KINGSPORT - Julie Short is ecstatic that those late-night phone calls from the police have ceased - at least for now.
But the president and chief operating officer of Girls Inc. is a little hesitant to be too optimistic considering the amount of damage and money the organization has had to spend in the past six months to repair and clean up the mess left behind by vandals.
Thousands of dollars in property damage had Short contemplating scaling back Girls Inc. services. But now, Kingsport interim Police Chief Gale Osborne and Short have "opened avenues of communication," and a stronger police presence is the result at 1100 Girls Place.
"Of course, we can't discuss some of the things that Chief Osborne and his officers have done, but I can tell you that the work that they have done is paying off," Short said.
"There is an increased awareness to our needs, and just before the vandalism was about to take us out, Chief Osborne came forward, and we sat down to discuss some issues. Everything was done professionally, and he really understood us.
"I hope that people in the city realize how much compassion Chief Osborne has about the groups and people of Kingsport, because he has certainly shown us with the work his department is doing."
Besides receiving calls of assistance and encouragement after the incidents were reported in the Times-News, Short was surprised by a few calls that voiced the complete opposite.
"They said things like ‘What did you expect?' and ‘It's because of the neighborhood you're in.' Those things caught me by surprise," she said.
The organization's office is located near public housing apartments, an alleged "hot spot" for illegal activities, but Short is adamant about Girls Inc. staying in that neighborhood.
"We have to be in this neighborhood because this is where we are needed. You can't turn your back on many because of the acts of a few," Short said.
"We serve over 100 kids every day, and yes, things were getting rough because when things like our passenger vans are being vandalized, that takes money away from what we can do with the kids. Instead of complaining about what neighborhood we were in, some people decided to be responsible and help us with our needs."
Those budget shortfalls are still continuing because of ongoing repairs from the months of damage.
Vandals spray painted furniture, destroyed equipment, built a fire inside an activity bus, turned an outdoor clubhouse into a toilet, broke windows, pried open doors, destroyed a riding lawnmower, and flooded bathrooms.
Short estimates that it takes an estimated $3,300 per girl to make sure each child who comes to Girls Inc. is met with funds to fill needs for trips, supplies and other things.
"We've had various church groups take up offerings for us during revivals, and other churches donate things like furniture and kitchen items. It has been a blessing to us," she said.
The organization is still searching for funding to help with a new security system to better protect the building at night, along with the added police presence.
Anyone interested in making a contribution can send it to: Girls Inc. of Kingsport; P.O. Box 981; Kingsport, TN 37662.