On first pass, you might miss the small tan building with the dark stains on East Sullivan Street. The ornate metal fence in front of the entrance with Jesus spelled out on it, the wooden and metal cross, and, the biblical quote, “For God so loved the world…,” adorning the outside wall signal that this is a spiritual place; perhaps a church. But, then there is that sign, “The Oasis: Empowering women through love, laughter, and laundry.” Laundry?
“Most women who come here say that as soon as they walk in the door they have a feeling of peace, connectedness, and things like that which is what we want. That’s how we want to keep it,” says Shantell Boyd, Executive Director of The Oasis.
And, it is a calming place. There is an overall peace that comes over you even with the hustle and bustle of the two women volunteers readying the washing machines for the women who will surely come in to do their laundry in the early afternoon.
There is a small living room where women can visit, a kitchen, childcare area with comfortable leather sofas, a sewing area, a crafts area, a store, a computer area, showers, and the laundry room that started it all; including the namesake washing machine.
IT STARTED WITH A WASHING MACHINE
The Oasis is a 501(c)(3) non-profit women’s ministry founded by the late Kermit Addington. Addington, a business trainer for UPS, began several charitable outreach programs in the Kingsport area including The Oasis.
Addington started Oasis in June of 2014 with three washers and three dryers. One of the washers was severely dented on the bottom. The model of that washer was The Oasis. Addington felt that name aptly described the place he envisioned.
“Oasis started out being mostly laundry and a place for women to come and build community, and relax. It was very ministry focused in the beginning. It has evolved where it kind of made a turn toward the 501(3)(c) side and was secular based and then it turned back to being ministry based. And that is where we’ve kept it in the last year,” said Boyd.
SERVING WOMEN IN THE COMMUNITY
Over 700 women have come through the doors since its opening in 2014. Boyd says currently they have 350 to 400 active guests on their roster. Of those served, about 100 are homeless women. At the Oasis all the women are referred to as guests; not clients.
“The largest amount of our demographic comes from low income housing in the area,” said Boyd. “Our second largest demographic is our homeless population. We get women all the time that are drug addicted. You can’t get into a shelter, because you can’t pass a drug test. Those are the ones who come here often to take a shower.”
At the Oasis, women can do two loads of laundry a day for fifty cents, take a shower, and walk around in provided robes if they want. All detergents and personal hygiene products are provided as well. Women and their children are guests at the facility.
MORE THAN A LAUNDROMAT
Guests begin by having an intake session. This can be done by appointment or walk-in. “When they come in the door we meet the whole person,” said Boyd. “We do an intake with them and we find out key questions about that person. We go over the rules of the facility and if they indicate that they are homeless, we ask certain questions like:
Have you eaten today? Do you need to take a shower? Do you have clothing? Do you need a place to stay out of the weather? Do you need us to set you up with a shelter? Do you have children? Are they homeless? Where are they? This sets us apart from a laundry mat.”
Boyd said she takes her time with each guest and will call around looking for the resources in the area to get the guest the help she needs.
“We are a resource hub. And what we do is set up a plan to put in place for that person to become more self-sufficient and to move forward in life. That is what we want.” she said.
Besides providing counseling and classes, the Oasis and their volunteers help their guests find housing. They help the guest complete the public housing application on-site and get the proper letters of reference for the homeless guest that will allow her to obtain public housing.
Oasis directs their guests to resources in the community for the help they need whether it’s help finding a job, child care, GED or high school diploma or other services.
“We want to see people grow, and part of that growth is assessing who they are as a person, where they are in life and what we can do to help them to get further along in the process,” she said.
Sometimes that help is getting women out of a domestic violence situation. Once a guest who was a victim of domestic violence was stalked outside the Oasis by the abuser and Boyd, and her staff of volunteers, had to covertly get her to a shelter.
Boyd is the only paid staff of the Oasis. The rest of the staff are volunteers or college social work interns pursing their master’s degrees.
Guests at the Oasis also take part in a program called, P.E.R.K.S., an acronym for Participate, Earn, Responsibility, Keep Going, Succeed. A guest receives a bingo-like card with blank squares called a Perks Card. She receives points for the classes she completes. Activities like counseling or life skills classes have a higher point value. She can use her points to buy items she needs in the on-site store.
Available items include bedding, cleaning items, toiletries, and small appliances. All the items are purchased through a grant from the local Walmart store. The guest uses her points like money. For the guest who struggles with math, Boyd said, this helps her learn that skill and teaches her responsibility and self-sufficiency.
The facility also has a salon on-site staffed by a volunteer hairdresser every fourth Monday of the month to cut and style a guests hair if she wants it.
Bryndean (last name withheld by request) is a guest who stops by to do her mother’s laundry. On this day, she is helping make pom-pom wreaths for a fundraiser. She said that she loves coming to The Oasis.
“I make new friends and if they need help I’m willing to help them,” she said. “The ladies who come in here are just a delight to sit and talk to. This is the neatest place and the nicest place that gentleman established for these ladies. A lot of people look down on the ladies because they’re homeless and on the street. They’re not bad people.”
Helping women and their children get off the street and into housing is just one of the goals of the Oasis. Along with the cooking classes and crafts, the facility offers counseling as part of their goal of treating the whole person.
“We do have a family psychologist, drug counselors, recovery counseling, and then I have a divinity degree, so I can do Christian counseling,” said Boyd.
The twelve-member board for the facility includes a Spiritual Director who writes the devotions for the facility. Some of the guests come in for devotions and prayer. There is a monthly calendar that each guests picks up listing the activities for the month along with the devotions for the month.
“These people here they don’t treat you like homeless women,” said guest, Breath Stone, who had come to the center for a sewing lesson. “They treat you as individuals and they care about you.”
She said that she and her daughter aren’t from the area so she brings her daughter to play with other children in the play area.
The Oasis is totally funded by churches, organizations, individual donations, and fundraisers.
Boyd says that she will be at Oasis a long time. “As long as God wants me to be here. I hope to be here for the expansion of this place.
“We’ve talked about getting a bigger building. We don’t have room for a clothes closet. We could really use that. We have a lot of women who come here asking for clothes.” For now she keeps the clothes in the classroom until there is a class and then has to move them to her car.
Boyd said that she would like to see an Oasis in every city. “We would like to branch out and have an inner-city Oasis in every city eventually. So that is kind of our future plans and, if I stick around, I hope to see it. I hope to be a part of it.”
Said Stone about The Oasis: “They care about you and your family and they are helpful with everything. I can say I’ve met some of my really good friends here.”
Yes, it’s more than a laundromat.
If you would like to support The Oasis of Kingsport, go to their Facebook page.