By Grace Kennedy
Gracious Hands founder Sonja Chisholm is no stranger to spontaneous acts of generosity, but each time it happens, she still finds herself in awe.
In 2018, due to circumstances outside her control, Sonja was on the verge of losing the rental home where she operated Gracious Hands, a transitional housing nonprofit for women and children in Charlotte. Then an anonymous donor heard about her situation on WFAE and paid for Sonja to purchase a home for Gracious Hands. Yes, you read that right. An entire house. Sonja no longer has to worry about the instability of having a landlord, and her residents can focus on getting back on their feet and finding safe, stable housing and employment.
Sonja always has a success story she can't wait to share. She was recently thrilled to tell us about one of her residents who went from homeless to future homeowner in just over a year. A domestic violence survivor with a young daughter, this woman came in with a credit score in the 300’s and a fast food job. With hard work and support from Gracious Hands, she more than doubled her credit score, saved thousands of dollars, found a better-paying job, bought a car, and will close on her first home in July.
This is a huge milestone not only for this mom, but for Sonja as well. "This is the first time I've had someone buy their own home right after coming out of Gracious Hands," says Sonja. "She's a fighter. She doesn't let anything hold her back."
The Gracious Hands philosophy works, and now Sonja has a chance to impact even more women and children. The anonymous donor of the first house (Sonja calls her "my angel") recently paid for a second home, which Sonja hopes to close on this month. This donation allows Gracious Hands to literally double the number of women and children it serves.
What do we mean when we say "serve?" First, it's a roof over their heads when they would otherwise be without housing or in a dangerous environment. But it's also much more than a roof. It's counseling, financial training, credit repair, and life coaching. And it's the huge intangible of having someone like Sonja believe in them and teach them to believe in themselves.
But wait, there's more. Sonja was invited to speak about Gracious Hands at a Synapse Hub meeting in December. Synapse is an innovative networking organization that facilitates connections between businesses and nonprofit groups for community and economic development.
When Sonja shared her story about expanding to a second house, more spontaneous acts of generosity came her way. First, Ricky W. Jackson, Jr. who was in the audience generously pledged $500 to help furnish the second house. Then Ryan Barclay, owner of Junkluggers of Charlotte, stepped up to make it happen. As it turns out, Junkluggers is the perfect business to help furnish a home. They provide removal services for Greater Charlotte with the underlying goal of repurposing as much as possible to avoid dumping in landfills. Last year they kept over ten million pounds out of the landfill as part of their large furniture donation pick up services.
It's not uncommon for the Junkluggers team to end up with furniture. This is where they really come through for the community, the environment, and Charlotte as a whole. Through their Remix Market they keep these larger items out of landfills by selling them at affordable prices. Then they take the proceeds, subtract the cost of operating the warehouse, and give the bulk of the funds to Project 658, a nonprofit supporting refugees in Charlotte. When they can, they also donate goods to other charities like Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.
This win-win-win system is perfect for Gracious Hands. Ryan and the Junkluggers team have been scouting their inventory and plan to have the house fully furnished for just $500—the amount of the donation from Ricky at that serendipitous Synapse meeting.
"It means a lot that we can actually help people and see the smiles on their faces," says Ryan Barclay. "That's how we know we're making a difference."
Sonja is beyond excited to get everything set up for the group of women who will move into the second home. She wants to dedicate one of the rooms to new mothers who need a safe, stable place to go after leaving the hospital.
How You Can Help
You can help Gracious Hands by donating at gracioushandshousing.org. You can also contribute your time by watching children while the moms are taking classes, or doing landscape work at the new house. Contact Sonja at 704.777.0155 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
When you support local, community-minded businesses, you're also supporting their nonprofit partners. Support Junkluggers of Charlotte by hiring them for your next removal job at 980.288.5848. Want first dibs on their discounted furniture and other household items? Contact Ryan Barclay at 704.277.5240. You can also message them and keep up with the adventures of the Junkluggers team on Facebook.
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.