Creating a Haven for Others: Carey Dougherty’s Nonprofit Venture

Submitted by Carolyn Arnold on June 2, 2011

Carey Dougherty, a graduate of Fairfield University’s Interior Design Program, has always been passionate about design. Recently she decided to use her skills and enthusiasm and apply it to the creation of Her Haven, an organization that fulfills both her passion to design and her desire to help others.

Her Haven is a nonprofit organization that performs volunteer design services for deserving and inspiring women in the community. As Dougherty moved forward with the development of it, people at Fairfield University and the surrounding Fairfield and Bridgeport communities were inspired by her vision and stepped forward to help Her Haven develop into a fully realized organization.

For Dougherty, designing a room has always been about creating a clear reflection of a person. “I believe a well-designed room creates a sense of well-being and hopefully inspires people to lead fuller, richer, more productive lives,” she explained.

Her Haven Origins

Dougherty’s first design project took place in 2009, when she partnered with the Greater Bridgeport chapter of Soroptimist International, a national volunteer organization. Dougherty sought donations from local businesses from carpentry to window designs and redesigned the basement storage space for Bridgeport resident Nancy Kingwood, the Director of HIV services at the Greater Bridgeport Adolescent Pregnancy Program.

Upon learning of Dougherty’s successful venture with Kingwood, Rob Hardy, the director of the Interior Design Program at Fairfield (and currently a member of Her Haven’s Board), introduced Dougherty to Joan Grant, a media liaison in the marketing and communications department at Fairfield, who wrote a press release about her first endeavor. Intrigued and supportive of Her Haven, Grant introduced Dougherty to Dr. Catherine Giapponi, associate professor of management at the Dolan School of Business (DSB).

Dr. Giapponi, a strategist well versed in nonprofit organizations, first spoke informally with Dougherty about how she could develop a plan to grow Her Haven. As she learned more from Dougherty and recognized Her Haven’s important contribution to the community, she thought it would be a unique opportunity for students in her “Managing Nonprofit Organizations” class to help Dougherty develop a business plan for Her Haven.

Her Haven Takes to the Classroom

Dr. Giapponi's Class

Carey Dougherty (L) and Dr. Giapponi (second from left) chat with students about their final projects

When Dougherty heard Giapponi’s proposal to structure her class around Her Haven, she immediately saw the benefits for herself and for students who would be able to apply what they learned in class to a developing organization. She immediately agreed to the proposition. “I’m all about win-win situations,” she said.

“Managing Nonprofits Organizations” is a special topics course, which consists of lectures, case studies, guest speaker lectures, and one-on-one work with Dougherty. At the end of the class, student groups presented a complete business plan to Dougherty.

Guest speakers included a range of experts in the business and nonprofit world, including:

Dr. Giapponi noted that both students and Dougherty benefited from the guest speakers. “The beauty of this is that students are learning from professionals in the field while Carey is networking with them.”

In addition to delivering a fully-formed business plan, the course introduces students to careers in nonprofits, although it is not solely for those interested in entering that field. “There are many connections between entrepreneurship and starting your own nonprofit,” Dr. Giapponi explained, “And with entrepreneurship gaining interest around the world, this class gives students the skills to put together a complete plan that could be applied to nonprofits and for profit ventures.”

Because of its wide-ranging opportunities for students in any field of study, the only requirement for the course is that a student be a junior. “I firmly believe in the integration of the core across campus and across schools,” said Dr. Giapponi.

Dougherty’s passion for her venture immediately inspired students taking the course. Sarah Iannarone ’11, a theatre major in the College of Arts and Sciences and a management minor, said she enjoyed having Dougherty in class so they could ask her in-depth questions. Iannarone hopes to work in the theatre upon graduation and noted, “Many theatres are nonprofits, so I thought this class would be helpful to me. It’s been great to learn about the different aspects and what you can and can’t do.”

Dr. Giapponi noted that the response from students has been heartwarming. “They recognize that Her Haven has real importance and value in our community.”

Student Presentations

Students presenting formal business plans to Carey Dougherty at the end of the semester in Dr. Giapponi's Nonprofit Management course.

On May 4, the 3 student groups presented business plans to Dougherty and Dr. Giapponi. Each plan consisted of an executive summary, mission and value statements, structure, market and industry analysis, competitive analysis, fundraising, organization structure, financial plans, and goals and objectives.

Dr. Giapponi remarked that while each group had the same task, they presented a variety of suggestions for a final business plan, creating a rich selection of options for Dougherty to use to develop her own final plan.

Dougherty said that the class had been an amazing experience. When thanking the students for their hard work, she said, “I hope you got a sense of how real [Her Haven] is, and how real this is for me.”

Her Haven’s Foundation: Connections & Faith

Even though the course has ended, Carey’s ties with Fairfield remain strong. Dr. Giapponi, who is a new member of Her Haven’s Board, said, “She wants to stay connected to the school, especially with interior design students, and give them opportunities for design work through her nonprofit. So again we can give our students experience out in the field under her guidance which would be fabulous for everyone.”

Next fall Dougherty will host an event called “Sips and Tips,” where interior design students will present their favorite design tips and displays. “This event will highlight their creativity and give them and the University exposure. Guests will leave with great design ideas for their own homes, and of course it will be a fundraiser for Her Haven,” Dougherty explained.

For Dougherty, Her Haven’s growth has been an incredible journey of discovery and faith. While reflecting on the events leading up to now, Dougherty remembered that Grant, one of the first of many advocates, and a new member of Her Haven’s Board, encouraged her to, “take the leap, and the ground will come up to meet you.” With that in mind, Dougherty said, “Her Haven has been a journey into unknown territory, but I have been amazed that at every turn people and events unfold and appear before me to help me on my way. The ground has come up to meet me, and I hope more and more people will be inspired to take this leap and come aboard as Her Haven continues on her journey.”

Learn more about Her Haven at:

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