When Tasia Gartner left school on Tuesday and headed home, she had no idea what she was about to walk into. Literally.
In some ways that's been the story of Tasia's life. Around every corner in 11-year-old Tasia's life there has been an unexpected twist and turn, and rarely for the best. She was raised in various households among drugs, abuse and crime until the age of 10. Along the way, her father was sent to prison and her mother passed away and when her grandfather was no longer able to take care of her, the state gained custody of her.
Needless to say the surprises, twists and turns in Tasia's life weren't much to look forward to. In December 2011, a distant cousin stepped in and gained temporary custody of her and eventually permanent custody. That distant cousin was Lisa Ragsdale, and with the help of her husband, Staff Sgt Clay Ragsdale, they welcomed Tasia into their home with their two children.
Through a partnership with Rooms To Go and the Atlanta Falcons, Tasia's family's home was selected for a home makeover and on Tuesday, she walked into her home to find new things everywhere she looked and a roomful of Falcons — Todd McClure, Asante Samuel and Michael Turner, Freddie the Falcon and Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders. A quiet, young girl who has spent the last year of her life with the Ragsdales was completely stunned.
"This little girl has gone through so much," McClure said. "Her family has gone through so much and to have one day with smiles on their faces and bedrooms and furniture that can make them happy when they come home, I think that will all make it worth it."
Rooms To Go supplied the furniture and the manpower to make over the living room and four bedrooms in the Ragsdale's home. As it turns out, Rooms To Go and the Falcons supplied a lot more.
"For Tasia, to know where she's come from and see how she's changed in such a short period," SSG Ragsdale said. "Before, she didn't have a future, self-esteem or anything. To see this and understand that people give back and not because they have to, but because it's the right thing to do. It builds confidence in her to let her know there's a future and there are people out there that care about her."
The Falcons Community Makeover program is in its third year with Rooms To Go and this year's final makeover, according to Warren Kornblum, Rooms To Go's chief strategic officer, is another in a long line of makeovers that have helped change lives, or at least make challenging lives more comfortable.
"This year when I saw Tasia's story and the Ragsdales and what they've done, it just jumped off the page," Kornblum said of his selection of the Ragsdales for the full home makeover. "I said we had to do it and make it about the whole family. We like to think we can help change a kid's life by doing something nice or honoring them, but here's a man who serves his country and he and his wife get together and literally save this young girl's life and bring her in. Who better to do this for than them?"
It's another occurence in a long line of them from the Falcons as they set the example in the NFL for what it means to take care of the community that supports the franchise so loyally.
"It starts at the top," McClure said. "(Team owner and chairman Arthur Blank) wants guys involved. It's not just guys going out doing something they have to do. This is something I enjoy. I enjoy seeing the looks on the kids' faces. I think that permeates throughout the whole organization."
Since joining the Ragsdale family, Tasia became involved in martial arts. She's gone from a white belt to an orange belt and in the process has learned how to work with others while developing her sense of self and her confidence. What was once a soft-spoken girl now leads her class in stretches and is the first recipient of the Master Mitt Lenix Scholarship to pay for her continued pursuit of karate.
Tuesday night Tasia lay down in her new bed, surrounded by many new things to call her own and went to sleep. She no doubt thought about growing up sleeping on floors. She had few words beyond "Thank you" on Tuesday, but there was no question her mind raced with the thoughts of the possibilities.
"She'll sleep tonight knowing that there are more people than just us that love her and that's what she needs," her father said.