The Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee is on the verge of opening its first group home and the community's support is needed to push the project to the finishing point.
Located at 35 West Brooks Rd., the next step in the Foundation's expanding outreach effort was brought to my attention by TSD reader Mario Martin. I ran into him while on a supply run at Office Max.
Martin's an entertainment and real estate entrepreneur. After explaining that he had added security systems (Maximum Security) to his products and services line, Martin mentioned that the company had donated a state-of-the-art system to a house for the Sickle Cell Foundation.
Foundation CEO Trevor Thompson agreed to a preview tour of the nearly-completed home. Modestly beaming, Thompson said the Foundation expects to have the 3,500-sq. ft., six-bedroom facility ready for ribbon cutting by late March or early April.
"There are a few things we still need, such as beds, linens, etc., but the final renovations and painting is completed," said Thompson, noting that Home Depot donated $2,500 worth of appliances. "We are hoping that this will be the start of us creating a widespread and consistent service plan to assist people suffering with Sickle Cell."
This initial step will be a boarding house for up to six males functioning with Sickle Cell. It's a base for each to build upon.
"They will be responsible for their own rent and food," said Thompson. "There are going to be consistent programs to give them the opportunity to work on their soft (employment) skills, improve literacy, strengthen their command of the disease.
"Our research found many people in the sickle cell population were suffering from not having a stable living environment. This is our humble first attempt to start helping them mainstream themselves."
Thompson's own battle with the disease gives him a real-life point of reference for understanding the way sickle cell can wear a person down.
"With sickle cell, unpredictablility is a major downside. Changes in the weather can trigger a crisis," said Thompson.
"Employers have to know the challenges of dealing with the disease. But if you work in the right way to control it, the symptoms cannot stop you from having a successful life and career. It can knock you down, and we want to offer a hand to help you get back up."
The plan originated with the house's donation to the Foundation by member Kenneth Carpenter, who has sparked great interest in the Foundation by pushing its annual 5K Run.
A small vacant lot also came with the house, and Thompson said plans are in the works to build from the ground up, as well as duplicate facilities to house females.
The Centers for Disease Control website (cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/index.html) reports that great progress has been made in battling the onset of sickle cell in infants, but the disease still affects 1 of 12 African Americans and 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic-American births.
"You have to remember that you are dealing with a population that regularly has to face the issue that you may not live to become 18 or 25, and we still lose too many of that age, but you have to battle it," said Thompson.
"Look at me. I'm 45, have two kids and I am pursuing another degree. If you have the support and the will, you can beat it. This is the Foundation's attempt to help you do so, and we plan to do more."