For people struggling with homelessness, addiction, and poverty, finding meaningful work can be a huge barrier to getting their lives in order and back on a productive track, especially for those just released from prison.

But Indianapolis-based Purposeful Design has made it a mission to help by giving them training, skills, and a second chance. The nonprofit hires and trains downtrodden Hoosiers to make hand-crafted custom furniture.

“We target men who have been through incarceration, homelessness, addiction, broken relationship and who are ready to try and give life another shot,” said David Palmer, executive director for Purposeful Design. “We try to build strength into people who have really found themselves in a pretty weakened spot.”

Six years ago, Jesse Slaugh says he was homeless, an alcoholic, and had served time. But then, he met Palmer who put Slaugh on the training track and gave him direction.

“All I knew how to do is read a tape measure. I didn’t know how to build anything,” said Slaugh.

But that would soon change. Since working at the woodshop, Slaugh says he has completely changed his life around. He’s gotten married and had a son.

“I am no longer an alcoholic. I am no longer a drug addict. I’ve got myself a wife that makes sure that I am straight and narrow and doing what I’m supposed to be doing in life because I’m not just living for me anymore, but I’m living for her and my son,” said Slaugh.

The organization, which opened in 2013, sells the furniture to businesses and schools to create a revenue stream to fund the jobs. Some of its clients include some of the biggest names in Indiana business, including Eli Lilly & Co., Indianapolis International Airport, and Salesforce.

“There’s lots of our Purposeful Design furniture in the Salesforce tower,” said Palmer. “There was once a businessman up in the tower admiring the furniture, and he knew where it comes from and who made it and he said this, ’Isn’t it amazing that the beautiful furniture in this tower was made by men who used to be homeless in front of the tower.’”

Palmer says for the workers to be successful, they must learn discipline and embrace responsibilities, like showing up on time and bringing the right attitude to the shop.

Skills and a focus that 24-year-old Jameel Hamid has now found.

“It’s amazing. Best thing that happened to me since I moved down to Indiana for sure. And I’m just trying to get my life started on the right track,” said Hamid.


On this week’s edition of Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Around INdiana reporter Mary-Rachel heads to the tiny town of Brookville. She’ll explore the Valley House, an architectural gem built nine years before the Civil War. It was once Indiana’s longest-running hotel until it was abandoned and stood vacant for 35 years. But see how it looks after a $12 million restoration.