Freeman Atkins, a resident at Morning Pointe of Chattanooga for four years, is now 85 and still going strong. A former plant manager with the American Can Company in Forest Park, Georgia, you can say he is the life of the party at Morning Pointe of Chattanooga at Shallowford, always involved and out doing something fun in the community.
Atkins has led and coached the community’s cornhole team to two local senior living championship titles. He loves a good puzzle, and he has lots of good friends. He will tell you he has a very fulfilling life at Morning Pointe.
That’s what has made the fallout from the F3 Easter night tornado so hard for him. The devastating storm, which ravaged much of Ooltewah, severely damaged Morning Pointe of Chattanooga and The Lantern at Morning Pointe Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence both on Shallowford Road. Immediately, 130 residents were displaced. Atkins’s world was turned upside down in less than five minutes from the effects of the powerful storm.
The emergency evacuation was challenging, and COVID-19 made it so much harder. It’s been eight months since Atkins left Morning Pointe of Chattanooga in the middle of the night. Until recently, given new mandates from the state, it has been almost that long since he has been able to see some of his dear neighbors and staff in the same building because of the pandemic restrictions.
“After settling into my new apartment at Morning Pointe of East Hamilton and getting my things arranged, things were looking better,” says Atkins. “I miss everything about being home at Shallowford. I miss the people and talking to the ones who didn’t come to East Hamilton like me.”
The frightening night is still very much clear in his memory. “I was watching TV in my apartment to see the weather and watching for storms,” recalls Atkins. “It showed that the storms were moving out of the area, and I thought everything was going to be okay. Then…wham, bam! All of these noises started coming. It sounded like 14 freight trains. I started to hear glass breaking everywhere, and then the lights went out. I was still in my chair. I thought we were safe until all of a sudden, the wind was blowing, and I started to hear hollering. Someone knocked on my door. It was Tiffany, a resident assistant. She told me they needed help. I came back to get a flashlight and could only find a little keychain light. That’s when I noticed water coming from the ceiling. I went out into the hall, and the wind was blowing like mad. I started knocking on doors and telling everyone to get out into the hall.”
“I thought about being afraid, but then thought, ‘If it’s your will, Lord, then let it be. I am here for you.’ I knew I needed to do what I could to help others. As we all sat in the hall around one or two in the morning, the ceilings started pouring water and all we had were emergency lights. We started to get cold from the water and wind. There were a lot of scared people and many had been blown out of their beds. So many beds and apartments were covered in glass.”
Morning Pointe Senior Living owners Greg Vital and Franklin Farrow, along with additional staff, immediately arrived at the site to help the associates working that night with the evacuation. Carta public transit buses were called up to safely transport the residents to nearby hotels. “I was the last one to get on the last bus, in the last seat,” explains Atkins. “At the very end, I grabbed some necessary stuff from my apartment, went out into the rain, and boarded the bus. I looked back at the damage as we drove off and wondered when we would ever return.”
For the next two weeks, residents stayed at the nearby Embassy Suites hotel, and while the staff there were absolutely wonderful, for Freeman, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t his home, Morning Pointe of Chattanooga. “I am thankful that we had somewhere to go that night, that we were safe and dry, and I appreciated the staff taking care of us, checking on us, visiting, and providing meals, but it was a lonely time.”
Life at his temporary home, Morning Pointe of East Hamilton, has gotten a little better. There is some limited indoor visitation opportunities in senior living communities now, thanks to newer changes in state mandates, as long as buildings remain COVID-free for a specified period of time. But for Atkins, it’s still not the same. He has his eye on the prize: a move back to his home, Morning Pointe of Chattanooga. Like many, he is counting down the days and can’t wait.