The former Holiday Motor Lodge caught the eye and broke the heart of Ms. Davis. This heartbreak took her down a path she could never have imagined.
She remembers pulling over and observing the open drug activity in the parking lot, thinking there was so much more opportunity and potential for this motel, and most importantly, for the people living there. It has been an amazing journey that she and many others have been on… Some might refer to it as a labor of love!
Sharon—a graduate of Tellico Plains High School—was raised in the Mt. Vernon community and has driven by this motel for as long as she can remember. Prior to relocating back to Monroe County, Sharon was a Vice President of Human Resources and was also a flight attendant.
Throughout her life, Sharon has always looked through the lens of what could be versus what is not. She would describe herself as a visionary, looking beyond what most people would discard. She admits she tried to move on from what she had seen at the Motor Lodge but could not.
THIS IS HER STORY.
Behind each story, there is always an inspiration, and this is how the story begins… I (Sharon Davis) remember driving by and thinking, “There, but for the grace of God go I.” That could be me living there. Individuals would be in the parking lot openly doing things that were very destructive to themselves and their families, especially the children that were living there, and that was when my heart began to break.
For some reason, I could not get those images out of my mind. So, during that week, I would talk to my mother about what I was seeing. My mother, Doris Davis, has such a sweet, gentle spirit. She would listen to me but never responded until later that week. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why no one had addressed these issues and why we as a community would allow this to go on. So later that week, when my mother finally responded, I will never forget her words. As she was sitting in her chair reading her Bible and devotional, she looked up at me and said in her gentle voice, “Sharon, maybe God wants you to do something about it.”
It was at that very moment I felt an overwhelming sense of conviction that broke my heart and propelled me into action. I thought, why should I expect someone else to do something that I was not willing to do myself. I began to pray and seek God’s guidance and wisdom on how to respond to what he was showing me.
Immediately, I began to cross paths with people who had like-minded hearts and a desire to serve the broken in our community. The Recovery Group, which was an outreach ministry of the Englewood Church of God, along with other members in the Monroe and McMinn communities, came together with one heart and one vision to form Restoration Place Ministries. We began working on this old motel, which had formerly been a place of darkness for many and would then take on a new name—the Lighthouse—which was chosen to symbolize a beacon of hope and restoration to transform lives and also to honor my precious mother, who collects lighthouses, as she was the original inspiration behind this project.
Restoration begins…All 20 rooms demoed out. Front clips removed to begin renovations with grant funding.
The Lighthouse begins to offer hope with exterior renovations to include new windows, doors, vinyl siding, stairs, banister, and new reception area. New metal roof completed for the office area made possible by donations and volunteer support.
As the project continued to move forward, the group would later partner with True Purpose Ministries, based in Blount County, to transition this old motel into a community life center to serve Monroe County and the surrounding area. I believe we are all in a position in life to inspire and to create value in others. Likewise, we should keep our hearts and minds open to allow others to inspire us.
In the beginning, there were several challenges to overcome, but my faith and persistence, along with support from others, kept me focused on the right thing to do. As I started spending time at the motel and getting to know the residents living there, I quickly learned that most of them were in a very dark, sad place. I distinctly remember being surrounded one day by a group of people who were actively using drugs, and they were not very happy that this lady had shown up to restore the motel.
One of them got in my face, trying to intimidate me to leave, and the first words that came out of my mouth were, “I love you, and God loves you. What you are doing to yourself and your family needs to stop. I will be your biggest supporter if you are ready for change, but you will not continue to do what you are doing at this motel. This is going to become a place of hope and restoration, not destruction and darkness.” From that point on, I’d earned the nickname “That Lady.”
Although I had been given a vision, I lacked the resources to take on such a large project, but God sent those in his own time. I learned God was not checking my bank account; he was checking my faith account. As the transition was taking place, there were people who were very mean and intimidating to me, but God had a plan for that also.
Serving others can sometimes involve suffering, but I kept being persistent and not taking this experience personally, knowing that loving others would be the only way to create positive change. I even received many threats telling me to stop the work I was doing. With some of the initial challenges I was facing, I wondered how this vision would come to fruition.
Soon, God crossed my path with a man who had spent 40 years in prison and knew how to stand up to bullies. This man had restored his life in prison when he began a personal relationship with God, and he wanted to be a part of this project to help others restore their lives. After being released from prison, he was homeless, but he wanted to use the skills he had learned while in prison to help with this project. So, with very few resources, we started working. Almost six years later, he continues to give of his time and talent as a volunteer every day.
There are many examples of God’s hand moving and sending his provision with this project. One example involves the roof of the office area. Early on in our work, we received a lot of rain, and the leaks were so bad in the office area that we had to keep buckets under the drips and empty them hourly.
The rain poured month after month, and volunteers repeatedly told me, “Sharon, we need a new roof.” My response was always prayer, as I knew we lacked the funds for a new roof. At this point, all I had was my faith, but I knew God would provide eventually. I have often heard that when something is God’s will, it is also his bill.
While we were waiting on a financial miracle, I kept pushing forward with things that were within my control. I began to research what was needed for the roof repair and to get quotes for the materials. Eventually, an owner of a metal company called me back and scheduled a time to come out to give me a quote. The day he came out to the motel, we shared with him the vision, and I could tell by his response he was intrigued. He measured the roof, and we discussed the materials needed.
As the meeting concluded, he said something I was not expecting: “Ms. Sharon, I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I am going to donate the material for the roof. Also, here is some money to go buy some tools.”
I was speechless. This job would have cost thousands of dollars! But God wasn’t finished with this man yet, because what happened next was even more amazing.
As he was leaving and getting ready to open his truck door, he stopped, turned around, and said, “Oh, Ms. Sharon, I am going to send you the roofers too.”
As the project progressed, I realized we needed the support and leadership of a more established organization. I was introduced to Pastor Jeremy Graham and his wife Lynsey, the founders of True Purpose Ministries. Mr. Graham and I started collaborating and praying about working together on the motel.
In the meantime, I worked with TPM to open a pregnant women’s center in Vonore called True Purpose Ministries Restoration Place for pregnant mothers struggling with addiction. I worked on this project while simultaneously working on the motel.
In 2020, I wrote my first grant application for True Purpose Ministries to purchase the motel and continue moving forward with renovations to transform it into the Lighthouse Community Life Center.
Twenty-seven applications were submitted to the State of Tennessee, and the Lighthouse was one of seven chosen, receiving $325,000. This funding gave us the momentum to fast track the project towards completion. However, another unexpected delay later in 2020, the Covid pandemic, created material and labor shortages and supply chain delays.
Since receiving my first grant, I, as Community Outreach Director for TPM, have continued to seek funding from grants and other sources. I was awarded a second grant to assist with the operational expenses to bring the project to completion, which has been extremely challenging with the unanticipated increase in cost of materials.
The Lighthouse is part of a three-phase model to offer various services to those in need. The second phase will include a Homeless Service Center, and the third phase will be a Business Center to offer employment.
Most recently, TPM received funding from the Monroe County Commission and a private donor to relocate a triple-wide mobile unit donated by Chota to serve as an emergency resource for people experiencing sudden homelessness. Despite the many challenges faced on this project, I continue to push forward to identify best practices and the support system needed to fulfill this vision.
Once the Lighthouse is operational, TPM has received notification that a third grant will be made available to assist with ongoing operational costs to provide services to the community. TPM anticipates opening the Lighthouse Community Life Center in July of 2022, notwithstanding any additional delays with materials, with continued efforts focused on phases two and three. A formal ceremony will be scheduled to publicly recognize and thank all of the individuals who have been a part of this amazing journey of restoration…and in all things, “To God Be the Glory!”
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