The build up to Christmas can bring to the surface many emotions including joy, excitement, goodwill and anticipation. It is a time to gather as a family and participate in the preparation and eating of good food, gift giving, the decoration of our homes, connecting with loved ones, as well as our own spiritual connection to the holiday. But for some people Christmas isn’t like that. It is one more time in the year that brings fear, pain and isolation. It’s tough to talk about but Domestic Violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men (yes, men can be victims too) at some point in their lifetime. This shocking statistic is produced by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and is supported by Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, the facilitator of Chattanooga’s only domestic violence shelter in a state that, for nearly a decade, has consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation for the most homicides due to domestic violence.
The good news is this amazing non-profit community impact agency is facing this and other important social issues head on, serving more than 45,000 people last year in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama with counseling, crisis intervention, prevention, and education programs— with specifically 722 people being assisted and housed at the domestic violence shelter. Someone in need can access their services 24/7 through a volunteer manned hotline or literally walk through their door for immediate assistance. They will never turn anyone away.
It is often the case with charitable organizations that funding priorities are about immediate needs and services, and not about the esthetics of a facility. Therefore the men and women housed in domestic violence accommodations are typically living in a space with only the bare necessities. Considering this can be for up to 3-months and very often with children, it is far from ideal.
Shannon Anderson, a local software company owner and mother, was having dinner with friends, one of whom was a past President of the Partnership agency. They were discussing some of the issues with the domestic violence facility, in particular how they could really do with some new bedding. Shannon thought this could be an easy fix and offered to help. By the end of the dinner she had agreed to take on an entire room makeover and challenged the rest of the dinner guests to do the same. The dinner ended but the project had only just begun. Once Shannon had received pledged support for a handful of the 14 shelter rooms she decided that they all had to be done. Reaching out to other friends and family over the coming weeks and months she eventually had all the rooms assigned, as well as the renovation of the emergency receiving room and kitchen. And so was born The Dream Team. A team comprised of doctors’ wives, a church group, a card game group, a tennis team and several motivated individuals. “It all comes down to the power of friendship,” commented Shannon. “I learned from doing this project that most people want to help a charitable organization but not necessarily by just handing over cash. This was a tangible project where people could see the results of their donation.”
This was made more apparent by each of the renovators taking the trouble to design their own room, select the furnishings and colors, and to add the little touches that make somewhere unfamiliar feel like home. The generosity of local businesses that donated items or services at cost or in their entirety was also remarkable. This help from local retailers and tradesmen was instrumental to the success of the entire project and placed another philanthropic hand into the mix of this wonderful community effort. This combined benevolence allowed the entire renovation to be completed in July 2017, only 11 months after the first conversation.
As a finishing touch, The Dream Team mounted a plaque on the wall of each room to not only name the room, but to also display a special message. Shannon’s plaque reads as follows: Welcome to The Anderson Room. Always know how valuable and uniquely beautiful you are! This room was furnished by a lady who hopes you find comfort here. This personal outreach to the families that will pass through these rooms will serve as a reminder that they are not alone.
All of those involved had their reasons. For some it was an act of love, for some a shared experience, for some it was about supporting a friend. But all of the volunteers have said they got far more out of the project than the time and money they spent on it.
Crystal St. Pierre, Volunteer Coordinator at the Partnership shelter said, “I have seen our clients come to their assigned bedroom and it is so wonderful to see the look of happiness, gratitude and peace that overcomes them when they open the door to their safe space. The Dream Team are truly angels on earth.”
Story by Roberta Bostock | Photography by Chris Wolf