Catholic Charities returns home after fire

Renovations to Knoxville headquarters complete following 2021 unsolved arson

By Dan McWilliams

After a tragic arson fire displaced many offices of the agency in November 2021, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee has been moving back to its renovated and renewed Dameron Avenue headquarters in North Knoxville as spring changed to summer this year.

Lisa Healy, CCETN executive director, stood inside the building at 119 Dameron Ave. and gave thanks for the move-in.

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee has moved into its newly renovated offices at 119 Dameron Ave. in Knoxville. The Diocese of Knoxville agency is once again serving clients at this location.

“I’m so joyful. It just seems like it’s been a long time coming,” she said, her voice breaking. “It’s almost emotional, but you’ve got to give glory to God because He makes all good things out of the ashes. Having an arson fire was tragic for us and emotional. To have something this beautiful come out of the ashes is just fantastic. We’re blessed.”

The office building was still largely empty in mid-June, but that did not last.

“We got occupancy today. We’ve got a little bit of a punch list. We’re working on getting all of our swipe and security locks in,” Mrs. Healy said on June 15. “We’re waiting for some glass for our reception area, a little reception furniture, but all in all we’re ready to move our boxes in, and we’ll be ready for clients in a few days.”

The Pregnancy Help Center is based at Dameron Avenue, which is a couple of blocks from Holy Ghost Church, and the facility will include a clinic with an ultrasound machine purchased by the Knights of Columbus.

“That’s going to mean an opportunity to enhance pregnancy services to save lives,” Mrs. Healy said. “Pregnancy Help has served the community through Catholic Charities for 20 years. We added adoption in December, and ultrasound will be opening soon. We built the space here to house our ultrasound exam room.”

Paul Ritter, chief operations officer for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, returns to his updated office following a 2021 fire that gutted the facility.

No one was arrested in the aftermath of the Nov. 28, 2021, arson fire, which occurred at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Police discovered the blaze when responding to an alarm at the building at about 10:30 p.m. Firefighters discovered a gasoline can and a matchbook near the window the perpetrator broke to gain entry. Fire gutted much of the building’s interior, and there was extensive smoke and water damage. The interior was deemed a total loss.

“It’s been over 18 months,” Mrs. Healy said. “The insurance took care of most everything, but there are other things that we had to enhance and do with donation money, so between the donors and the insurance we’ve been able to take care of this project. I can’t tell you how supportive the community has been. All of our faithful donors, new donors, our community vendors and partners—we’ve had some Catholic foundations like Raskob [Foundation for Catholic Activities] that have provided support. Of course, our board of directors has been fantastic as far as our support here. We’ve got two of our best vendors in the architect, which is George Ewart, and Rouse Construction. It’s been great, but this is a whole new area. We didn’t have this before.”

Catholic-owned George Armour Ewart Architect designed the refurbished CCETN offices. Darrell Roach of Knoxville’s Rouse Construction is the general contractor. Michelle Barillaro, director of estimating and an architect for Rouse, is the project manager for the CCETN work. Interior designer Christina Fehr Brooks of the Ewart firm also worked on the CCETN project.

Ada Hernandez-Bell, program manager at Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, unpacks boxes in her new office at CCETN’s Knoxville headquarters at 119 Dameron Ave.

Mrs. Healy said she was grateful to all of those people but mentioned one other.

“We’ve just got to give thanks for our bishop of Knoxville, Richard Stika. Without his support, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee would not be doing what they’re doing today,” she said. “We wouldn’t be growing. He’s always been supportive not only of our traditional services, our legacy services, but also our new services in saving lives with adoption and ultrasound. I think it’s important to say that. There are good things to talk about and the work that he’s supporting here at Catholic Charities. We’re just so thankful.”

The newly renovated offices are high-tech, Mrs. Healy said.

“We have a state-of-the-art conference room. Our television isn’t up, but they’re coming to put some technology in that room tomorrow,” she said. “We have a smaller conference room. We have enhanced information technology systems for communication. We’ve got robust security that we’ve been able to add to the building, both interior and exterior. One of the really neat things that we have here is a silent panic alarm, so if something does happen at our doors, the panic alarm can be hit, and then the lights in the building will actually flicker to warn that something is going on, and a text message will come to your phones, so we have an enhanced security system that we’re really excited about. Clearview [Security] is doing our security.”

And there is a place for everyone who calls Dameron Avenue home. That includes not only the Pregnancy Help Center but also the Office of Immigrant Services, CHAP (Columbus Home Assisting Parents), and all of Catholic Charities’ administration, everything from operations and human resources to development. Chief operating officer Paul Ritter is among those with offices at Dameron.

Sandi Davidson, who leads Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Pregnancy Help Centers, shows off the new ultrasound area in Catholic Charities’ recently renovated offices in Knoxville.

“We have all the spaces pretty much taken, but we were fortunate in the Office of Immigrant Services area. We do a lot of work with the Duncan Law School at Lincoln Memorial University, so we’ve got a space for all of our budding attorneys who help us. We do AmeriCorp VISTA [program to alleviate poverty], so we have a space for them. We have a space for volunteers and all our employees,” Mrs. Healy said.

A staff-entrance area will have an important display to greet employees as they come to work each day, she added.

“Our mission statement starts with ‘by the grace of Jesus Christ.’ We’re going to put ‘by the grace of Jesus Christ’ on this wall, and then we’re going to have black-and-white photos that represent the people we serve: children, seniors, people with handicaps, people who are non-American citizens from all over the world,” Mrs. Healy said.

“We serve people of different religions. We may have somebody with a burqa on or a sari. We want when our employees walk in to remind them that our mission is given by the grace of Jesus, and we want them to see the faces of the people they serve. Every time they enter or exit the building, this will be just a beautiful reminder of why we’re here. We’ve got some really cool, modern benches, so when visitors come, they can wait for us here and admire our mural wall, so we’re really excited about that,” the Catholic Charities executive director noted.

CCETN used the Regas Building on North Gay Street as its home after the fire.

“We’ll be out of the Regas Building. They’re coming to break down our furniture, so we’re on a tight time frame to get in here,” Mrs. Healy said.

Comments 1

  1. Congratulations!
    We wish you a smooth transition into your new home.
    Please know we’re a resource for special needs that may arise. Just let us know.
    Saint Albert the Great Men’s Fellowship and Knights of Columbus of Holy Ghost.
    Phil Oakley

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