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Friday, December 23, 2011

"We Wish You A Merry Christmas: 'Joyous Holiday Singing from the Kids'"


"We put all of our little voices together, and one big, beautiful sound comes out."

Residents of the Riverview Community can thank the New Vision Kids for spreading Christmas cheer this season. Many of them were greeted at the front door by New Vision Christmas caroling this week.

It's a yearly tradition.

"We've been Christmas caroling door-to-door for the past 8 years," says New Vision Kids director Johnnie Mae Swagerty, who partners with South Central Community Development for the event. "The kids really enjoy singing the Christmas songs. It's part of their continuing holiday activities."

The kids sing with a purpose.

"We do this in memory of Mrs. Julia Evans," Swagerty says. "Before she passed away, she would put on a coat and come outside with us, and would just never want us to leave. She'd pull me aside and say, 'Johnnie Mae, please don't ever stop doing this.. these carolers are beautiful. Keep it going for the seniors who can't get out. Nobody may ever get to see anybody, except these children singing to them. All they have to do is get to the door. They need that,' she'd say."

"Keep it up," she'd say, "and we always have, in memory of Mrs. Evans."


The weather cooperated, as 26 New Vision kids and 7 adult chaperones began their trek at 4 P-M on Monday, December 19th. First on the visiting list were the non-profit agencies in the V.O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex.

"We started singing with the Big Brothers-Big Sisters office, then Kingsport Tomorrow," Swagerty says. "Then, the Boys and Girls Club and Head Start, the VFW and we finished with UETHRA (Upper East Tennessee Human Resources Agency), all of the non-profit organizations. They gave us candy and told us to be sure and come back next year. Everybody really enjoyed the songs.. it really put them in the holiday mood."

Click here to see a slideshow from the New Vision Kids' Christmas caroling in the Riverview neighborhood. These pictures are courtesy Chassie Smiley-Freeman.

The singing then moved over to Dale Street, with "Jingle Bells," "The First Noel,"and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

"Every year, Ms. Barbara Bristol welcomes us with open arms," she says. "Mrs. Ethel Ruth (Russell) always comes out... Mrs. Mary Skaggs comes out, Sheila Leeper.. Sissy Graves always comes out when she hears us outside, Valerie Williams and her family. Ms. Roberta McClintock always comes to the door to listen, my sister Tish Hayes and my mother Pastor Geraldine come out. Ms. Mary Carpenter always comes out, her and her family. Mrs. (Jean) Clark wasn't home, but we still stopped at her house and her neighbors came out. Ms. Kathy Cox is new on Dale Street.. she said 'if I'd known y'all were coming, I'd have had y'all some hot chocolate.' On Maple Street, Jenny Hankins was out listening, Ms. Hardie came to the door and listened. Richard Hicks had been sick, but he was glad to hear us and Angel Pruitt.

"We also went by Twinkle and Will McClintock, and Ms. Chi-Chi ALWAYS gets a thrill out of hearing the kids.. she comes to the door and really enjoys it."

Then it was on to Riverview.. and more of "Rudolph, The Red-Nose Reindeer,""Away In A Manger,""Joy To The World," and most any other Christmas song you could think of.

"We stopped by Ms. Betsy and Mr. Jack Pierce," Swagerty says, "and the kids sang around their Nativity Scene in the front yard. They really enjoyed it. We went down to Dunbar Street, and swung down to Mrs. Roberta (Big Mama) Deal and Charlene opened up the door and we just sang and sang. Jerri Leeper came out and Olivia Swafford did, too."

We stopped by 'Miss Toots' (Mamie Gillenwater) and she invited us in. We sang 'Jingle Bells' to her and as we were leaving, she said 'don't ever stop doing this caroling, it's beautiful. She also got in a request for her Christmas present: a fried fish sandwich. Please fry me one. I had promised her from our last fundraiser. Before this year is out, I WILL fry up a fish sandwich for 'Miss Toots.'"

"Everywhere we sang, people were so overjoyed to see us," she says, "and the one thing they kept saying was 'don't ever stop doing this because most people don't go caroling anymore."

That does bring up an interesting point. We've checked, and there doesn't seem to be any other organizing Christmas caroling group going door-to-door in Kingsport. No where.... except in Riverview.

"I don't know why there aren't more door-to-door groups," Swagerty says. "Some of them are too busy, I guess, or they don't want to walk so far in the weather. Used to be when we were growing up, you'd see them in just about every neighborhood. We kept it going in Riverview, because it came from church.. the churches always organized door-to-door caroling in Riverview. Sometimes, there'd be 3 or 4 groups from separate churches on different days. Riverview has always had caroling, so we bundle up the kids to protect them on cool days so they won't catch cold, then off we go."

"If folks around Kingsport want to go with us, they're very welcome," she says. "

"Two years ago, we went to Rotherwood Estates and sang door-to-door, and the folks there enjoyed it. It was a pleasant surprise for them, and we try to go to nursing homes, too when time lets us."

'With our dedication to Mrs. Evans, the New Vision Kids will always be singing door-to-door," says Swagerty. "She was always one of our big symbols of family, and with the New Vision kids and the Riverview neighborhood, we are all still family, and that's important. Family in the community is what motivates us."

"8 years is a long time to do something," she says. "Our little sopranos, altos, tenors and basses get together, to bring cheer to the community, and it's worth it."

"It's a Christmas present to our neighbors."