If a man needs a drink of water, offer him one; if a child lacks a clean set of clothes, do your part to provide.
For Maryville’s Tatum Richmond, who turned 6 on Friday, that’s what all of us are called to do. It’s helping your neighbor, sharing our bounty, doing the right thing.
On Thursday, the first-grader at Prospect Elementary School was the center of attention at her birthday party held in downtown Maryville at the Capitol Theatre. There was pizza and cake and lots of hugs and well-wishes. But when it came time for gift giving, Tatum turned the focus on others.
She encouraged all of her party attendees to donate to either of her two favorite charities — Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels and Isaiah 117 House. They obliged.
Tatum’s teacher attended the Thursday festivities. Elizabeth West described Tatum as very observant and someone who notices things that need to be done before anyone else.
“When someone is struggling, she is first one to offer help. She is just precious,” her teacher said.
Tatum is the youngest in the class and mature beyond her years, West said. “She is everyone’s friend.”
Mom Roben Richmond said this all started when she and Tatum visited the Capitol as they were looking it over for an event Roben was doing. She is the owner of Tickled Orange Photo Booth. Upon seeing the interior of the decades-old, remodeled theater, Tatum’s eyes got big. “I could almost live there,” the 6-year-old said.
So Roben went home to see if she could possibly pull off a memorable birthday party for her daughter. In the middle of all of that planning, she said she got the idea to not just have an event about Tatum, but one that her daughter could orchestrate for a good cause.
Wise beyond her years
“I am always sharing things with Tatum,” Roben explained. “I have always taken her with me to volunteer. One of those places is the Blount County Foster Parent Association. Tatum has done a lot of work with me for that.”
As a former employee of Child Protective Services, Roben has seen firsthand the challenges children face who are taken into state custody and placed in foster care. She said there is no place for them to even take a shower or disconnect while they wait for placement. The DHS office has been the only place.
Isaiah 117 House would change that. Rhonda Paulson founded Isaiah 117 House in Carter County after signing her family up to be a foster family. She saw the need for a safe environment for children brought into state custody who were in limbo. Many had to wait in a sterile office environment with nothing familiar around them.
The name for the nonprofit originates from Isaiah 1:17 in the Bible, which states, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Roben recalls one case she worked in a neighboring county where six siblings were removed from a home. They had been locked in a room with a bucket as their bathroom, by their mother. These six children were shipped to a stranger’s house to be cleaned up and fed, two at a time, because they had nowhere to go. Isaiah 117 House would have been a much better option, Roben said.
The Isaiah 117 House is equipped with bedrooms for boys and girls, volunteer staff and necessities like personal care products, blankets, clean clothes and toys. There are now Isiah 117 Houses in Carter, Greene, Washington and Sullivan counties. Bradley, Blount, Cocke, Coffee and Rutherford counties have all formed expansion commitees and are fundraising for the next Isaiah 117 Houses.
Work begins here in Blount
Tamara Miller of Isaiah 117 came to this birthday/fundraising event. She said there are 15 counties looking to open Isaiah 117 Houses, including Blount. She is a friend of the nonprofit’s founder. Miller is working here to raise awareness and also funds. She said that Tatum would use her birhday to further this cause is such a giving act.
Tatum said she had invited her entire first grade class at Prospect Elementary School to attend her party along with family and friends. She said no one had to donate anything. She just wanted to turn her party into something where people could help others in need.
The Richmonds’ neighbor was at the party, too. Nichole Smith said she has known Roben since before Tatum was born. Smith said her recollections are of this huge head of hair Tatum had as an infant.
“She was the happiest baby alive,” Smith said. “She is still the sweetest soul.”
The first grader said she chose Meals on Wheels because the organization serves the elderly. Some senior citizens can’t afford to buy food or can’t get out of the house to do their shopping, Meals on Wheels brings the hot meals to them.
In addition, there is Animeals on Wheels, which provides food for pets. Both programs are run by Blount County Community Action Agency. Donations at the party can go for both.
Tatum chose Isaiah 117 House after having conversations with her mom about the children who have been removed from their homes. Every child should have basic needs met and feel safe, she said.
This family will also be volunteering to deliver meals at Thanksgiving for Meals on Wheels.
At her party, Tatum was to take the stage to share her desire for making a difference for these two nonprofits and to encourage others.
The right focus
And while her name was on the marquis that night, Tatum and her family want this community to know they didn’t share this story to glorify Tatum. Roben said she intended to show Blount County there are so many resources that help people. These nonprofits need support, she said.
“Tatum understands these things,” Roben said. “I don’t know how many 5 or 6 year olds understand a conversation about state custody. We have these conversations. There are children out there who are less fortunate. I want my girls to understand that. There are things we can do to contribute. Maybe we can’t fix things but we can contribute.”
On a recent hot and humid Saturday, Tatum and her mom set up a homemade lemonade stand on West Lamar Alexander Parkway near the courthouse. They were providing free lemonade and spreading the word about Isaiah 117 House.
That’s the message — that there are so many great organizations here that could use our help, Roben said. She has come into contact with scores of people with the launch of her business and membership in the Blount County Chamber of Commerce.
When she launched Tickled Orange Photo Booth, Roben said she envisioned working at lots of weddings and similar events. Instead, her main business has been for nonprofits. She sees the reason why — so she can get connected with others who have the passion to serve.
In the days before the party took place, mom and daughter talked about this opportunity to serve their community. Their advice is this: Don’t ever stop looking for ways to do good for others.
“What I have learned about Blount County is there is determination, there is willingness and there are open arms,” Roben said. “This county can do a lot of things.”