BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Tragedy brought to the forefront this week a charity that has rarely been spotlighted in our community. Some had heard of The Open Arms Home for Children, but because of the nature of the charity and the need for privacy, awareness of this cause is often overshadowed.
A call came in at 8:36 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26, that the home for Open Arms was on fire, and emergency responders rushed to the scene. All of the girls housed at the Open Arms facility, as well as the staff, were able to make it out safely, but the home and personal belongings were devastatingly damaged.
State investigators determined that the fire was intentionally set, and Captain Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a juvenile was in custody. The investigation remains open as more details emerge about the fire.
Peter Knutzen, vice president of Open Arms, did confirm, “A couple of girls involved with the fire, that were in the home, are no longer in the home.”
As with many tragedies, there is a beautiful outpouring of support and love shown in the aftermath. This has been the case with the Open Arms disaster and the support of the community in the wake of the devastation.
“The first responders, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), DFACS (Division of Family and Children Services), and the general community of Blue Ridge and Blairsville and the surrounding area has done an incredible job of responding.” Knutzen began when questioned about the response of the community.
Wal-Mart of Blue Ridge helped the night of the fire with getting the girls the essentials needed for the following days. During their weekly luncheon, the Rotary Club of Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Lodging Association, as well as individuals and separate companies, announced monetary donations to be made to The Open Arms Home for Children.
Knutzen showed happiness as he recognized everyone coming together to support this cause. When talking about individuals who have offered help, Knutzen said, “Marines, guys that work with Toys for Tots, they’re going to go up and get everything out of the shed. Rakes, lawnmowers, everything that was not burnt and secure it.”
Knutzen, though deeply saddened by the recent events, displayed optimism when discussing the girls in their care and the future of Open Arms. “These girls are in crisis. They come from crisis. So for them, they are resilient in many ways. We have a wonderful group of girls with us right now,” Knutzen said.
As for how the girls are doing, Knutzen explained, “They feel let down because of what happened. The anxiety now is what happens next. We are assuring them, the best we can, that they are going to stay together. The girls find this home, the home they want to be at.”
Shortly after this interview, word did come from DFACS that the girls would be able to stay together, relieving one of the many obstacles to be faced in the process of rebuilding. In an update on the Open Arms Facebook page, the good news was announced:
“Thanks to DFACS, our girls will remain here together and will continue schooling and extra-cirricular activities in Fannin County. This is a true blessing and for sure an answer to our prayers.”
While the days, weeks, and months to come will be a struggle to this charity as they replace and rebuild, Open Arms would like to the community to know how much their continued support means and how grateful they are. “We have an incredible community that has, and always, responds to crisis,” Knutzen concluded.
If you would like to make a donation or learn more about The Open Arms Home for Children please visit their website at www.oahome.org. Donations can also be made at several locations in Blue Ridge and Blairsville. These locations include: United Community Bank (Main Branch), Blue Ridge Cotton Company and Gather (East Main Street, Blue Ridge), Blue Ridge Cotton Company (Blairsville), Harry Norman Realtors (West Main Street, Blue Ridge) and Old Toccoa Farms (Mineral Bluff).
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