Catholic Charities plans to rebuild after arson fire

Knoxville diocesan agency to serve its East Tennessee clients from temporary site

By Bill Brewer

The Diocese of Knoxville and its Catholic Charities of East Tennessee are determined to rebuild after an arsonist burglarized Catholic Charities’ administrative offices in North Knoxville on Nov. 28 and set the building on fire, doing severe damage to the one-level structure.

Fire investigators get a close-up look at the damage to Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s offices at 119 Dameron Ave. in Knoxville. Investigators have determined that the fire, which left the building a total loss, was arson.

Catholic Charities executive director Lisa Healy said the building is a total loss, and the agency is having to move its administrative offices. While restoration work takes place on the offices at 119 Dameron Ave., which Catholic Charities has occupied since the 1980s, the diocesan social services agency’s Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center, Columbus Home Assisting Parents office, Hope Kitchen supplies, and all administrative functions will operate from temporary offices.

The Pregnancy Help Center provides classroom training and material assistance to young families in need.

“The fire was unfortunate for our administrative team, but it will have no negative impact on what we’re doing in the field,” Mrs. Healy said. “We can manage this move to a different building. We have a few programs, like our Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center, which will need to move with us, but just about all of our other clients are served at other locations, and none of our services or clients will be impacted by this.”

“We remain committed to serving our clients and community with minimal disruptions,” Mrs. Healy added. “We are incredibly thankful that no one was onsite (during the fire) and there were no injuries to the emergency personnel on the scene. Despite this setback, all services and programs are operational. We remain committed to serving our clients with minimal disruptions, and we are incredibly humbled and grateful for the support that enables us to do so.”

Bishop Richard F. Stika, clutching a small statue of the Blessed Mother found inside the burned-out CCETN offices on Dameron Avenue in Knoxville, uses a flashlight to assess the fire’s damage on Dec. 1. Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities, is with Bishop Stika, who also found a small wooden crucifix on a wall with a rosary draped over it.

In the days following the fire, Bishop Richard F. Stika made a visit to the building site to meet with Catholic Charities employees and survey the damage. Along with words of comfort and healing, he emphasized his support for efforts to rebuild CCETN’s administrative building, which Mrs. Healy said “will only make our programs and services stronger.”

“The damage is significant. This is not just a building; it’s a symbol of hope,” Bishop Stika said. “It’s the social outreach of the diocese, and it provides care and hope for people. Our clients are people that are in need, and it’s just so sad to see the destruction, and it’s sad to think that someone would do this intentionally.”

The building also was home to about 10 full-time employees, dozens of volunteers, and served more than 100 clients.

Fire and insurance investigators concluded their probe Dec. 1. The building was insured, and discussions are taking place on how it will be replaced or rebuilt. In the meantime, security has been increased at Catholic Charities offices and facilities.

“A great concern that I have is for the staff,” Bishop Stika said. “The clients will continue to be served. It might be a little inconvenient, but I am concerned for the staff because they feel vulnerable. That’s not a great feeling.”

“We just take it one day at a time. We can’t guess why this happened or why somebody would do this. But we believe in the work and the outreach, and we believe in our clients. So, we will take extra care dealing with the staff and the volunteers. We will provide counseling if they want it. Whatever they need. We will move forward,” the bishop added.

Knoxville Police Department officers and the Knoxville Fire Department responded to the Dameron Avenue offices at around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 28, where police officers found the building ablaze. It took firefighters about two hours to extinguish the flames.

According to fire department investigators, someone apparently broke into the building and started the fire, and Mrs. Healy said the incident appears to be a random act.

“The investigators are receiving leads and are following up on those leads,” Mrs. Healy said.

Catholic Charities plans to be operating from temporary offices this month, and the employees look forward to moving into new, rebuilt offices in 2023.

“We’re definitely rebuilding. We think it will be at least 12 months before we’re in a new building on Dameron Avenue,” Mrs. Healy said. “The good news is that we are still reachable via our main phone number and our Dameron Avenue mailing address.”

 

How to Contact Catholic Charities of East Tennessee:
By web: ccetn.org
By phone: 865-524-9896
By mail: 119 Dameron Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917

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