Terry Grahl is a self-described home-healer. And sometimes, it’s the people without homes who need her help the most.
Terry is the Founder and Visionary of Enchanted Makeovers, a nonprofit organization that grew out of an interior design business she started in 2005. With its staff of volunteers from around the country, Enchanted Makeovers transforms homeless shelters into homes for the women and children living there.
Terry says it was divine intervention that led her down this road. In 2007, after working for traditional clients for several years, she found herself hesitantly agreeing to paint a wall of a nearby homeless shelter—just one wall.
But once Terry saw the shelter, she knew just one wall would not be enough. “Rooms represent things to me,” she says. “Every room should have a story or a message.” And the message she saw in the shelter she visited troubled her. The rooms were falling apart, with stained carpets and used prison beds lining the walls of the women’s dorms.
“Everything was in pieces,” Terry says. “And what message does that send to the women living there? It was a great program, but the surroundings were working against it.”
Terry had no money and no volunteers. But, motivated by a strong faith that this was a task she must undertake, she set out to transform the shelter anyway. What resulted was not only a positive change in the built environment of the shelter, but also in the direction and purpose of her business.
Since then, Terry says it’s been a perpetual leap of faith—and every time she leaps, the net seems to appear. Enchanted Makeovers gained official nonprofit status in 2009 and has amassed a growing network of volunteers from around the country with wide-ranging skills, including carpentry, crafting, and marketing. So far, the organization has worked to transform shelters across eight different States.
The work has special meaning for Terry, who recalls her own childhood spent living on food stamps and moving from one place to the next after her family lost its home. “I remember when I was nine, we went to this place and were able to pick out one single Christmas gift,” she remembers. “Even though I was grateful, I didn’t feel like the man there really saw me. And I didn’t like how that felt.”
But for Enchanted Makeovers, taking the time to see and understand people is at the core of the work. “We go in and listen to what the residents and the staff wish for,” Terry explains. “When you work with a shelter, you realize it’s about the journey, and not the destination. It’s not a one-day visit kind of thing.”
The organization’s foundation is built on the mantra, She is Me. “We all cry, we all have hopes, and we all have dreams,” Terry explains. “When we see ourselves in each other, we start to treat each other differently.” Once people start to think in this way, she says, they no longer donate stained, torn blankets or ripped clothes. Instead, they spend hours sewing beautiful quilts, knitting blankets, and embroidering pillowcases for women and children living in shelters.
“She is Me is about seeing yourself in another,” Terry says. “And that is the biggest change that empowers communities.”
For Terry, that change is evident in the reactions from shelter residents. She remembers one woman telling her that the shelter’s makeover made her feel like she was in heaven. “And what she’s really saying,” says Terry, “is that now, she feels worthy.”
The built environment of shelters is just as important for the staff as it is for residents. “It’s a hard job to work in a shelter,” says Terry. The makeovers have helped staff feel more positive about their work environment. “This is a transformation of everyone involved,” Terry says. “No one comes out the same—not the women and children, not the shelter staff, and not our volunteers. It’s a movement.”
The thing that drives Terry the most is her belief that everyone’s story matters. “I hope that when people read my story, it opens their eyes and heart to their surroundings—and that they see that it’s not enough,” she says. She encourages shelter staff everywhere to take a close look at their own environments and to think about whether physical improvements would help to promote inspiration, motivation, and better outcomes for their residents.
From here, Terry hopes to create a national headquarters for Enchanted Makeovers in Detroit. People from all over the world have contacted her about the model she’s created, and she says that the organization now has more national volunteer crafters than local ones. She hopes to be able to help more shelters undergo transformations that will be meaningful for them.
In the meantime, she urges staff to draw on the passions they have right there in the shelter to start creating change. “Help [shelter residents] paint a mural that tells their story,” she suggests. “Start by finding out what you love to do, and work from that place.”
Above all, she hopes the changes she inspires will show women and children living in shelters that they are worthy, that they do matter, that they do have a voice—and most importantly, that someone is listening.
“Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter which four walls surround us,” says Terry. “We’re all just people.”
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