Terry Grahl has a knack for the creative. To an observer, it might appear that ideas just come to her.
Yet she attributes the inspiration to a higher power.
“I call it divine intervention,” she says.
The Taylor, Michigan, woman sees the beauty of the world through her love for all people. To Grahl, everyone is equal, everyone can learn from others. Everyone is worthwhile. Grahl’s nationally-recognized nonprofit, Enchanted Makeovers, takes its sense of mission from that spirit.
The organization’s goal is to transform the interiors of homeless shelters across the country. Grahl firmly believes that an encouraging, supportive living environment is key to restoring hope. Appalled by the drab state of many shelters, Grahl uses her artistic expertise to make these shelters into welcoming retreats, places where women and children can heal.
Enchanted Makeovers got its start in 2006, when Grahl, an award-winning interior decorator, got an unlikely call. An event coordinator for a Detroit homeless shelter asked her if she could come and paint a single wall in the facility.
When she got to the place, she was appalled by the prison-like state of the shelter. She took pictures to ponder the possibility of tackling the painting project but at first, she felt at a loss about how to follow through.
Yet as she studied the images of a grim bedroom in the facility, a particularly dull pillow beckoned to her, she said in an interview with Street Sense. It was as if the pillow was calling out for polka dots. Her creative drive kicked in, and she knew what to do in order to make the shelter a warm and friendly place.
Grahl did not stop with that project. She learned more about the crisis of homelessness nationwide. She was particularly troubled to find out about the growing numbers of families and female military veterans among the homeless. She studied research about the importance of stable and nurturing environments in helping homeless women and children overcome domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and other crises. Talented business people, craftspeople and volunteers reached out to Grahl to help her rehabilitate other shelters, aiming to transform them into beacons of hope.
Since that first project eight years ago, many other shelters have received Enchanted Makeovers.
“Hundreds of rooms and thousands of lives have been transformed in 12 states,” Grahl proudly reports.
Under the umbrella of Enchanted Makeovers, Grahl has gone on to create several other nonprofits. Currently, Grahl is touring the country with one of them. The Sacred Sewing Room program transforms dingy shelter rooms into cheerful sewing rooms complete with fabric, thread, patterns and sewing machines. Volunteer sewing instructors share the art and skill of sewing with homeless women who are living in the shelters.
Grahl understands the therapy that creating can provide to people who are reaching for hope and a better future. Creating gives women a voice.
Another favorite project has been the Capes for Kids initiative where kids are given handmade capes to help channel their inner superhero, strength, and imagination.
Grahl doesn’t believe in waiting for a superhero, but, rather, that kids have it within themselves to become their own superhero. In fact, Family Fun magazine is now collaborating with Capes for Kids to help the children, themselves, make their own capes.
Grahl said her many programs have come naturally to her. They stemmed from the heart that is Enchanted Makeovers like “branches that are growing.” Currently, Grahl is staying very busy with projects, including the December opening of an official headquarters for Enchanted Makeovers in her hometown of Taylor, a Detroit suburb. She’s keeping track of her moments and hopes to write a book on her work and experiences.
People often ask Grahl why she doesn’t franchise Enchanted Makeovers to help it grow even more. Grahl, who sees the organization as her heart and soul, says she is reluctant to delegate too much of the work beyond the core community where it began. Enchanted Makeovers is about community and bringing community to places that need it most across the country. If it means that she and her team have to travel to personally deliver that spirit, that’s what she will do.
Currently, Grahl relies on outside sources for her makeover materials; however, as an artist with a vision, she’d like to take up production herself. Shelters require fire retardant fabric, and most fire retardant fabric is “hideous,” she says. In order to get more beautiful fabrics that meet shelter regulations, Grahl wants to start her own fabric line.
Grahl’s ambition isn’t limited to just fabrics. In order to truly fulfill her artistic vision of vintage, nostalgic environments that foster optimism, Grahl wants to start her own cottage-style furniture line that is timeless yet unique. “Everything is so rough in shelters,” says Grahl. It’s important for a shelter’s residents to internalize beauty that’s soft and gentle. By using fabric and furniture that she designs, Grahl can better achieve this needed transformation in shelters across the country.
Grahl would also love for her new headquarters in Taylor to provide a place for workshops for women’s empowerment. Grahl hopes to include a pole barn in the backyard of the upcoming headquarters and transform it into a place of beautiful creation instead of just using it for storage.
For phase two of her sewing program, Grahl is working with the Fashion and Business departments at Centenary College of New Jersey. With them, she plans to create sewing centers in New Jersey and Detroit, with the idea that after women leave the program, they’ll have the job skills to support themselves. In accordance with her drive to bring empowerment to those who don’t have it, Grahl is also working with the college to improve the design of hospital gowns and create more appealing garments that are full of dignity and respect for cancer patients.
Grahl’s core goal is to get people to see the world through her eyes. She cites the film, The Enchanted Cottage, where a disfigured socialite and a homely maid fall in love. Because of their love they appear more beautiful to each other. Love is the source of beauty, and Grahl hopes that others can see the love she sees. “I see the light; I refuse to entertain the darkness.” With “hope, dignity, and respect,” the women and children of these shelters can envision new possibilities and dreams for themselves.
Grahl’s success relies on her vision. “The emotion is what I lock onto,” said Grahl. For her, human empathy and understanding is the heart of her work.