It's been a happy new year so far for the Charlotte transitional housing program Gracious Hands. Since the summer, the group home for formerly homeless women and children has fought eviction from its west Charlotte rental house. But now a donor has stepped in to buy them a new home.
Thursday was moving day. Gracious Hands director Sonja Chisolm and her assistants set up furniture and appliances in the newly purchased raised ranch in the Allen Hills neighborhood, off North Graham Street. While giving a tour, Chisolm said it's a huge weight off her shoulders.
"We never have to worry about anybody ever telling us that we are being evicted," she said. "We never have to worry about these women not having a home."
Chisolm started Gracious Hands nearly four years ago in a leased house in west Charlotte. Since then, the program has provided temporary housing and life-skills training to 126 women and their children. Last year, after a dispute over a sewage leak, they got an eviction notice.
After WFAE reported on the situation in November, Chisolm got a call from a woman offering to help.
"An angel from heaven heard the story. And it was amazing," Chisolm said. "She called me like immediately. And she said I have to come see you. And she sat there, we talked and we talked and we talked and we talked and then she said, 'I know you wondering why I'm here.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I was wondering why you were here.' And she said, 'I'm here to buy you that house.' "
The woman, who doesn't want to be named, gave Chisolm a budget of $200,000. After several weeks of searching, they found the recently renovated house in north Charlotte. They closed the deal Dec. 20, paying $175,000 — far more than anything Gracious Hands could have afforded, Chisolm said.
"Way more, way more, way more. So this is just a blessing," Chisolm said. "You know, miracle signs and wonders."
The house is newer, bigger and in a nicer neighborhood. It has four bedrooms instead of three, and two full baths, instead of one. And there's a larger backyard, with room for a swingset for the kids.
Nicole Tillman was one of four women and their children who moved into the new home Thursday night. She has been at Gracious Hands since September.
"I lost my job where I was working at. And you know, once you lose your job you still have bills. Went from there, domino effect, lost my place, and a friend of mine told me about Miss Sonja. And she allowed me to come into the program. She's helping me ever since to get back on my feet," Tillman said.
Tillman and her 12-year-old daughter say they like the house for its size and brightness.
"I love it, it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Definitely an upgrade," she said.
The extra space will allow Chisolm to have a larger office once they finish converting the garage. And they'll have a room dedicated to education which has been on hold amid the eviction and uncertainty, said Gracious Hands' life coach Angela Brand.
"Yes, I've got my lesson plans mapped out and we're ready to go. My goal is to get them thriving in their personal life. Teach them how to get over obstacles, make better decisions," she said.
Now that they're out of housing limbo, Chisholm knows there may be more challenges. But for now, she said, "I'm just going to bask in what is happening, relax, breathe, and hope that the women can do the same. As far as the challenges, they are going to come. But do I worry about those things? No. I don't have that kind of energy. It's too many great things going on around me."
It's a fresh start for a new year, not just for the women, but for Gracious Hands itself.