Today’s Open House was two years in the making. After a call from Hal Cato, the former CEO of Oasis Center, informing me that their former transitional living house in Berry Hill was for sale, he wanted to know if Safe Haven would be interested in purchasing the property. After several weeks of discussion and vetting of options, we decided to seek out funding through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. Requiring a match, we invited The Joe C. Davis Foundation to consider funding this project and then we also invited another donor with the Nehemiah Project to complete this purchase in a great neighborhood that would provide two families at a time a transitional living opportunity. Within a matter of months, our funding came through including another grant to help us with renovations, operations, and services to families.
After enormous amounts of paperwork (ongoing project!), budgets, filings, deadlines, bids for construction, volunteer support, the sprawling ranch house that was once a part of Oasis Center’s Transitional Living Program that housed homeless youth for many years was transformed into a residential duplex. Our goals for transitional housing are to provide additional time and support beyond shelter for homeless families with many barriers (usually debt, needing additional job skills and training, etc.) yet are highly motivated to succeed and are forging their own path toward independence.
With décor lovingly provided by Kirkland’s, our duplexes were transformed into a home. Two homes. One for Latoya; the other for Kierra. Two single-mother families with stories that will break your heart open and then heal it again. Families that are paying it forward.
Today’s Open House allowed community supporters, board members, donors, volunteers, friends, and staff to celebrate the possibilities this house affords – but more importantly – the possibilities of these two families and all the families that will come after. Today we heard a beautiful prayer of dedication from Reverend Trey Flowers, we had the opportunity to thank our sponsors and let them see what their generosity has given, we heard from Kierra, and we read a letter from Latoya (she was at her GED class). We also heard from Jonna – a staff member at Oasis Center that resided in the home over 25 years ago when their transitional living program began. Jonna lived here with her husband, and she told the story, with tears in her eyes, and soon our own, about while living there, lost their first child who was stillborn and planted a tree in her honor.
The tree has since been cut down – it is now a stump in the front yard. Jonna’s story gave the day a power that connected this home’s past with its present — and its future. A home that gives and loves; nurtures and heals. This story surprised us all. It was an unexpected gift. We knew we had done the right thing by making the effort of claiming this home for Safe Haven’s mission and continuing its story and its role in serving others in need.
After the lovely speeches and testimonies, the prayer of dedication, the ribbon cutting, the cookies and punch, the fellowship, Kierra’s two young children were happily playing near the stump – in their own yard. Their mother told them about Jonna’s story — and the children replied that the little girl was there in the yard by the stump. She was playing with them.
Our spirits and mission were renewed today. This home (now two homes) has a history upon which we build our new stories of hope and give two more families a place to call home.
Joyce Lavery is the executive director and CEO of Safe Haven Family Shelter.