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Isaiah 117 House founder says show response has been 'overwhelming'

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Apr 6, 2020 at 6:00 PM

“Give and it will be given to you.” — Luke 6:38

Many communities have special people who dedicate their lives to making a difference and giving to others. Ronda Paulson, in Elizabethton, is one of those special people. She founded Isaiah 117 House as a place for kids to be when Department of Children’s Services has to step in and remove them from their homes.

While going through her own foster family training experience, Ronda was heartbroken to learn that these kids were spending hours and sometimes days in a DCS office while case workers tried to find suitable foster family locations for them. Led by God, Ronda saw the need for that to change and Isaiah 117 House, named for the Bible verse and her first foster son, was born.

Because of her dedication, Ronda got the surprise of her life this past January when the famous TV personality Mike Rowe showed up in Northeast Tennessee to feature her on his show, “Returning the Favor.” Ronda was shocked when what she thought was going to be a small documentary was actually an episode of the highly popular Facebook WATCH show featuring special people all over the country who make a difference in their communities.

“Mike Rowe walked in and we were introduced. My mind was racing, and I thought, ‘I should know you. Are you the guy that played Tim the Tool Man Taylor on that show?’ Then, it registered! I was completely surprised! I was so honored to be nominated for the show,” Ronda said. Mike and his crew spent time with Ronda, her family, her team and some adorable former-foster and now-adopted kids to share all about Isaiah 117 House. Ronda said, “He is exactly what you see on TV. He’s funny, smart, eccentric and lovable!”

Then came more surprises! People gathered together for a huge surprise party for Ronda at the new Isaiah 117 House Resource Center, a recently purchased but then still empty property in Elizabethton. Here, Ronda and her team conceptualized a center with an apartment-like setting for kids, parents and case workers to meet.

“There, they can feel comfortable. Parents can prepare snacks and talk and play with them instead of just meeting in a conference room,” Ronda explained. The center would also house the Isaiah 117 House “home office,” along with storage and team meeting space.

During the taping, Ronda was surprised with donations and help arranged by the “Returning the Favor” show to make the new Isaiah 117 House Resource Center fully operational. “I cannot express how appreciative I am of Mike Rowe and all of the ‘Returning the Favor’ crew and all those involved in the surprise! Thanks to Kelly Wolfe, Orth Homes, Builders’ First Choice, Ballad Health, KidKraft, Jockeys, Brandless for the new sign, paved parking lot, fencing, play area and a huge supply of new backpacks, toiletries and underwear for the kids!”

The ultimate surprise came when Rowe and ‘Returning the Favor’ awarded Ronda with a check for $40,000 for Isaiah 117 House.

“Since the ‘Returning the Favor’ show aired online on March 9, the response has been overwhelming!” exclaimed Ronda. “Traffic to our website has gone up 969% and the show got 1.2 million views when it first aired! We have been contacted by people in 30-plus states to start an Isaiah 117 House.”

Ronda said, “The goal of Isaiah 117 House is dignity for each child perhaps coming from a terrible situation, taken from the only parents and setting they may have known, through no fault of their own.” She continues, “There (at an Isaiah 117 House) they get a bath or shower, they are fed and get two outfits of new clothes, pajamas, underwear, toiletries, backpacks and school supplies. It gives them a ‘break’ and a sense of normal.”

Isaiah 117 House also assists foster parents by providing them additional items needed in the care of that child. Isaiah 117 Houses have been started in multiple Tennessee counties and in other states.

“The newest house is set to open this summer in Sullivan County,” Ronda confirmed. To learn more about Isaiah 117 House and how you can help, visit the website at isaiah117house.com.

So, just who is Mike Rowe? You have seen him at his absolute worst as he attempted over 300 dirty jobs all over the U.S. on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.” Or maybe you have seen his recent show, “Somebody’s Got to Do It.” If you don’t recognize his face, you might have heard his voice on “Deadliest Catch,” a show about dangerous crab fishing in the Bering Sea. He has narrated several Discovery Channel shows and hundreds of documentaries and been a beloved TV personality since the late 1990s.

To give back, he launched mikeroweWorks in 2008 to start a resurgence of skilled trades and recognize the importance of blue-collar workers. Known as an all-around nice guy, Mike was deemed one of the country’s “Most Trustworthy Celebrities” by Forbes magazine. An Eagle Scout, he was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, by teacher parents. You can follow Mike Rowe on Facebook or read his blog or listen to his podcasts at mikerowe.com.

You can watch the March 9 show featuring Ronda Paulson and Isaiah 117 House by going to the “Returning the Favor” Facebook page.

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