Home improvement: Columbia children’s shelter undergoing major renovation
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Kids living at the Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter hopped on a school bus last Monday and waved goodbye, not just to their house parents, but to the house itself. They children will return in the fall to a newly renovated safe haven.
As Tuesday’s arrival of workers from Hood Construction made clear, the Columbia shelter for abused and neglected children and homeless teens is officially in construction mode. During the next five months, the construction crew will gut the interior of the building, tear down the back of the house and replace it with something bigger and better.
Meanwhile, the temporarily displaced children are living in a temporary safe home in the area.
Donors helped the nonprofit raise $1 million last year, allowing for a large expansion. More bedrooms will mean equals Palmetto Place will be helping more “children in need,” said the shelter board’s president, Marie Dieckmann.
Dieckmann was joined by fellow board members and donors Wednesday for a “demolition party,” during which people pounded sledgehammers, pried off paneling and hammered holes in walls to get the renovation project underway.
When complete, the project will add 10 additional beds, bringing the shelter’s capacity to 30 children.
Until now, when Palmetto Place has been full, the staff has had to turn away about 25 kids a month. These children have ended up in foster homes or, in the case of homeless teens, sleeping on someone’s couch or in cars, said Erin Hall, Pametto Place executive director.
“This is an investment in the children’s lives,” Dieckmann said of the renovation project. “This is a place to call home.
The project is a special one for Hood Construction, said Project Manager John Wallace.
“We’re excited to do it,” Wallace said. “The house is in need of a facelift. It’s a beautiful old house. We’ll do our best to preserve the front staircase.”
Work has barely begun, but the kids already have expressed their appreciation. The younger ones have drawn photos for the construction crew and the architects from Lambert Architecture; teens have written thank-you notes.
“Love has been given at Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter since 1977. That’s a lot of love,” one teen wrote.
Hall and her staff salvaged a few mementos during the demolition party. The building’s large, red front door and some interior doors that children have drawn on over the years have been saved and will be re-purposed in some way during the rebuilding of the shelter.
There was some consideration of moving Palmetto Place to a larger building, Hall said. But in reflecting on the many former residents who return to visit, the board decided the shelter should stay in its traditional location.
One former resident dropping by the day before the renovation project began was the sign needed to confirm that decision, Hall said.
During the shelter’s 40-year history, more than 7,000 children have done homework, opened Christmas presents and tried to touch the sky on the backyard swings. Though they came through tough circumstances, many have gone on to become college students, police officers and social workers.
Swinging a crowbar with all her might during on Wednesday was Stephanie Ringler. Now 21, she came to Palmetto Place during her senior year of high school to escape an unstable home environment.
“I grew as a person,” Ringler said. “I was able to have the space I needed here.”
Ringler said that at the shelter she learned how to be self-sufficient and to live on her own after graduation. Making lifelong friends with a diverse group of teens at the shelter also was enjoyable, she recalled.
Ringler has been gone from Palmetto Place for a few years, but staff members were quick to recall and praise her artistic ability to everyone at the demolition party.
After she attends school for medical billing and establishes some financial stability, Ringler said she plans to study art in hopes of becoming a film animator for Disney or Pixar.
When the newly renovated Palmetto Place opens this fall, the hope is it will produce many more success stories like Ringler’s.
Find more information on donating to and volunteering at Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter online.