One thing noticeably missing from the downtown Knoxville skyscape this fall is Daniel Watson jumping off a tall building. He has participated in the Over the Edge rappelling challenge for several years as a fundraiser for Restoration House of East Tennessee, which he co-founded with his wife, Mandy, and where he serves as executive director. He is also a newly elected member of the Knox County school board.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled in-person fundraisers across the non-profit horizon as well as presenting monumental challenges for the Knox County Schools.
“It has certainly been a baptism of fire, that’s for sure,” Watson said with a wry laugh.
Last year, the Over the Edge challenge raised nearly $100,000 for residents at Restoration House, with participants rappelling from the Trotter building downtown. Not only has COVID taken that fundraiser off the map, it also caused the cancellation of the organization’s annual fall luncheon.
“We normally do 3/4ths of our annual fundraising in the last quarter of the year, so that has presented a challenge,” Watson said. “But I have to say, we have been blessed. We have longtime donors who have walked with us on this journey from the beginning. They’ve stepped up and helped fill in some gaps.” He added that no events will be scheduled for the time being, and that fundraising will be conducted with outreach among current donors and by word of mouth.
Restoration House came into being in 2007. Both Daniel and Mandy were raised by single mothers, and the non-profit was created specifically to serve low income single parents, to provide housing and stability while they navigate completion of degrees and certifications or moving up the pay ladder in the job market. It works in cooperation with several community groups including the Emerald Youth Foundation and The Harmony Family Center.
Watson said, in its 13 years, Restoration House has served over 60 families, who can stay up to two years but can get one-year extensions, for example, to complete a degree. He expects that number to rise to 150 families (and about 300 children) over the next two years, now that the complex is at capacity.
Located on seven acres between Cedar Bluff and Karns off Robinson Road, The Village, as the residential complex is called, has housing for 24 families. The last of the buildings were completed in March of this year. Watson is proud that all work was paid for in cash and that the group carries no long-term debt.
The pandemic also temporarily suspended referrals, but Watson said they are slowly opening that back up again.
“This is about helping parents get to a sustainable income level, one of the most important factors in mitigating poverty,” Watson said. “You hear people talk about being self-made or whatever. But, there’s person after person who helped them be where they are. We’re all designed to help each other, in a way that builds dignity and reciprocity. It’s not about creating dependence.”
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Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent.