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When Terry Grahl, of Taylor, Michigan, was asked to lend her interior design expertise to the women's dorm of a local shelter for the homeless, she was shocked at the rooms the women and children lived in. "It was so depressing," says Grahl. The rusted metal beds were donations from a nearby prison and the tattered bedspreads were hand-me-downs from a nursing home. "Everything was broken. The carpet was torn and stained and the lights were busted," Grahl recalls. "I just wondered, 'How can these women go to bed and dream of a better future?'" The shelter, Grace Centers of Hope, is a safe haven for men and women trying to get back on their feet after battling addiction or escaping a violent home. It offers a one-year rehab and life-skills program, giving beds to more than 150 women. As a small local shelter, it did what it could on a limited budget, but the conditions were grim.
Grahl knew right away that she could help make the dorm a home the women could be proud of. "But it wasn't until I looked at the digital photos I took during the tour that it all clicked. I imagined a polka-dotted pillow on one of the beds and I got inspired," she says. To get started, Grahl posted the details of her project on her Web site, sent out e-mails, and got a write-up in her local newspaper to gather recruits. The volunteers -- a mix of family, friends, and area residents -- came together over a six-month period to help Grahl transform the drab dorm into an enchanted cottage replete with murals on the walls and flower boxes by the beds. She got a local furniture store to donate the major pieces, then asked volunteers to make everything from embroidered pillows to lampshades and curtains.
Though the transformation of the Grace Centers of Hope was dramatic, the impact on the residents was even bigger. "Now it truly feels like the home that some of us have never had," says Wanda Chapman, a resident. Pam Clark, PhD, the shelter's manager of programs for addicted and abused women, says it's important for the residents to have a place where they can feel safe and comfortable. "Because of Terry's makeover, we have many more women entering -- and staying in -- the program than ever before."
After completing the Grace Centers of Hope project, Grahl decided to turn her interior decorating business into a nonprofit called Enchanted Makeovers. It's funded by women's support groups as well as donors all over the world who contribute both money and handmade goods. As the head of Enchanted Makeovers, Grahl has gone on to convert shelters across the state of Michigan into beautiful living spaces. "The project changed the center, but it also changed me," she says. "Knowing that I can touch women's lives and make them feel comfortable and valued has inspired me in ways I didn't know were possible."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2010.