by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive
It is a blessing to live in a state where leaders choose to partner with the faith community to help people in ways government alone cannot.
Last week staff from the Governor’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives introduced “Every Child Tennessee,” which asks churches to help foster children, to be advocates for adoption, and provide support for foster and adoptive families.
These topics are near to my heart. I grew up with five siblings, three foster brothers, and many others my parents welcomed to our table. My wife Stephanie was adopted by a wonderful couple who raised her in church, and her biological parents are also now part of our family.
Every Child Tennessee asks congregations to “wrap around” these vulnerable children and families, and offers many good ideas about how to do that. But once again, Lawrence County people have forged a trail to address one of the foster system’s most serious problems. You and your church can be part of that answer, which is Grace House.
Grace House opened in January 2023 to offer temporary housing and other resources to foster children, foster families, and the Department of Children’s Services. It was established as part of the Lawrence County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (LCSAP), but is on its way to becoming a separate nonprofit.
The “mother” (officially, Coordinator) of Grace House is Nicole Miller, the LCSAP Drug-Endangered Children’s program Coordinator and a dynamo with a huge heart for children. In her work (funded by a grant from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) she saw the heartbreaking result of an overwhelmed foster system: children spending days and nights in the DCS office until appropriate placement was found.
Lawrence County has the highest number of children in foster care in south central Tennessee. There are two reasons for this, Nicole explains. First, our county has serious drug issues and limited resources to help people with substance use disorder. Second, Magistrate Ashley Dunkin acts to remove children from bad situations early so families can get the help they need and have a better chance to reunite permanently. “She cares about helping the whole family,” Nicole said.
From January 2023 to January 2024, Grace House hosted 100 “visitors” overnight, along with DCS caseworkers who are required to be with each child or sibling group at all times. The average remains 10 children per month, but five local churches have been vetted to provide accommodations when the six beds at Grace House are full. On one busy day, nine children came to Grace House.
Grace House hosts children from all over the region, and has received requests for temporary housing from as far away as Memphis and East Tennessee. The primary goal is to keep local children here so they can stay at their schools, preserving that piece of stability in their lives.
Grace House maintains a “closet” with clothing, personal hygiene items, and other supplies that served 500 children and their foster families from January 2023 to 2024. In the same period, the Grace House Meal Train and local restaurants fed 2,920 people – children, DCS workers, and Grace House staff.
The Meal Train is a coordinated effort that provides a hot (usually homemade) dinner for everyone at Grace House. Volunteers sign on to provide food for six to eight people, communicating through a group text with Nicole about specifics. Several in the group represent church members who work together to provide meals. Nicole insists that everyone eats at the dining table, and bedtime is 9 p.m. Those rules, and the love they receive at Grace House, can make a big difference for children who have known only chaos. “Sometimes you have to walk through the messy to get to the message,” she said.
One goal for Grace House is to have its own facility. It shares space with another agency now, but needs something bigger and permanent. There are many needs, but Nicole is confident our community can meet them.
“If everyone picked something and did it well, represented the hands and feet, we could make sure our own was taken care of, easily. One thing I’ve noticed with Grace House is seeing how easy the vision is to make come alive when we all work together.”
• Volunteers to be part of the Meal Train
• A team to help clean the house
• Gift cards for groceries, clothing, and other items to be used at Grace House or fill the foster family Closet
• Food cards for local restaurants
• Monetary donations that support programs and the effort to buy a larger, permanent Grace House location. Checks may be mailed to Grace House, c/o LCSAP Coalition – 202 Deller Street – Lawrenceburg, TN 38464, or Venmo: @LCSAP Coalition (For Grace House)
* Groups interested in learning more. Coordinator Nicole Miller, Magistrate Ashley Dunkin, and volunteers Alanna Harris and April Cothren are happy to share the blessing that Grace House has been in their lives.
Contact NICOLE MILLER, LCSAP Coalition DEC Coordinator & Grace House Coordinator 931-242-8006 – nmiller@lawcotn.org
Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” ~ Saint Teresa of Avila
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