“You’re not alone” organization gives children a home

Isaiah 117 House is a place for children to go when they’re waiting for foster care.
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 12:18 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - More than 250,000 children are placed into the foster care system in the United States every year. When a child is taken from their home they often leave with nothing. They’re confused, lonely and scared. In Tennessee, they’re often placed in a Department of Children’s Services office until they’re placed with a foster family. Isaiah 117 House, founded in Carter County, is now making its way to East Tennessee.

“There’s this lag time between when a child is removed and when placement is found,” said Isaiah 117 House Founder, Ronda Paulson, “and that sometimes it’s a long time. Sometimes they sleep in an office or they sit in a cubicle for eight hours and that was just mind-boggling to me. I thought, ‘this child has done nothing wrong,’ you know?

Ronda and her husband Corey became foster parents in 2015 with their now adopted son, Isaiah. “He had a roach-infested diaper bag and a borrowed outfit...It was only the Lord that let me say yes that day. We had a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. I didn’t have a car seat, food, diapers, and I said yes and I was handed a roach-infested diaper bag.

I went and got some of my baby doll blankets from upstairs and brought them downstairs for him,” said Sophie Paulson, Ronda and Corey’s daughter. “I was the first one in the car. I was super excited. But that day I think looked a little different for Mac,” said Sophie.

“I was scared. I don’t know. It’s always just been me. And her for so long..... but we are cool now,” Mac laughed.

Isaiah was officially welcomed into their family and Ronda and Corey adopted him as one of their own.

“Two years later finding out Isaiah had a full sibling brother that had come into custody. He was 3 weeks old, it was 2017,” so the Paulsons took Isaiah’s brother, Eli, and adopted him.

The Paulson’s still felt called to do more. “In 2015 saying yes to our first placement, Isaiah, and realizing oh, this is real life. In this country, children come into foster care in a borrowed outfit with a roach-infested diaper bag. That’s the norm. That’s not rare. Then to learning about judges and child advocates and caseworkers that are working so hard and a very fractured system, and just feeling led by God that this was never the state’s calling. This was our calling. These are our children. And so in January of 2017, I tell people, sometimes I say I said yes to God, but sometimes I say the true story, which is I just couldn’t say no anymore. I told him I would do whatever he needed me to do and I watched God take off,” said Paulson.

Ronda and Corey launched their first Isaiah 117 House in Carter County in 2017. Now, a few years later they have 29 locations in 6 states.

“We want to reduce trauma for the child on the day of removal. So that child that was just approached by their principal and told they can’t go home, so they come to one of these homes and they are lavishly loved and they get a bath and a meal and help with their homework and new clothes and new shoes and they can stay in one of these homes and are loved on by, you know certified volunteers until placement is found.”

The organization also helps to lighten the load of DCS workers, often overwhelmed by the number of cases. Something Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin said his staff sees all too often.

“We could be removing 8-10 children a day easily and go some days where we don’t remove any... we have a steady business,” said Judge Irwin. “Kids need to know where they’re going to lay their heads at night and Isaiah 117 House lets them do that,” he said.

For kids like Isaiah and Eli, the chance at a life where they’re loved and not alone.

“Initially, I was very reluctant to say that he had anything to do with the name. It was the verse Isaiah 117. But the day that we adopted him, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, it is the verse but he is the one that opened our eyes to this world we didn’t know existed. He is the one that led us on this foster care journey. He’s the one that showed us. And so this Isaiah 117 house is very much the verse and our son Isaiah,” said Ronda.

The organization will break ground in Knox County on Nov. 14.

The Paulsons also recently just helped to pass “Eli’s Law.” It protects newborns who are born into families where other siblings have already been removed and are in state custody.

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