able to qualify for and afford an apartment at the Dell Range Senior Apartments. But he had no furniture, including a bed to sleep in.
That’s where Cheyenne resident Toni Rae and her team come in. On Monday morning, Rae and her team at her Cheyenne business, Funky Monkey Rescued Treasures, finished moving furniture into Ondrias’ apartment. She furnished the Denver man’s space for free.
For three years, Rae has been operating Funky Monkey Rescued Treasures, a consignment store and nonprofit organization. But just a month ago, she launched a new project she calls Reece’s Homes “Make a House a Home,” where Rae and her employees donate to and decorate the living spaces of community members in need.
As part of the project, Rae supplies furnished items and household belongings to victims of domestic violence, individuals on disability, and single parents who come out of the Comea Shelter. Her project relies on community donations, as well as her personal inventory at Funky Monkey, to decorate and furnish people’s homes.
Rae’s personal experiences inspired her to give back to the community in this way. Rae said she herself is a domestic abuse survivor. In 1996, she fled from her ex-husband in South Dakota and moved to Las Vegas. She relocated with her children and just a suitcase.
“I had nothing,” said Rae, who has been a Cheyenne resident for the past 23 years. She credits a boss she had at the time for helping her out, but she understands domestic abuse victims always don’t have the same support system she had. “That’s what kind of got me started on it. I run a thrift store, and we have this stuff here. And, you know, it will help so many other families.”
Rae and her husband, Lowell Harp, also find furniture and other belongings through Harp’s other business, Monkey Busters, which provides junk removal and cleanout services on foreclosed or evicted homes. If they see a couch or chair in good condition while cleaning a space out, they may keep it.
Ondrias is the second person Rae and her team have donated furniture and home belongings to as part of the Reece’s Homes project, Rae said. In late November, Ondrias went to the Funky Monkey shop on Snyder Avenue and inquired about the Reece’s Home’s project. The Denverite explained his situation. Rae knew she could help.
On Monday, Rae, Harp and their employee at the consignment shop, Desiree Gonzalez, completed their makeover of Ondrias’ living space. It took them several days over the weekend to transport all the furniture up to his third-floor, one-bedroom apartment. They brought Ondrias a bed, a table and chairs, a coffee table, couch, loveseat and kitchenware. A friend of Ondrias’ even assisted, traveling to Denver and back to pick up everything he left behind in a storage unit.
“To have this is a blessing beyond description,” Ondrias said about his fully furnished home on Monday. “Going from having nothing to having a gold mine.”
Rae said going forward, Reece’s Homes will be her main focus. She wants to expand to helping residents in need outside of Cheyenne, such as Laramie.
To donate any belongings to Rae so it can be used in a Reece’s Homes decoration, call the Funky Monkey store at 307-514-0853 or visit it in person at 1620 Snyder Ave. If you can’t transport a belonging such as a piece of furniture to the store yourself, Rae and Harp can pick it up for free.