About Us!

Friends In Deed has been around for a while. For over 30 years, we’ve worked to help our neighbors in need by filling in the cracks of assistance offered by other organizations and nonprofits in the community. This means our services have changed over time. These days, we have two program areas:


  • Our Direct Assistance Program helps families prevent utility shut off, repair a car to get to work or medical appointments, obtain a prescription or other one-time medical need and more.
  • Our Furniture Program helps families obtain basic-needs furniture, including beds, kitchen tables and chairs, couches, large appliances, etc.



Friends In Deed evolved from the efforts of Polly Helmke and Libby Hillegonds, who brought together a group of people to study the Love Inc. model back in 1982. With the support of several local congregations, the group eventually pooled their ideas about the services needed by the Washtenaw County community and created Friends In Deed.

Humble Beginnings

The doors opened on June 5th, 1983, with a volunteer staff in donated office space: 64 N. Huron Street in Ypsilanti. While requests for assistance started pouring in almost immediately, the organization didn’t have its first paid position until 1985, when Barbara Beesley accepted a part-time position as Program Director. As the organization grew over the next few years to serve more people, the staff grew as well. In 1988, Helena Prince was hired as a part-time casework manager.

Adaptive Service Programs

Friends In Deed’s mandate has always been to fill in the cracks of service offered by the other organizations and nonprofits in the community, which means Friends In Deed’s services have changed and evolved over the years. For instance, at times during the organization’s history, Friends In Deed offered an appliance repair program and eviction-prevention program. It also offered parenting workshops, new mom’s support groups, financial management training and a car-care clinic.

The late 1990s was the time period during which several services and programs were initiated that continue to this day, including the Car Repair program, Furniture program, How-to-Help Seminar, and Resource Guides publications.

Congregational Support

While the Direct Assistance and Furniture programs continued to grow over the years, so, too, did Friends In Deed’s congregational support. By the early 2000s, Friends In Deed had a network of 47 congregations that supported us financially and with volunteers.

Office and Warehouse Facilities

This growth eventually resulted in the need to consolidate Friends In Deed’s operations and warehouse. A Capital Campaign was created in 2007 with the goal of raising $300,000 to purchase, renovate and equip a building: 1196 Ecorse Road in Ypsilanti. Friends In Deed moved into the facility in December of 2008. Through the generous donations and pledges from the Board of Directors, the Capital Campaign was completed and the mortgage retired in early 2011.

Moving Forward

Helena Prince retired in 2011, and Sarah Thornburg was hired as the new Executive Director. The mission at Friends In Deed continues to adapt to the needs of the community. We look forward to the next 30 years of serving Washtenaw County.


SarahSarah Thornburg is our Executive Director, which means she’s responsible for just about everything at Friends In Deed. She supervises the staff and works with clients and volunteers alike. She also serves as the liaison to our board, generous donors and congregation/business partners.

Sarah took over the Executive-Director reins from Helena Prince, who held the position for many years. Sarah started in April, 2011 after holding increasing positions of responsibility at other non-profit organizations.

Sarah loves that Friends In Deed’s mission allows the organization to change to accommodate the needs in the community. She also loves working with the amazing people – staff, board, volunteers, donors – who are the friends of Friends In Deed.

“These volunteers blow my mind; I’ve never seen people with their level of commitment.”

Personally, Sarah’s “claim to fame” is her grandson, Morgan.

Care and Feeding of our Executive Director:

Ask to see a picture of Morgan, her grandson.

Lora 4Lora Elwart is our Director of Operations. She is also our Furniture Coordinator, which means she supervises the furniture line and a host of volunteers. She also coordinates warehouse appointments, truck routes and all other aspects of furniture delivery and pick up.

“I do everything!” Lora jokes.

We found Lora when we reached out to our partner congregations with information about the position, and Lora has been going strong in the position for nine years!

Lora, of course, loves the friendly, beautiful staff at Friends In Deed; but she especially likes the freedom she has to look at requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Lora has a “wonderful husband, three kids and one crazy dog.”

Care and Feeding of our Furniture Coordinator:

If you plan to get on her nerves, your best bet is to ply her with Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Raspberry.

LaurieLaurie Sternberg is our Director of Communications & Development, which means she handles most of the communication for the organization, including grant writing and this website! She also posts information on social media, reaches out to get new volunteers, writes the newsletter and works on the Annual Dinner & Silent Auction and Golf Outing.

Laurie came to Friends In Deed in 2013, after working on the Help Line for several years. While Laurie’s background is in law and journalism, she finds she utilizes both skills in persuasive grant writing and writing client profiles. She also likes the variety of people she works with on a day-to-day basis, as well as the variety of tasks that make up her job.

Laurie likes that Friends In Deed focuses on helping people overcome those obstacles that would otherwise result in catastrophe: an unexpected car repair, falling short on a DTE payment, etc.

“It continually amazes me how little assistance it takes to keep people on track.”

Laurie has a husband, three kids, and two dogs.

Care and Feeding of our Program Manager:

Talk Movies and TV. Laurie and her family love watching movies and binge watching TV; so challenge her to name names. Can’t remember who starred in a movie? Check out LMDB (Laurie Movie Database). Her head is stuffed (some say to overflowing) with TV and movie trivia.

JaneJane Slider is our office manager.

Rhonda Wright is our Caseworker, which means she supervises volunteers on the helpline, talks with clients, and makes decisions about what form our assistance will take.

From Volunteer to Caseworker: Rhonda comes to us after volunteering on our Help Line for two years. “I get to see more of the finished product as the caseworker,” Rhonda muses. Rather than screen clients, now she gets to be the person who actually writes the checks that help families in need. Pretty soon, she’ll get to her first donated car to a low-income family. “That will feel good.”

Rhonda has always worked with the public, whether it be in retail, food service or, like her most recent job at Manpower in Ann Arbor, staffing. Rhonda feels that her experience helps her read people and thinks it will help her in her new caseworker role.

“In the past I’ve helped people get employment. At Friends In Deed, I help people survive [an emergency situation or financial crisis]. I love what we do. I love helping people and the rewarding feeling that comes with it.”

Personal: Rhonda has two children: six-year-old Kobe and 21-year-old Isaiah. They keep her very busy. Kobe, especially, keeps her very active at places like Chuck E. Cheese and water-sprinkler parks. When she gets some “me” time, she likes to go to movies, bowl, play online poker and watch football and basketball.

Care and feeding of our Caseworker: Rhonda admits she has a weakness for doughnuts and coffee from Tim Horton’s. It also doesn’t hurt to scream “Go Bucks!”

Suzanne Van Dam is our Circles Coordinator, which means she will look outward into the community to find and train allies, develop resource teams, and raise funds.

Suzanne has a Master’s in English from the University of Illinois and has over 20 years of teaching, communications, and program development.

From Yooper to Ypsi: Suzanne is not only new to Friends In Deed, she’s new to the area. She hails from Houghton in the U.P., where she was very active implementing her community’s first AmeriCorps program and the first county-wide recycling program.

Friends In Deed and Circles: Suzanne loves the idea of helping people directly. While she appreciates Friends In Deed’s programs that provide emergency assistance and keep people on their feet, she is glad to have the opportunity through the new Circles program to empower them in the long term.

“Everyone wants to be independent, whether it be financially or emotionally.”

Personal: Suzanne has two adult daughters living in the area. One of her daughters is attending U-M law school, while the other is working for FoodCorps in Detroit. She also has a pooch named Freida.

Care and feeding of our Circles Coordinator: Ply her with coffee and chocolate. You can also compliment Freida on her manners (especially when the dog is challenged by bullying brown squirrels).

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Bonita Bingham, our new Circles Coach. Bonita will be the person who works with the Circle Leaders and volunteer Allies.

Background: Bonita originally hails from Grand Rapids. After completing her Bachelor’s degree at University of Michigan, she returned to Grand Rapids to teach for 10 years. After going back to U-M to obtain her Master’s in Urban Planning, she worked for Genesee County, where she developed her interest in community development.

That interest helped guide her in her career choices thereafter. For instance, she worked as a fidelity manager for the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, where she gave support to its programs in Michigan and Ohio. The Carrera Program is a long-term youth development program and views youth at-promise rather than at-risk. In addition to preventing pregnancy, the program included components in education, job skills, creative expression, lifetime sports, family life, mental health and medical & dental.

Friends In Deed and Circles: One of the reasons Friends In Deed’s Circles program appealed to Bonita was because it “connects the dots for people to enhance their quality of life.”

Personal: “I like to dabble in a lot of stuff,” Bonita says of her personal hobbies. That being said, she really likes family genealogy research.

While Bonita is obviously interested in her family’s past, she’s managed to make a big contribution to its future. Her four children have given her 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren!

Care and feeding of our Circles Coach: Ask her about the last book she read (and ply her with milk chocolate if you want to sit a spell and discuss it).
Board of Directors

There are many, many people who help Friends In Deed (FID) help those in need, not the least of which are our generous donors and volunteers. That being said, there a several people responsible for FID’s continued operation and future direction. The people who make up the Board of Directors of Friends In Deed donate their time, resources and expertise to the organization.

  • Kenneth Timmer (President)
  • Robert Thompson (Vice President)
  • William Dahms (Treasurer)
  • David Tumbarello (Secretary)
  • Jo Ella Coles
  • Alexandra Dieck
  • Frank Frierson
  • Tom Humphreys
  • Terrence Joiner
  • Emily Kennedy
  • Mary Beth Lampe
  • William Mahler
  • Ken Nemerovski
  • Stephen Stewart
  • Anna Zinkel

Contact Information & Map

Our offices are located at:

Friends In Deed
1196 Ecorse Road
Ypsilanti, MI. 48198

Help Line: (734) 484-4357
Furniture Line: (734) 484-7607
Administrative Line: (734) 485-7658

Email: Office@FriendsInDeedMI.org

Friends In Deed

Office Hours

The office is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 to 2:30 PM for document and furniture drop off. Please call ahead (734-485-7658) if you are planning to come by after 2:30 PM to make sure someone will be in the office.
The Help Line (734-484-4357) is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 AM to Noon.
The Furniture Line (734-484-7607) is open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 AM to Noon.
The administrative line (734-485-7658) is open Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 2:30 PM.

Mission Statement

Friends in Deed is an interfaith organization that responds to unmet needs of low-income Washtenaw County residents. We partner with the community to provide critical financial assistance, furniture, congregational services and agency referrals.

Tax Return/990

IRS Determination: 501(c)(3)