After months of acquiring easements and necessary permits, work has begun on an abode that this year will become Blount County’s Isaiah 117 House.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Feb. 14, 2020, on the 1-acre Maryville property just off Lamar Alexander Parkway, behind Blount Community Church, which donated the land. Tamara Miller, board president for Isaiah 117 House in Blount County, said after weeks of delay, work started back in September.
“It was around September that we got all of the approvals for easements and utilities,” Miller said. “I think they started putting in the utilities in October.”
Excavation then got underway in November, with the leadership of contractor Lamon & McDaniels. Work has moved pretty steadily since, Miller said. “We now have a framed house under roof. It is looking great.”
Isaiah 117 House founder and Director Ronda Paulson chose the name because of the Bible verse, which reads “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Worst of daysWhen it’s complete, Isaiah 117 will be a safe haven where children and teens who are removed from their homes by the state will be able to stay as they await placement into foster care. The home will include both boys and girls bedrooms with bunk beds, kitchen and bathrooms, living space and outdoor play area as well as an office for a caseworker from the state Department of Children’s Services. Those who reside there will get warm meals, the chance to take showers, read, do homework and play games instead of being forced to stay in the DCS office until a foster family comes forward.
Paulson lives in Carter County, Tennessee, and built the first such house there. She came to understand the need for this service after entering the foster care system herself. Wanting to adopt, she discovered that on these children’s worst days, they were having to spend endless hours in small office rooms as DCS staff sought temporary placement.
Paulson started Isaiah 117 so that wouldn’t have to happen. There already are Isaiah 117 houses in other Tennessee communities, while other states like Florida are looking to build as well. DCS officials have expressed their gratitude for this organization and its supporters.
There is no projection for the completion of the Isaiah 117 House here. Lamon & McDaniel Builders and the subcontractors have donated their services. Construction materials also have been given for the cause. Anderson Lumber has supplied the framing and Anderson Truss the roof trusses. JMG Construction donated its time and resources into framing the house.
With the help of many individuals, businesses and churches, Isaiah 117 House raised $150,000 in this community. That will allow the nonprofit to open the Blount County house debt free with its first year’s budget of $75,000 already raised.
Training volunteersAs the completion date for Blount County’s Isaiah 117 House nears, a next major step will be to train volunteers who will work with the children temporarily staying there, Miller said. She said it will take 40 to 50 volunteers. Qualifications will include being at least 21, passing a background check and becoming DCS certified.
The training will take three hours, and Isaiah 117 House will provide several opportunities to complete it.
When Paulson began this mission, she had no idea how or even if plans would come together and just how many communities would want to come onboard. Miller and Paulson have been best friends for years. They both see this ministry as God’s call to take care of his children.
Miller said their intent in the beginning was not to have Isaiah 117 House in all 50 states, but that just might be God’s plan.
“We would love if no child anywhere had to wait in a conference room or cubicle on the most traumatic day of their lives,” Miller said. She said when Mike Rowe did his show “Returning the Favor” back in March 2020, 35 different states reached out, wanting to bring an Isaiah 117 House to their state.
The organization is intentional about connecting with this community. On the 17th of each month, it shows its appreciation to the DCS caseworkers for their work with children and families. Last month, Maryville Christian School delivered 70 homemade Christmas cards and treats to local caseworkers.
REMAX First Realtors, a second grade glass at Sam Houston Elementary and the Diamonds All-Star Cheerleading Team all have donated items for the house, including blankets, toys, clothing, board games, crayons and coloring books.
REO Cheesewagon organized the Great Smoky Mountains Food Truck Festival held in November and presented Isaiah 117 House with a check for $2,000.
Stretching their wings
Currently, there are four Isaiah 117 Houses in East Tennessee — in Sullivan, Carter, Greene and Washington counties. There are plans for houses in several more, including Knox, Anderson, Bradley, Jefferson, Monroe, Cocke and Sevier. Some Indiana counties also are considering joining in.
The local churches that have come alongside this organization include Foothills Church, The Vineyard, Forest Hills Baptist Church, Oakland Baptist Church, Cedar Point Church and many others.
“It has definitely been a grassroots effort, word of mouth and people learning about this day in the life of a child,” Miller said, adding there are many monthly donors as well as one-time contributors.
The path forward
Isaiah 117 House unofficially took root in Blount County in June 2019 when an expansion team began meeting here. Paulson made her first public presentation to Blount County in early November 2019 to introduce faith leaders to the organization.
It wasn’t long after that Blount Community Church donated the land and Lamon & McDaniel Builders agreed to be the contractor. Fundraising has included selling T-shirts, helping families host lemonade stands and getting Sunday school groups to pledge monthly.
There are also two major fundraisers held annually — the Glow Trot 5K and a golf tournament. Both were held in 2020 despite the pandemic.
Isaiah 117 House Day was held on Jan. 17, with many supporters coming out to the property to pray.
Understandably, with all that’s occurred in 2020, Miller said she is thrilled Isaiah 177 House has come so far. Like most, she didn’t know about the need for a place like this until seeing it through Paulson’s own experience in the foster care world.
“This is a need I’ve only learned about in the past few years,” Miller said. “It has been nothing short of amazing to watch God take this idea from my good friend Ronda in Carter County and grow it to where it is today. I’m humbled to be involved in just a small part of what this organization is doing.