By J.H. OSBORNE
BRISTOL, Tenn. — In August 2020, Isaiah 117 House cut the ribbon to open its newest location in Sullivan County.
The nonprofit organization provides homes that care for and support children while they transition from the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) into the care of foster families.
The new home, constructed on land donated by Discovery Church and located next to the church on Bethel Drive, offers a girls bedroom, a boys bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, kitchen and living room, along with office and storage space.
The region’s first Isaiah 117 House was founded in 2018 in Elizabethton and serves children from Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties.
A second house opened in September 2019. Ground was broken for the location opened on Wednesday at the end of that month, and a home opened in Greene County later last year.
The new home here makes five because there’s an Isaiah 117 House in Vanderburgh County, Indiana.
Children who are placed with DCS remain in the care of state workers, and sometimes reside in state facilities, while they await the availability of a foster home. During this time, which can be disorienting and challenging for children, Isaiah 117 Houses offer a friendly, safe environment; emotional and physical support; and needed supplies, such as clothing and hygiene products.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols took part in the ribbon cutting.
“Our children are going to have it made here,” Nichols said, noting 8,107 children were in the foster care system in Tennessee as of Wednesday morning. “In Sullivan County, 237 children need you. And, boy, have you come through in a big way.”
Nichols, after touring the new home, described it as “amazing” and “beautiful.”
She said she couldn’t help but think of a child the Department of Children’s Services recently was having a hard time placing in a home. It wasn’t in Sullivan County, but it was in an area serviced by Isaiah 117 House — and that made all the difference.
“Isaiah 117 House stepped up,” Nichols said. “When I got that call, I shed tears of joy. We’d tried to place that child with the thousands of families in that county.”
“Jeff Begley made this happen,” Isaiah 117 House founder and Director Ronda Paulson said of the Kingsport contractor who volunteered to spearhead the new home’s construction.
The 1,600-square-foot new build was constructed entirely by volunteers and with donated materials and in-kind contributions from a variety of building suppliers throughout the area.
Paulson said when she and others first tried to launch a building effort in Sullivan County, they invited dozens of local contractors to a lunch, about five showed up, and they all “ran from the room when they found out we wanted them to build a house for free.”
But one man stayed and approached them to say, “I think I can build this house for you.”
It was Begley.
“The real heroes here are the suppliers and people who put in the time,” Begley said.
“We could not have built this house without the support of Sullivan County,” Paulson said. “We saw this community walk every step of this journey with us through T-shirt sales, lemonade stands and community lunches. We are committed to serving the children in this region.”
Paulson recalled how she and Julie Dixon, who is the Isaiah House program coordinator, first met in 2014 and each became foster program participants.
By 2017 they were googling how to begin a nonprofit. Paulson said she journals and prays each morning, and that is more intense on ribbon-cutting days. This time was no different, as it brought back “snapshots” of how all the pieces fell into place.
“Everyone came together,” Paulson said. “Everyone came together with God orchestrating and moving, and encouraging and redeeming ... bringing His people together to build a home for the children He has never forgotten. God is doing this. It’s the only explanation. So today we celebrate what God has done in Sullivan County.”