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Billie Millsaps, 7, donates supplies to Room at the Inn, a shelter for homeless women and children. It's Billie's way of making 2021 a "year of doing good." Contributed photo by Chelsy Millsaps.

One night several weeks ago, Chelsy Millsaps of Hixson, and her 7-year-old daughter, Billie, were driving to the second-grader's karate class and thinking back on 2020.

Chelsy and her husband Brian had tried to be frank with their daughter about the events of 2020.

While their family had weathered the year better than most, they didn't shield Billie from the fact that lots of Chattanoogans were sick and some were even out of work and hungry because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We were talking about how 2020 was just not a great year for anybody," Chelsy remembered of that car trip. "We saw long lines of people at the food bank, for example.

"I asked [Billie], 'How can we make this year better than 2020?" Chelsy said. "It makes me emotional to think about it."

Billie, a student at Battle Academy on Market Street, immediately had an idea.

"Me and my Mommy were talking about how bad last year was, and so we decided to make this year a good year," Billie recalled.

With that, Billie, whose hobbies include reading Harry Potter books and advancing through the belts at karate class, dedicated herself to making 2021 a "year of doing good."

Billie and Chelsy decided they would come up with a new service project every month to do their part to help others in 2021.

In January, they collected money and supplies for Room at the Inn, a local shelter for homeless women and children. Chelsy used social media to put out a list of needed items — nice clothes for job interviews, cleaning supplies, baby products — that could be repurposed from someone's clothes closet or purchased on Amazon and delivered to her house.

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Billie Millsaps, 7, of Hixson, makes Valentine cards for residents of Chattanooga area nursing homes. It's part of her "year of doing good" project. Contributed photo by Chelsy Millsaps.

"Every single day something would arrive at our door," Chelsy said.

By the end of January, Billie and Chelsy had collected more than 200 items to donate to Room at the Inn. Some people made cash donations, too, $185 in all.

"We had a tremendous haul," Chelsy said. "It was more than I ever expected."

On drop-off day, Billie, who is naturally shy, was a little apprehensive.

"I was a little bit scared because it was a place I had never been before, but I was happy we got to give all the stuff to Room at the Inn," Billie said.

"Gratitude is what is driving us," Chelsy said. "We did not lose our jobs, we were able to do school from home just fine... "Blessed" is a word we use daily around here."

For February, Billie has recruited a small group of her friends to make Valentine's Day cards for people in nursing homes and other senior living facilities. They have already pinpointed properties in Collegedale, Hixson and downtown Chattanooga to target.

Billie has been making some of the cards at home using pipe cleaners, doilies, stickers and glitter as decorations. Even her 2-year-old brother Ben is helping.

"He's really funny," Billie said.

"There's not much he can do, at 2, but throw glitter around," Chelsy said.

For April, the Millsaps will do an Easter-related service project, they said.

Meanwhile, 2020 is getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, suddenly overshadowed by goodwill and hope in the hearts of people like the Millsaps.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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