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Monday, November 17, 2014

Marching in an "Oasis" of Change: Empowering Women with One Woman's Story

Marching for a wonderful cause, brought together civic leaders and local Kingsport residents on Saturday, November 15th..

The subject of the march is an "oasis" of hope for women through love, laughter... and laundry.

"We're marching to support 'The Oasis of Kingsport,' says former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier, who walked alongside new Sullivan County mayor Richard Venable.  "This walk is helping to spread the word to women in the Kingsport community that they have a place to get direction they might need in their lives."

"The beauty of that is.. they can get that direction, while their laundry is being done."

"We're always looking for people who themselves are looking for something more than what they have," says Oasis of Kingsport director Kermit Addington.  "We're trying to show them that it is possible to find it.. that it is not a lost cause.  We invite anyone who can benefit from the outreach to come in."

The march began at the corner of East Center Street and Dale Street and, with a police escort, ended at the Oasis building on East Sullivan Street, near the intersection with Main Street.

"It is wonderful to see the folks waving as we walk along," says Mayor Blazier during the march.  "Their interest is being stirred up, and hopefully word of mouth will spread about the center.  It's amazing to me that it's been here for such a short time and it's already known."

The Oasis' journey to Kingsport has been a fortunate one.  Patterned after a similar program called "The River" in Johnson City, in its short existence in the Model City, more than 170 women have come through the doors.  They come from all walks of life.. White, Black, Latino, Asian-American.. with children, without them..

All of them with something missing in their lives.  Searching.  Hearing the word "no" a lot.  Not knowing where to turn.

One person who has been in that situation, stopped by the open house at the Oasis at the end of the march. Lia Brown met and greeted marchers and center supporters with one of her sons, a 7-year old.  The transplant from Boston, Mass and single mom says, the Oasis is helping turn her life around.

"I had seen a flyer about it at the WIC office," she says.  "I didn't think too much about it, until I told my mom 'I need some money for laundry.'  I didn't know it, but Johnnie Mae (Swagerty) had told my mom about it, and my mom says you can go wash clothes at the Oasis cheaper than a laundromat.  I was like 'OK, cool."

Brown is raising twin, 14-year old boys, and the 7-year old by herself.  Both 14-year olds play football.  The 7-year old wants to.

"I have three boys," she says.  "We have lots of laundry."

"We always have laundry."

It only took her a few trips to the Oasis to find out what she liked about it.. and it was something more than just an inexpensive 50-cents washing and drying a ton of clothes.

"It's the fellowship," she says.  "Other women like me are doing laundry here and we talk about each other's situations.  We advise each other, support each other, and gain an empathy for each other's problems.  We rejoice in the ups, and console each other in the downs.  If you need a prayer request, you'll find lots of support..we all prayed together just the other day, and it was so uplifting.  When the kids are in school, it's so good to come down here in the morning, get the laundry done, take part in the ministry and the fellowship, and get caught up on the lives of the other women I have met."

"It's important to have someone to talk to sometimes," Brown says.

Brown says, she was impressed by the way the Oasis staff cares for the women here.  No men are allowed inside during business hours.  The front door is also locked during that time.

"Everybody is safe in here," she says.  "A lot of women don't like going to the laundromats because they are not always safe.  I can't do laundry at night because I am there for my kids when they come home from school, so the daytime is the only time I get to do it.  I don't dare go to the laundromats.  Lots of times, if it's raining or cold outside, people would come in that were homeless, or for some other reason.  I don't know if it's a pickup thing, but total strangers that aren't washing clothes want to talk to you.  Sometimes, you get uncomfortable with people you've never met before, trying to talk to you.  I just don't feel safe there."

And then, there's the price of doing laundry at the Oasis of Kingsport.  25 cents per load.  It may be the best laundry bargain in town.

"For about 50 cents, you get the washing powders, the bleach, the dryer sheets, and sometimes, the staff will even help you fold the clothes," Brown says.  "If you have to use the washers and dryers at some of the laundromats and the apartment complex, it's more than triple that cost.  If you're on a budget, there's no wiggle room.  A lady told me last week that the money she saves on laundry here, she was able to save enough money to buy her kid some shoes.  That's just awesome.  Here, you get the laundry done and the ministry as well, and some of us need that.  You gotta have that.. sometimes, you just need the encouragement."

Center Director Kermit Addington says the center has served about 175 women so far, and he says, thankfully, that number is growing.  The center volunteers have outfitted the Oasis of Kingsport with many amenities, including a kitchen area, a standup shower, a hair shampoo area, a lounge and a prayer area.  There's even a play area for the pre-school kids.  Washers, dryers and other appliances have either been donated, or repaired slightly used.  Food, washing materials are all donated, too.  "We want the women to not have any pressure on themselves at all," he says.  "This place has the comforts of a home away from home, because only in a comfortable atmosphere, can women in need be empowered to help themselves."

Brown herself has used the center's computer, provided free of charge.

"I had to get on the computer here to do a survey that was needed for my youngest son," she remembers.  "It was important to be able to provide that feedback to the school.  If you don't take the surveys, you don't have a voice in your child's education.. you end up taking whatever decision the school makes for the child."

"They won't let you take a survey in person because they want a record of it," she says.  "Through the computer here, I was able to be that voice for my son."

Reality is difficult in a changing world.  Brown says, the Oasis of Kingsport helps her face that reality often.

"Reality is a mess," she says.  "You're like, 'I gotta get these bills paid, I gotta get these kids to school, I gotta get this laundry done.'  As a single parent, you try not to stress out in front of the kids.. the mornings are hard.  Once they get off to school, the reality sets in...OK, what do I need to do?  The Oasis makes that reality a lot better to deal with.  If you don't have wash to do, you can come in and just get recharged, re-energized."

Despite the crowd at the Open House, the bulletin board at the Oasis is always busy.

"Not everybody gets the newspaper to see what's going on," Brown says.  "On the bulletin board, folks put up different flyers and business cards about programs and services in the area to help them out, different church events and prayer ministries.  There's a special heating program, an energy-assistance program for the winter at V.O. Dobbins that I learned about from the bulletin board.  I'm going over to get an application."

"There's always somebody looking at the bulletin board to see what's new."

Temperatures in the 30's probably kept many people from taking part in the march for the Oasis on this day, Saturday in the middle of November.  Bright sunshine and an eagerness to spread the word about the center, definitely brought out the faithful.

"It truly is an oasis for many of the women in our community who don't have places to wash their clothes, can bring their children and be at a place to find inspiration, study, lessons about nutrition, sewing, life skills, you name it," says former Mayor Jeanette Blazier.

It's no secret the Oasis of Kingsport is making a difference in the lives of women in need.  Lia Brown says, she's among the living testimonies of women, whose lives have been changed for the better.

"Come find us at the Oasis," she beckons to other women lost in the throes of reality.  "We've been where you are... and we are right where you need to be."