Tahlequah women helping former Stepping Stone rooming house tenants

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - A pair of Tahlequah women have stepped up to help former tenants of a rooming house that the city forced to close.

For residents of the Stepping Stone Rooming House, the last few weeks have been like a rollercoaster.

First, the death of one of the house's youngest residents, two-year-old Dakota Sanders, shocked the community.

According to police, Dakota showed signs of being suffocated or strangled to death.

Police arrested Dakota's mother, Jeri Sanders, and her common law husband, Buford Ellison, for the murder.

Ellison, who had battled cancer, died earlier this month.

Immediately after Dakota's death, the city ordered the rooming house to close because of building code violations.

Many residents who moved into the rooming house to start over, found themselves having to do it again, on short notice.

"It's like ripping your heart out, " tenant Heaven Braddy told 2NEWS last month.

After hearing about the struggles the newly displaced residents were going through, Denise LaGrand, and her friend Toni Bailey, decided to get involved.

They are collecting donations and helping the residents sign up for assistance programs.

"It was shut down without any organized effort to make sure these people got into homes somewhere else," said LaGrand."There were very few people actually doing anything to help the residents."

LaGrand said she was also spurred to action because of negative comments she read about the rooming house and its residents on social media.

"They need actual people doing something to help them, not getting on and spouting an opinion on Facebook," said LaGrand.

2NEWS followed along as LaGrand checked in with some of the residents on Monday afternoon, including Braddy.

Braddy is now a mother. Her son was born four days ago.

She and other Stepping Stone tenants, all women, are staying at a multi-unit house located a few blocks away from the rooming house.

Braddy is still adjusting to the change, and misses the friends she made at the rooming house.

"Denise has been a big help," said Braddy. "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have that car seat. We'd probably still be stuck at the hospital."

Prior to meeting with 2NEWS on Monday, LaGrand drove a couple of residents to a Cherokee Nation office to see if they could get assistance.

LaGrand said her goal is for every resident on her list, about 22 total, to get the help they need to get back on their feet.

Even though it is a lot of work, LaGrand said it is the right thing to do.

"We all want it to be someone else's problem," said LaGrand. "The reality is that until one person steps up and says 'I will help' then it's easy for everyone to let it be someone else's problem."

LaGrand and Bailey created a Facebook group which provides an updated list of items and donations needed.

For more information, search for the "Tahlequah Cares" group on Facebook, or call (918) 931-9600.

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