Ideally childhood is a time for learning, growing and playing in a safe environment where the child is nurtured and feels “loved.” Sadly, for some children, that is not their reality. Dire circumstances can lead to the sudden removal of children from their homes due to concerns for their safety and welfare by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). They will be placed in a better situation with a foster family, either temporarily or for an extended time period. Some may eventually be adopted.
Ronda Paulson always knew that she felt God calling her to adopt a child. Working as a teacher had inspired her even more. So, in 2014, she signed she and her husband up for an 8-week course about adoption through the foster care system. During this training she learned all about the program and these special kids and how they are placed, but wondered, “Where do these kids go before being placed in a foster home?” Her question was answered while visiting a DCS office.
Removed suddenly and sometimes from sad or dangerous circumstances, these kids are naturally frightened, sleepy, hungry, perhaps filthy and usually have no belongings with them. Often looking sad, frail, lost and wounded, they are taken from the only home they may have ever known to… the DCS office. Then they wait hours and sometimes days with a caring busy DCS worker while a foster home is found. DCS workers do their best to accommodate these kids, but realistically an office is just not ideal without a kitchen, bathtub, playground, toys, pillows or even a bed. After finding this out, Ronda Paulson knew God was calling on her to help make this situation better for these kids.
Just a few months later she and her husband Corey were asked to foster Isaiah, a sweet 9-month-old boy and on Nov. 17, 2018, the family adopted him. Inspired by Isaiah and from a verse from the Bible Isaiah 1:17, “Defend the cause of the fatherless,” the concept of a “home” where these special kids could be cared for and feel loved during this transitional time came to Ronda.
“Kids have rights too. They cannot help what has happened to them and in their homes. They deserve to be able to be clean and fed, taken care of, listened to and loved on.” Thus, Isaiah117 House was born.
Ronda established the 501(c)(3) non-profit Isaiah 117 House on Jan. 17, 2017. The first official meeting was held a month later. On social media, Isaiah 117 House went viral. Ronda reached out to churches about the need and fundraising began. Over $30,000 was raised selling T-shirts saying, “love, you’re not alone” with the Isaiah 117 House logo on the back. Kids set up lemonade stands to raise another $7,000. Then on Sept. 30, 2017, the first Isaiah 117 House was purchased in Carter County, Tennessee.
The home needed major renovations, but miraculously good things began to happen. Mitch Cox Construction agreed to renovate the home completely if someone could do the demo work. So, 23 firefighters from Elizabethton volunteered to do that with the only stipulation being they could completely design a boys’ room in the house in a firefighter theme, which they did. Keller Williams Realty completely landscaped and fenced the yard adding a playground and creating a perfect place for kids to play. Then Cannon’s Furniture in Elizabethton donated all of the furniture for the home. All the while, Ronda Paulson was saying, “God Wants This.”
On June 19, 2018, the first Isaiah 117 House opened its doors. The beautiful open-concept, completely-stocked home is always ready to make sure these kids get fed, are able to take a bath or shower, play outside or inside, rest in a bed, have someone to talk to or just listen if needed during this scary time. Additionally, Isaiah117 House provides the kids with new underwear, pajamas, school supplies and other immediate needs. The house is staffed by a full-time coordinator helped by registered and vetted volunteers. DCS workers stay at the home with the children until a foster home is found.
To date, the first Isaiah 117 House has accommodated over 85 children, but they want to serve many more. Sadly, the number of children having to be removed from homes is increasing due to various factors including the drug epidemic, parent death or confinement, as well as investigations into abuse and neglect.
Hundreds of children in the Tri-Cities can benefit from Isaiah 117 House so new homes are in the works. Fundraising has already begun for an Isaiah 117 House in Sullivan County, and a home or land site to build a home is currently being sought.
Ronda Paulson’s concept of Isaiah 117 House is growing regionally and nationally with future locations besides Sullivan County being planned in Greene, Bradley and Rutherford counties in Tennessee and Evansville, Indiana. Ronda just returned from “Child Advocacy Days” in Nashville where she was able to present the Isaiah 117 House program to the state legislature and Governor Bill Lee.
For more information on how to contribute to Isaiah117 House, visit www.isaiah117house.com or www.facebook.com/isaiah117house. You can also email Ronda at [email protected] to schedule a presentation.