In 2014, Corey and Ronda Paulson signed up to take the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Path Training in order to become foster parents. They never expected this to become a life-changing journey by what would soon unfold. As part of their training, they attended a class at the Washington County Tennessee DCS office where they were informed that when children are removed from their homes, they often were brought to the office to wait for placement. Hearing this, Ronda looked around the cubicle filled space, and tears filled her eyes. Having children of her own, she could not imagine a scared child sitting in such a sterile, cold environment waiting to learn their fate. That is when God began to put in Ronda’s heart a vision for the Isaiah 117 House.
(The Paulson Family)
Fast-forward one year, to November 5, 2015, at 3:45 p.m. This was when the Paulson’s received a call from the Carter County DCS office and within the hour, the entire family was on their way to pick up their foster son. They were asked to come to the back door of the DCS office. It was there that they met a beautiful young child who was dirty, wearing clothes that were too small, and had not one other personal belonging with him. Once again, Ronda felt God tugging on her heart with the vision for the Isaiah 117 House. Ronda wondered, “what if there was a home where children could go when they are removed and awaiting foster care placement?” She reasoned, “since removal from the child’s home and foster care placement is no fault of the child, what if there was a safe place with friendly, loving volunteers who could convey to the child they are loved and not alone? What if this environment also had clean clothes, bath supplies, healthy snacks, comfy beds and toys to play with in it? What if instead of office cubicles, the traumatized child could see the warmth of caring smiles, books, and snugly blankets?” So, this became the backdrop for the dream of Isaiah 117 House. In the Bible, Isaiah 1:17 says, "defend the cause of the fatherless" and now defined the mission Ronda was certain God was calling her to.
When children are removed from their homes, out of concern for their welfare, they are usually brought to the DCS Offices to await placement with a foster family. However, this wait can be several hours to nearly a full day. These children often have nothing with them, are scared, lonely, hungry, and in dirty clothing. Though DCS staff members try to provide some reassurance to the children, they lack the resources to do much more than that. However, now in Northeast Tennessee and Southern Indiana, Isaiah 117 House is helping to change that! By providing an alternative resource for DCS, children can be brought to this warm environment to wait instead.
When a child and DCS worker arrive at Isaiah 117 House, they are greeted by a team of volunteers trained in trauma informed care. They welcome the child at a time when they need love and support the most. The home is open 24/7 and ready to take in children, easing what is inevitably a traumatic transition. The Paulson’s knew the home had the potential to positively impact children coming into custody but never imagined Isaiah 117 House would become such a valued resource to both community members and DCS staff alike.
With no prior experience in starting a non-profit, the vision began to take shape in February 2017 in Carter County Tennessee after a first Isaiah 117 House Board meeting. Over the next few months, they began the search for the perfect home where they could launch this endeavor. By September 2017, they purchased a home and during the following year, volunteers from the community completely renovated it. The Carter County home officially opened its doors on June 19, 2018. Once again, Ronda never expected this vision to be embraced by the hearts of so many communities who have now heard about it. In just two years, Isaiah 117 House has opened five other homes in Tennessee and in July of 2020 they had a ribbon cutting ceremony on the Vanderburgh County Indiana home. There are five more that will open by the spring of 2021. Currently there are 16 expansion committees in Tennessee and Indiana working towards the goal of opening their own Isaiah 117 House.
(The first Isaiah 117 House located in Carter County, Tennessee)
In 2018 shortly after the Carter County home opened, I was invited by the local Mayor to go and meet Ronda and tour the home. Upon our arrival, we were captivated for over two hours listening to Ronda’s story and learning of the empathy shown by the community who rose up to help make Isaiah 117 House become a reality. Since that initial meeting, I was invited to provide trauma informed care training for her staff and volunteers. During the 18 months I worked for a regional healthcare system raising awareness of trauma informed practices, Ronda’s husband, Corey worked with me on the same community engagement team and ACEs science was a primary focus of our work. Corey quickly became well versed as an ACEs science trainer and now provides training for the growing number of Isaiah 117 House staff and volunteers and recently joined the non-profit team full-time as Director of Development.
In March of this year, Isaiah 117 House was featured on Mike Rowe’s Facebook show, “Returning the Favor”. After his interview, Mike surprised Ronda by presenting a check to the non-profit for $40,000 to use for furnishing the new Isaiah 117 House Resource Center. Following their story being on “Returning the Favor” they had 35 states and 2 countries reach out wanting an Isaiah 117 House.
The Isaiah 117 House and founder Ronda Paulson were awarded the Angel in Adoption award in 2019 by Congressman Phil Roe. In 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and TN Commissioner of DCS, Jennifer Nichols, awarded Isaiah 117 House a grant for $100,000 for expansion of this program across the state of Tennessee. Governor Lee has stated that Isaiah 117 House is the new standard for children entering foster care throughout the state of Tennessee and Commissioner Jennifer Nichols has requested an Isaiah 117 House for all 95 counties. In April of 2019, Isaiah 117 House and Ronda were awarded the Chick-fil-A Innovators award. She has served on Governor Lee’s Economic Recovery Group (ERG) Nonprofit Subcommittee, been a presenter at Children’s Advocacy Days and in January of 2020, Ronda was awarded the Governor’s Volunteer Stars Award.
Though life is now traveling at light speed for the Paulson family and Isaiah 117 House, Ronda says the greatest reward of it all, comes from the children who they are serving. “While awaiting foster care placement in an Isaiah 117 House, both children and youth are impacted by the kindness and attention they receive from the staff and volunteers. We are intentional in making each child aware that this transition is not their fault. During this traumatic time of uncertainty and to what their future may hold next, one clear message they hear from us is, ‘Love, you’re not alone.’”
If you would like more information about Isaiah 117 House, please contact info@Isaiah117house.com