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Project ReNeWal receives $6,000 grant

CONYERS - Sarah Miller wanted to do her part to help raise money to buy a playground for children displaced by domestic violence, and Wednesday, she learned she had been successful.

Miller received a phone call from former television talk show host Jenny Jones telling her she would donate $6,000 to Project ReNeWal to help construct a play place at the battered women's shelter.

"That's awesome! Thank you so much!" said Miller, who received the surprise phone call from Jones at noon in her office.

"They have nothing right now. It will be wonderful."

Jones, who hosted a national talk show from 1991 to 2003, established Jenny's Heroes, a program administered through The Jenny Jones Foundation. According to the Jenny's Heroes Web site, her goal is to donate $1 million in grants of up to $25,000 to individuals who submit the best ideas for tangible, lasting community projects chosen for their significant long-term benefits.

Miller is the children's advocate for Project ReNeWal, the domestic violence shelter that serves Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties. Throughout the month of June, 24 people - 10 mothers and 14 children - lived in the shelter. On Wednesday, Miller said nine were staying there but more were expected to arrive later in the day.

"Sometimes it gets really hard, but it makes me happy to know that we gave (the children) what they needed when they're here, and they were safe," Miller told Jones.

Stevenson said between July 1, 2007, and June 30, Project ReNeWal assisted 2,419 children, 1,399 women and 80 men who were victims of domestic violence. Over the past year, 317 lived in the shelter, 176 of whom were children.

While the majority of the children at the shelter are 10 years and younger, Stevenson said Project ReNeWal accepts children of any age and is the only shelter in the Atlanta area that accepts boys over the age of 12.

"We take any child who comes here with a parent," she said.

Stevenson said that the shelter formerly had a wooden swing set, but it began to fall apart, becoming a safety hazard. About a year ago, shelter workers took down the swing set.

So Miller started looking around the Internet and came across Jenny's Heroes. On a whim, she completed the online application and thought that was the end of it.

"I didn't think anything would come of it," Miller said as she sat at her desk in the children's center - where she decorated each room with its own theme with floor-to-ceiling paintings and handprints from the kids who passed through the shelter.

Vickie Stevenson, executive director for Project ReNeWal, said she was unaware Miller had applied until she received a call from members of Jenny's Heroes staff asking for more information.

"For Sarah, it was just for the kids here. Her heroes are the kids," Stevenson said.

After learning that the organization may have a chance to secure some funds, shelter employees began researching the costs for playground sets that could work at the 20-bed shelter. They settled on a play set for about $15,000 from Southern Playgrounds in Marietta. With the $6,000 grant from Jenny's Heroes and a $1,000 donation from the Telephone Pioneers, a group of retired AT&T employees from Snellville, Project ReNeWal is about halfway to its goal.

Stevenson said she hopes the balance of the money needed for the playground can be raised during Project ReNeWal's annual fundraising golf tournament Aug. 1.

Stevenson said she hopes to see about 30 teams participate in the four-person scramble. The tournament will begin at 11 a.m. for lunch with a 1 p.m. shotgun start at Honey Creek Country Club in Conyers. Courtesy Ford will sponsor a prize for any player who gets a hole in one. Stevenson said Project ReNeWal raised $17,000 in 2007 through the golf tournament.

For more information, call Project ReNeWal at 770-860-9770.

Aimee Jones can be reached at aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.