GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — The day a child is taken from a home and put into foster care is a day few people ever see. But those who do see it happen say it's traumatizing to a young mind.
"Removal day is the most dramatic day they'll ever walk," said Ronda Paulson with the Isaiah 117 House. "It doesn't even matter the situation they're living in. That's mom, that's their home. They don't want to leave."
Usually the child can't bring anything from home with them, except what will fit into a trash bag. Then they sit in a Children's Services office, not knowing what comes next, or where they'll be sent to live.
"Like an actual office with phones ringing and people need to work and they wait in a cubicle or conference room or a little tiny playroom."
When Paulson saw this happening to children during her foster care training, first she was heartbroken - but then, inspired.
"I just felt so convicted that God was asking me to do better for these children."
So that's what she's doing. She started the Isaiah 117 House. That's a place to spend the emotionally crucial hours between removal and placement. It allows children to skip the trip to the Children's Services office. Instead, they go a house where they can get a bath, new clothes, new pajamas, and even a new backpack and school supplies. They can get a hot meal. But most importantly, Paulson says, they can find comfort.
"They can play with toys like in a home environment, where every aspect of that home is set up to say that you are loved and you are not alone... and you've never been forgotten."
Every home has a girl's room, a boy's room, and at least two full baths. They also provide an office space for DCS to help workers get through all the necessary paperwork more easily.
Unfortunately, kids can only get this help if they're in a county that has an Isaiah 117 House. In January 2020, that was just three counties in East Tennessee. But that was already about to grow. Paulson said Isaiah 117 Houses are coming to twelve other counties across the state -- and even two in Indiana.
"The commissioner of DCS has said that she wants one in every county so that's what we're working toward... We have a great relationship with DCS."
One reason Paulson said they've been able to expand to so many counties is the generosity they find already there to help.
"One pattern that we've fallen into that I don't know that we planned -- I'm sure God did -- is that every county that we go in, we partner with a contractor or contractors."
To staff those centers, Isaiah 117 House puts out a call for volunteers. The response they get continues to make their operation possible.
The organization's namesake comes from the Bible verse Isaiah 1:17:
"Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause."
"There's a whole world that needs us to step out and do good and seek justice and take care of the widow and defend the cause of the fatherless."
If you're someone who wants to help kids that had to be taken from their parents, the foster system can be intimidating to approach. Paulson knows that. Here's what she says:
"I think it paralyzes people if they don't feel that they're called to be a foster parent. "Like, I'm not gonna be a foster parent. There's a crisis, but how can I help?
"[Isaiah 117 House] is giving people a way to help, a tangible way to help children entering foster care, and it's just been a beautiful thing to watch."
If you're thinking of getting involved, you can start by giving Isaiah 117 House your email. They'll help you learn more.
In January 2020, these are the counties in Tennessee that had an Isaiah 117 House:
These are the counties that had Isaiah 117 Houses on the way: