WARNER ROBINS -- The volunteers behind a record-breaking fundraising effort at the Salvation Army Safe House say they’ve helped make it more of a home.
The 2014 Leadership Robins Region class raised more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations to help the Safe House, which shelters women who are victims of domestic violence and their children.
“We took a building that was to change women and children’s lives, and we have changed it into a home,” said Jon Nichols, a Centerville City Council member who was one of the class participants. “It doesn’t look like a white-walled hospital. It’s actually a home setting. They are able to come and have a place that makes them feel comfortable, and it gives them the opportunity to change their lives.”
Tamara Rodriguez, executive director of the Safe House, said one of the biggest changes came when the class -- run through the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce -- heard about transportation problems. The Safe House lost its transportation in January 2013, but in August the leadership class arranged for a donation from Jeff Smith, who owns several car dealerships. Smith donated a 2013 van, which is used to take the women and children to job interviews, court and medical appointments, counseling services and schools.
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“I am completely humbled,” Rodriguez said. “I and my entire staff was completely humbled by that.”
Rodriguez said the leadership class kept rolling from one project to another. Before she knew it, the group was painting walls, then getting new furniture and putting custom artwork on the walls.
“It has been such a blessing to us, and the women feel more at ease. It feels like home,” she said.
Class participant Joe Richardson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who works at Mercer University Research Center, said the class originally had been considering a memorial to the armed forces to be built in front of Warner Robins City Hall. The class realized that project was just too much to do, so it turned to the Safe House, at the suggestion of Richardson’s wife, Felicia. Then the Safe House project kept growing.
“We’ve had over 50 individuals or organizations donate cash or in-kind gifts, over $50,000 in support of this project,” Richardson said.
Some of the in-kind gifts were things like pest-control services, offered through Nichols’ employer, Bug House Pest Control. Other donations were more concrete, including actual concrete donated to build a ramp to the Safe House’s storage building.
Richardson said the class members then went into the storage building, added insulation and closed up the walls.
In the Safe House itself, the class bought brand-new computers with software and put them in custom-made cabinets to match the wood already in the facility, Richardson said. They painted the dining room and living room to add color, bought curtains and hung custom canvas prints on the walls. With the group’s help, the Safe House got brand-new black leather furniture, a 55-inch flat-screen television and an anonymously donated custom dining room table that can seat up to 20 people.
Aura Lee Durham, chief operating officer at Robins Regional Chamber, said the amount of donations received through the 2014 leadership class is a record.
“It’s a very massive undertaking,” Durham said. “This has been a very dynamic group.”
Richardson said the effort kept growing.
“We went into it just kind of hoping we could meet the needs they suggested to us,” he said. “But a place like that, a lot of the time they’re content with anything you can give them that can help. But we said, ‘No, if this was an ideal situation and money was no object, tell me what you would want.’”
A Leadership Robins Region alumni reception is scheduled to begin with a social at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Chamber of Commerce, with a presentation on the Safe House project beginning at 6 p.m.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.