Our story began in the winter of 2013 when Hailey Johnston, our President and CEO, started to dream of a way to support, nurture, and empower women in need in her community. Hailey gathered other women who had the same passion and formed Free 2 Fly’s first Board of Directors. Over the next year they started forming a program that would assist women who were coming out of a variety of situations such as homelessness, addiction, crisis pregnancy and more.
Hailey paired her love of sewing and her passion for helping women and Free 2 Fly was born. In April of 2015 Free 2 Fly’s vision was introduced to the community and later that year, the now well known ‘bird & barn’ fundraiser was launched. This fundraiser is a market like event where a variety of local handmade vendors gather to sell their products and a percentage of all sales benefit Free 2 Fly. Over the years this event has grown into our favorite day of the year and our biggest fundraiser!
In January 2015 we rented our first official office and workspace in downtown Cleveland, TN and a month later we welcome our first woman into our program. Later that summer we hired Joanna Ivey as our Creative Director and from there, our program, product line and organization grew! We were selling products both online and in pop-up shops around town.
Over the next year we welcomed more women into our program and we quickly realized we would need a new workspace and office to operate. In September of 2016 we moved to a new location and opened our first storefront. But we didn’t get too comfortable, because as our organization became more well-known and the buzz about our handmade bags and jewelry grew, we knew we needed to yet again expand. We then moved our storefront and offices next door and expanded our workspace to accommodate more women for our program.
By the spring of 2018 we were now working with a variety of local organizations to refer women to our program. Women at the Well, Family Promise, Foundation House Ministries, and Women of Hope. By creating these community partnerships we were able to continue to grow and welcome women into our program from all walks of life and provide them with financial, emotional, and spiritual support to get them on the path to sustainability.
Later that year an opportunity presented itself to purchase a building around the block from our current location. The building had been used as a storage facility for some time, but we could see the potential it had, and knew that it meant our organization could continue to grow for years to come. Purchasing this building was a major step of faith for our organization, but we knew this was an opportunity only God could have orchestrated. There were rental apartments on the top floor that were occupied. Because of the rental income, we realized that that would allow our organization to be able to pay the monthly mortgage & expenses on the building. With that plan in place, we knew we would next need to raise the construction expenses to be able to restore the space.
In January of 2019 we launched our Capital Campaign for our “Forever Home”. We set a goal of $150,000 to get it move in ready. Over the next year our staff, board, women, and volunteers worked around the clock to fundraise, clean, and restore the building.
Finally in February of 2020, Free 2 Fly moved into our “Forever Home” where we still (and will always) remain.
Our organization has seen so much growth over the years- not only in the number of women we have served, but in our staff, volunteers and supporters. We are now in the perfect space to continue to support, nurture, and empower the women in our community.