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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Riverview's New Ballfield Neighbors: The Name's Now the Same

It's the land of our fathers.. a place that saw many generations take the light brown clay from the ground, shape it into balls, rip sticks from the tree branches of its hallowed ground, and literally, "knock 'em out of the ball park."

The place is Clay Hill, known to nearby Riverview residents as the land between Dunbar Street and Industry Drive.. they were the generations who came from the African-American children who lived in nearby Riverview.. the clay balls and sticks were among the stickball games the children played on Riverview's "unofficial playground" back in the day.

And with the new recreation ballfields under construction on Clay Hill now, those children, now grown with kids and grandkids of their own, will be happen to know that the city of Kingsport has heard their wishes to have their fond memories of playing on Clay Hill remembered forever.

The name of the new ballfields has been chosen.  Drum roll, please.........

"Really?" says former resident Sandra Pierce Ewing.  "The Clay Hill Ball Fields?  That's great.  It means a lot for the Riverview community and the kids who used to play up there in the woods."

"The name speaks to the residents who lived here years ago, long gone, who played up there and had a good time," says resident Linda Kincaid, who lives right beside the ballfield location.  "Clay Hill and the neighborhood will always be interconnected.  I'm glad there was no controversy over the naming."

"The city listened to us," agreed Vickie Smith, another Riverview resident whose home borders the new ball park.  "They could have named it anything they wanted, but Clay Hill has a history that is meaningful to us.  Sometimes, it's hard to ignore the voice of the people."

Your Douglass website did a poll on what Riverview residents felt the name of the ball park should be.  Of all of the suggestions, the top three most popular had the name 'Clay Hill' in them.

Kingsport City Manager Jeff Fleming says, in many neighborhood situations, it's important to listen to the people who live there.  Doing that about the new area acquired from General Shale, he says, uncovered a rich history about the ballfield site previously unknown.

"Originally, we were working under the assumption that the new ballfields would be named 'Centennial Park,' coinciding with the city's upcoming 100th birthday," he says.  "But in talking with neighbors of the ballfields in Riverview, we became aware of a more meaningful name that related to the Riverview neighborhood.  That name was 'Clay Hill.'  We could not ignore that history, and made the decision not to."


In fact, nobody knows who coined the phrase 'Clay Hill.'  In the background of the Riverview community, names of places can be easily traced to the individuals who named them:  Mrs. Bessie Hipps won a contest in 1940 by offering the name 'Riverview' for the new community (even though the river could not be seen from the community except from Clay Hill)..... V.O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex, named by the city Parks and Recreation Department to honor the stoic Douglass School principal who guided the school through its growth years in the Kingsport city school system..... Dunbar Street, named for the poet, novelist and playwright Paul Lawrence Dunbar.... Carver Street, named for inventor and scientist George Washington Carver.... Douglass Street and Douglass High School, both named for the famed social reformer and orator Frederick Douglass.... Louis Street for the heavyweight champion boxer Joe Louis.... Wheatley Street, named for renown poet Phyllis Wheatley... Booker Street, the first given name of educator and author Booker T. Washington... and James Street, named for local businessman and Riverview property owner James Stafford.


But 'Clay Hill?'  It's obvious why the name was picked.   Underneath the topsoil, is acres and acres of light brown clay.  The person who first noticed it shall probably be forever unknown in the ages, but the reference they laid to the area has survived generations of African-American children who played there.  For years, the Clay Hill area was considered "Riverview's Unofficial Playground." It was during years of segregation that black children were not allowed to play on playgrounds in nearby white neighborhoods.  Even the name 'brickyard' was the name always given to the General Shale property next door, where thousands of bricks were made in the kilns on the site.

"Clay Hill deals with the rich history of the Riverview community," says Fleming.  "For that reason, we decided to incorporate that name into the designation of the ballfield area where Clay Hill was located.  It makes perfect sense, as was also the decision to use the name 'Brickyard' for the entire park area because of original land owner General Shale."

"I'm not sure who within the city came up with the name 'Brickyard Park," he says, "other than the citizens committee suggesting we name the entire area that, because of General Shale.  "I wasn't aware of anyone else calling it 'the brickyard,' but that was not as clear-cut to me as 'Clay Hill' was."

"I can see why Clay Hill was so attractive to the children as a getaway when they were growing up," he says.  "Kids are always looking for places to explore and play Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and Clay Hill obviously fit that bill being just next door.  From a city perspective. our advantage is having an area like that, that we can carry on its tradition."


Fleming says the Clay Hill Ballfields, including the four smaller fields, and the huge upper deck field are all on track to open for play in the spring.

"We have the sod that will be delivered soon just in time for the cold weather when it needs to be planted and stabilized," he says.  "The field house that will be surrounded on four sides by the four smaller ballfields is under construction, as well as the poles going up that will front the forward, outward view from home plate to the left and right outfields.  Underground plumbing that will water the sod is also being laid.  Site preparation is also about to wrap up on the largest ballfield, where the original Clay Hill once existed."


Fleming says, the Clay Hill Ballfields will be something the city, the baseball enthusiasts, visitors, and the Riverview neighborhood can all be proud of.

"This is a first-class facility," he says.  "If you're familiar with going up on Clay Hill, you already know it's got this gorgeous 360-degree view of Bays Mountain, Cement Hill, downtown Kingsport, all the way over to Eastman.  It's a beautiful view where you feel like you're in nature, but you're right in the middle of town."

"To have this area close to downtown is a gem."


Future plans around nearby Brickyard Park are still up in the air.

"Probably the next most significant thing people will notice, will soon the demolition of the remaining structures on the General Shale property," Fleming says.  "We appreciate the patience that neighbors on Dunbar Street have had for all the bulldozers and dump trucks digging and stirring up all the dust on Clay Hill, and pretty soon, they'll be hearing the sounds of steel being torn down as we demolish the buildings that General Shale used in brickmaking.  Right now, they're just big, ugly rusty hulks of abandoned buildings and machinery that need to come down, because they attract kids that could be hurt climbing all through them."

Sort of reminds everybody of how Clay Hill was discovered by hundreds of Riverview kids searching for a place to play back in the community's early days?

The thought of those old buildings and machinery becoming Riverview's NEXT unofficial playground was amusing to the city manager.

For now, fences will keep future kid explorers at bay.

"Although the ballfields are next door, there are no plays to have either pedestrian or vehicular access to Dunbar Street or MLK Drive," says Fleming.  "Access to the ballfields will primarily be from the General Shale access on Industry Drive.  We are still toying with the idea of extending ML King to whatever future development that happens in Brickyard Park, but there are no firm plans in place right now."

Fleming says, tourists and visitors would be best served, by having direct access between Brickyard Park and the downtown area, via a connection with the CSX Railroad that the company has made no secret of its desire to close -- the Cherokee Street railroad crossing.

"We are working with CSX," he says.  "They have an economic development department that markets rail crossings, and crossings in this particular part of East Tennessee are very limited.  By the same token, the city is under a pretty aggressive loan with the balloon payments on the Shale property, so we have a fairly high interest in connecting Brickyard Park with the downtown area.  What we have learned in Kingsport with so-called 'brownfield industrial sites' like that area is, you have to be extremely flexible."


And then there is Cement Hill.. the highest point in downtown Kingsport.

It's what Tannery Knob is to downtown Johnson City... what Sharp's Ridge is to downtown Knoxville... what Missionary Ridge is to downtown Chattanooga.  The one single place, that offers the most panoramic views of a city that can be found.  In Kingsport, it's Cement Hill, downtown's crown jewel of possible downtown development.

Right now, it's off the city's development radar.

"The company that owned Domtar originally acquired the old Penn-Dixie Cement Corporation, one of Kingsport's original founding industries," Fleming says.  "With that acquisition came the tall cement stacks along the railroad tracks, and also the built-up area of dirt we know as Cement Hill.  At one point, as you noted Calvin, there were homes up there for Penn-Dixie families.  Kingsport's Ethel Ruth Russell was born up there.. so was Kingsport Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Miles Burdine.  It was a thriving neighborhood, towering between downtown and the river."

"Right now, current Cement Hill owner Domtar is not interested in letting it go, so for now, it will maintain its green, natural setting as long as they control it," he says.  "If by chance, the Domtar folks wants to get rid of it, we are certainly interested in developing it as a park.  Nobody is forcing the question right now, because of the development that is going up all around it.  The main thing is, it's safe, it's secure, it's green... it is still the historical role it's always played in the history of Kingsport, and the backdrop for the train station and the city's ultimate development."


It's that history angle that Fleming says, makes the naming of the Clay Hill Ballfields so meaningful.

"I think the heritage of every community is important," he says.  "This is the way to maintain that heritage.  Kingsport does have a track record of doing things to acknowledge and remember kep names that mean something to the community.  You work together with the neighborhoods and do these things to preserve memories."


"The city needed to hear our voices on this one," says Van Dobbins, Jr., another Riverview homeowner whose Dunbar Street property borders the Clay Hill Ballfields at Brickyard Park.  "It was an important issue to consider our name for the area, not just to us who played up on Clay Hill, but to our descendants.  Clay Hill is part of their history, too. When you look at everything that's being built up there and our history with that area, the city's thoughtfulness of what our feelings are, made it even more important.  It was a blessing to have them consider our feelings."

"With the name 'Clay Hill Ballfields'," says resident Ron Taylor, who can see the new ballfield net poles just over the ridge from he and his mom's home on Dunbar Street, "there should be some kind of memorial there to explain what the area means to our community.  I think they can look at the ground at see the brown clay, but it's not just about the clay."

"Clay Hill was about the fun we all had up there, that now, others will have."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Best Foot Forward Scholarship 2015

Best Foot Forward Scholarship 2015
$1,000 scholarship for graduating seniors who are college bound.

300-500 word essay on "Who am I?"...."Why College?"
Deadline for essay is January 6, 2015.
(No essay will be accepted after January 6, 2015 at 5:00 PM.

Scholarship winner will be announced at the 2nd Annual Dobyns-Bennett Alumni Basketball Game at John Sevier Middle School on January 17, 2015.

Mail essays to:
Fredrick Smith
1413 Prospect Drive
Kingsport, Tn 37660

FREDRICK SMITH (615) 679-2023
MRS. VIRGINIA ELLIS (423) 245-3524

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cogratulations, Sasha!

From the Dobyns-Bennett Lady Indians basketball team, Sasha Morrisette has signed a national letter of intent with Tusculum College of Greeneville, TN.

As a junior Morrisette averaged 18.8 points a game, and she has scored more than 15-hundred points in her career, along with 499 rebounds and 330 steals.

Congratulations to Sasha and her family on a job well done, with more basketball wizardry to come!

Spreading Holiday Cheer, Just Before Santa Spreads Even More!

It's the season of giving back, and for the New Vision Youth, it's yet another chance to give back to the community.

Just before the Santa Claus parade, the kids joined other youth groups from around the city, to get the the gifts that they would hand out to other kids in the crowd along the downtown parade route.

"Today is our annual help for the city of Kingsport, giving treats and things to the crowd at the Santa Claus parade," says New Vision Youth director Johnnie Mae Swagerty.  "We do this every year, working with the the Chamber of Commerce and Keep Kingsport Beautiful.. they ask us every year, along with other kids' organizations.  It's always a big project for us, and we do it with love and joy and thanks giving."

It's the 4th year the New Vision Youth kids have taken part in the gift bag giveaway.

"The kids will get about 4 or 5 backpacks and they'll go through the crowd with bags of fruit, giving them out to kids, ages 3 to 14 years old," says Swagerty.   "The backpacks are different colors for different age groups, and the other kids are glad to get them."

Swagerty says, the gift bag giveaway is in conjunction with the parade, but is part of a bigger program happening just before the parade.

"The Santa Claus Train goes through the coalfields giving out toys and gifts to the needy," she says.   "Just like many of the kids along the train route, some of the kids that come to the parade, may not hardly anything for Christmas, and they may not know that somebody is thinking about them.  We are, and that's why we volunteer to do this every year, after the train trip and during the parade.  We don't miss anybody.. we even go over to the area where the challenged kids are, that may be unable to catch any of the candy or gifts that are tossed out into the crowd."

Once the kids are done spreading holiday cheer, it's on to enjoying the parade themselves!

Kingsport Loves a Parade!

On the wonderful Santa Claus Train, Jolly Ole St. Nick has arrived in Kingsport!

Santa Claus made his annual trek through the streets of downtown Kingsport on Saturday, November 22.

Thousands of people lined the streets to greet Jolly Ole St. Nick, who had just gotten off the Santa Claus Train, another annual trek through Southwest Virginia. He delivered toys and goodies during the trip, and his elves (members of some of Kingsport's non-profit agencies), helped hand out the goodies along the downtown parade route.

Kingsport's Santa Claus parade is like its 4th of July parade. Long. It seems that nobody can get enough of it.

Folks 'oo'ed' and 'ah'ed at every passing car or float, as you would expect them to. Dozens of floats came down Main Street where the parade traditionally begins, after Santa and his train guest warm up the crowd. There was plenty to see and hear, as float after float came by. There were cars with dignitaries in them, to genuine floats sponsored by local businesses with people on them. There were military vehicles and veterans, but the high school ROTC marchers in formation, seemed to get the most applause.

There may have been just as many kids as adults along the route, eager to see the next big thing coming down the street. They were not disappointed. Cartoon characters, TV personalities, pretty ladies, and guys giving away handouts for pizza and local theaters. Make no mistake about it, though... it was the free candy the kids were after. Halloween can't hold a candle to the treats that a kid can get, as floats, exhibits and parade cars go by.

Minor mishaps do happen in any parade, and any time something other than candy was given out, it caused a small panic. Kids, with their parents on the fly, simply ran out into the street and up to the parade participant, eager to get the stuffed animal, or the candy doll, or the bright toy being given out. Despite the admonishment of the participant to 'don't run into the street, take your time, don't push, be careful.... not a single kid was wanting to hear that. All they could think about was the prize that awaited them. They were not disappointed!

Probably the best acknowledgement of the Kingsport Santa Parade was the realization that parades are indeed, all about children. Whether in New York City or Kingsport, Tennessee, the children are the most important recipient of the day's efforts. The most prime example of that, was when the bag containing one small child's candy, accidently burst, spilling candy, chocolates, toys and goodies onto the street, right in the middle of the parade route. This long parade came to an immediate halt, while grownups gathered and scooped up all the goodies into a new bag. The end of the parade got ahead, but not one event vehicle moved, until all of the items were put back into the bag for the child, who was glad to get everything back.

You won't find the big-city parades willing to hold up an entire procession, for the sake of one child and his candy!

It's a safe bet that just about everybody in Kingsport was on hand for the Santa Claus parade. For the ones who could not attend, enjoy these pictures, plus videos of the Sullivan South, Sullivan North and the Dobyns-Bennett High School bands!


Great Commission Church's Pastor Anniversary

Members of the Great Commission Church in Kingsport gathered on Saturday night, November 22, 2014, to commemorate the 12th anniversary of Pastor Matthew Thomas and First Lady Pamela Thomas.

The celebration was held in the Douglass Community Room at the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex.

The church, located at 1249 Chestnut Street in Kingsport, has more than 70 faithful members.. its motto is: "Where Everybody is Somebody, and Jesus is Lord!"

At the get-together, church members and friends were treated to music, and a scrumptious meal that included wings, both hot and mild, glazed meatballs and sandwich meat combinations.

A good time was had by all!

Click on the link below to see a slide show of:

Created with flickr slideshow.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Former East Tennessee Resident Dr. Rosemary Gray to Retire from West Texas A & M

Dr. Rosemary Gray is a graduate of Douglass High School, Kingsport

Former longtime Johnson City resident Dr. Rosemary Gray, chief diversity and inclusion officer at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, has announced her retirement from a long and successful career of more than 30 years in higher education as an administrator, educator and community leader. Her retirement will begin after the first of the year.

Dr. Rosemary Gray was appointed August 1, 2013. Prior to this appointment, she served in a variety of capacities at many universities and campuses across the country.

In addition to her current and previous administrative positions, she has served as a public school teacher of English and department chair, adjunct faculty, and instructor at various public schools, community colleges, and universities in the District of Columbia, Tennessee, and Virginia. She has also served as a diversity consultant to public schools, city governments, a state task force on African American males, and has chaired university diversity task forces, advisory groups, and a committee on Black graduation rates for Black student-athletes. Dr. Gray has presented at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), and other national, regional and local diversity conferences. Dr. Gray also received a 2010 Louisiana Most Powerful Woman Award from the National Council on Diversity.

Dr. Gray has worked at WT to promote and increase diversity and inclusion through campus collaborations to support recruitment and retention of under-served and underrepresented students as well as helping with efforts to build a diverse faculty and staff.

She is a native of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee and holds an A.A. Degree in Liberal Arts from Morristown College, a B.A. Degree in English from Emory & Henry College, a M.A. Degree in Education from Catholic University, and an Ed.D. Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from East Tennessee State University.

“I have had a wonderful experience at WT,” Gray said. “Dr. O’Brien and his wife Karen are the best that I have seen when it comes to building community on a University campus.”

Her community interests are health education and revitalization of minority communities economically and educationally along with multicultural awareness training and skill-based diversity training for increased understanding of the benefits of workforce diversity.

“My future plans are to enjoy my family. I have an adult son, and I am the Glam Mom of one very special Chihuahua, Savannah Rose. Eventually, I will do some writing about my career in secondary and postsecondary education, women, and diversity.” Gray said. “West Texas A&M University has been a wonderful experience for me as it gave me an opportunity to assist students, faculty, staff, and the community with diversity and inclusion.”

“Dr. Rosemary Gray has done an excellent job during her time at WTAMU establishing and developing a foundation for us to fulfill better our mission of being a diverse and inclusive student-centered community of learners. She will be missed.” J. Patrick O’Brien, University president, said.

An interim will fill the position while a national search is conducted to fill the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marching in an "Oasis" of Change: Empowering Women with One Woman's Story

Marching for a wonderful cause, brought together civic leaders and local Kingsport residents on Saturday, November 15th..

The subject of the march is an "oasis" of hope for women through love, laughter... and laundry.

"We're marching to support 'The Oasis of Kingsport,' says former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier, who walked alongside new Sullivan County mayor Richard Venable.  "This walk is helping to spread the word to women in the Kingsport community that they have a place to get direction they might need in their lives."

"The beauty of that is.. they can get that direction, while their laundry is being done."

"We're always looking for people who themselves are looking for something more than what they have," says Oasis of Kingsport director Kermit Addington.  "We're trying to show them that it is possible to find it.. that it is not a lost cause.  We invite anyone who can benefit from the outreach to come in."

The march began at the corner of East Center Street and Dale Street and, with a police escort, ended at the Oasis building on East Sullivan Street, near the intersection with Main Street.

"It is wonderful to see the folks waving as we walk along," says Mayor Blazier during the march.  "Their interest is being stirred up, and hopefully word of mouth will spread about the center.  It's amazing to me that it's been here for such a short time and it's already known."

The Oasis' journey to Kingsport has been a fortunate one.  Patterned after a similar program called "The River" in Johnson City, in its short existence in the Model City, more than 170 women have come through the doors.  They come from all walks of life.. White, Black, Latino, Asian-American.. with children, without them..

All of them with something missing in their lives.  Searching.  Hearing the word "no" a lot.  Not knowing where to turn.

One person who has been in that situation, stopped by the open house at the Oasis at the end of the march. Lia Brown met and greeted marchers and center supporters with one of her sons, a 7-year old.  The transplant from Boston, Mass and single mom says, the Oasis is helping turn her life around.

"I had seen a flyer about it at the WIC office," she says.  "I didn't think too much about it, until I told my mom 'I need some money for laundry.'  I didn't know it, but Johnnie Mae (Swagerty) had told my mom about it, and my mom says you can go wash clothes at the Oasis cheaper than a laundromat.  I was like 'OK, cool."

Brown is raising twin, 14-year old boys, and the 7-year old by herself.  Both 14-year olds play football.  The 7-year old wants to.

"I have three boys," she says.  "We have lots of laundry."

"We always have laundry."

It only took her a few trips to the Oasis to find out what she liked about it.. and it was something more than just an inexpensive 50-cents washing and drying a ton of clothes.

"It's the fellowship," she says.  "Other women like me are doing laundry here and we talk about each other's situations.  We advise each other, support each other, and gain an empathy for each other's problems.  We rejoice in the ups, and console each other in the downs.  If you need a prayer request, you'll find lots of support..we all prayed together just the other day, and it was so uplifting.  When the kids are in school, it's so good to come down here in the morning, get the laundry done, take part in the ministry and the fellowship, and get caught up on the lives of the other women I have met."

"It's important to have someone to talk to sometimes," Brown says.

Brown says, she was impressed by the way the Oasis staff cares for the women here.  No men are allowed inside during business hours.  The front door is also locked during that time.

"Everybody is safe in here," she says.  "A lot of women don't like going to the laundromats because they are not always safe.  I can't do laundry at night because I am there for my kids when they come home from school, so the daytime is the only time I get to do it.  I don't dare go to the laundromats.  Lots of times, if it's raining or cold outside, people would come in that were homeless, or for some other reason.  I don't know if it's a pickup thing, but total strangers that aren't washing clothes want to talk to you.  Sometimes, you get uncomfortable with people you've never met before, trying to talk to you.  I just don't feel safe there."

And then, there's the price of doing laundry at the Oasis of Kingsport.  25 cents per load.  It may be the best laundry bargain in town.

"For about 50 cents, you get the washing powders, the bleach, the dryer sheets, and sometimes, the staff will even help you fold the clothes," Brown says.  "If you have to use the washers and dryers at some of the laundromats and the apartment complex, it's more than triple that cost.  If you're on a budget, there's no wiggle room.  A lady told me last week that the money she saves on laundry here, she was able to save enough money to buy her kid some shoes.  That's just awesome.  Here, you get the laundry done and the ministry as well, and some of us need that.  You gotta have that.. sometimes, you just need the encouragement."

Center Director Kermit Addington says the center has served about 175 women so far, and he says, thankfully, that number is growing.  The center volunteers have outfitted the Oasis of Kingsport with many amenities, including a kitchen area, a standup shower, a hair shampoo area, a lounge and a prayer area.  There's even a play area for the pre-school kids.  Washers, dryers and other appliances have either been donated, or repaired slightly used.  Food, washing materials are all donated, too.  "We want the women to not have any pressure on themselves at all," he says.  "This place has the comforts of a home away from home, because only in a comfortable atmosphere, can women in need be empowered to help themselves."

Brown herself has used the center's computer, provided free of charge.

"I had to get on the computer here to do a survey that was needed for my youngest son," she remembers.  "It was important to be able to provide that feedback to the school.  If you don't take the surveys, you don't have a voice in your child's education.. you end up taking whatever decision the school makes for the child."

"They won't let you take a survey in person because they want a record of it," she says.  "Through the computer here, I was able to be that voice for my son."

Reality is difficult in a changing world.  Brown says, the Oasis of Kingsport helps her face that reality often.

"Reality is a mess," she says.  "You're like, 'I gotta get these bills paid, I gotta get these kids to school, I gotta get this laundry done.'  As a single parent, you try not to stress out in front of the kids.. the mornings are hard.  Once they get off to school, the reality sets in...OK, what do I need to do?  The Oasis makes that reality a lot better to deal with.  If you don't have wash to do, you can come in and just get recharged, re-energized."

Despite the crowd at the Open House, the bulletin board at the Oasis is always busy.

"Not everybody gets the newspaper to see what's going on," Brown says.  "On the bulletin board, folks put up different flyers and business cards about programs and services in the area to help them out, different church events and prayer ministries.  There's a special heating program, an energy-assistance program for the winter at V.O. Dobbins that I learned about from the bulletin board.  I'm going over to get an application."

"There's always somebody looking at the bulletin board to see what's new."

Temperatures in the 30's probably kept many people from taking part in the march for the Oasis on this day, Saturday in the middle of November.  Bright sunshine and an eagerness to spread the word about the center, definitely brought out the faithful.

"It truly is an oasis for many of the women in our community who don't have places to wash their clothes, can bring their children and be at a place to find inspiration, study, lessons about nutrition, sewing, life skills, you name it," says former Mayor Jeanette Blazier.

It's no secret the Oasis of Kingsport is making a difference in the lives of women in need.  Lia Brown says, she's among the living testimonies of women, whose lives have been changed for the better.

"Come find us at the Oasis," she beckons to other women lost in the throes of reality.  "We've been where you are... and we are right where you need to be."

Notice of Alumni Board Meeting

Ths Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Board will meet on Saturday, Dec. 6.2014. in the Eastman Board Room at 1:00 P.M., at the V. O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex. 

The meeting is very important.  Please bring someone with you.

Doug Releford
Alumni Board President

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Thanks for Giving: An Early Countdown to Christmas for Many Kingsport Families

Kingsport's Christmas cheer just got kickstarted with the annual Thanks for Giving event.

Saturday, November 15th, was the one day when love and compassion take action for area families.  Born from the Kingsport Junior League's former 'Bargain Bonanza, the Thanks for Giving event has a wonderful holiday twist.

Every item is free of charge.

"I just got the idea one day ''why don't we just do something different and give the items away?'" says director Tammy Street.  "I had done many volunteer hours with the 'Bargain Bonanza' and it bothered me that there was still a need in the community for families who may be struggling to provide Christmas gifts for their families.  With help and encouragement from friends, we put the first one together 9 years ago, and we had more than 300 people stop by."

"Every year, it just grows and grows."

Although the event is held once a year and the doors open at 8 AM, visitors were lined up at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium at 5:30 before sunrise.  A wonderful selection of gift items and ideas awaited them.

"There's kids clothing, adult clothing, books, music, furniture, even household items," Street says.  "All of our items are donated, either new or gently used.  We go through everything, and it's all put to good use.  A lot of people just need a pair of shoes, but they can't afford them.  Their kids need a nice, warm coat, but they can't afford them.  Mama or Daddy needs a warm, comfortable sweater or a pair of slacks, but the store prices keep them from being able to get them.  We don't forget shoes.. some folks just can't afford new shoes right now, because they're trying to budget around buying other gifts.  We try to help them, because what they don't have to buy here, they can maybe purchase something for somebody else, closer to Christmas."

"They are why we're here," she says.  "They are why we do this."

Visitors are not limited.  Street says, any person in the area who has a need, comes by and the group does whatever it can to meet that need.  "It could be parents, single parents, or grandparents raising their grand-kids on a fixed income.  The need is there.  They can't afford to buy extra coats or extra shoes or themselves, or even toys for the kids for Christmas."

"That's where we try to help."

The Thanks for Giving event could not be accomplished without the help of a dedicated set of volunteers.

"We put the entire program together in the week before the big day," she says, "and I'd dare say we spend about 2,000 volunteer hours gathering items, sorting them, organizing, and also lining the clothing into sizes.
An example of the volunteer giving spirit, happened the day before the event this year.  Some of our volunteers helping us organize, noticed that we were low on kids' winter coats.  They went away and came back with a van-load of brand new coats that they purchased for us to give away.  That says a lot about the love that our volunteers have for the people of the community."

The volunteer list gets bigger every year, too.

"Folks will hear about 'Thanks for Giving' and once they volunteer, many people come back year after year," Street says.  "They tell us that this event is their Christmas.  This is their way of giving back to the community.  It feels good knowing that you can do that, to help a family enjoy a nice holiday season, just makes it worth it.  I can't say enough about how great our volunteers are."

"We just couldn't do it without them."

A stroll through the Thanks for Giving aisles is like department store shopping.. except for one thing.

There's no checkout line.

"We have volunteers that we call 'runners' who will escort each family into the shopping areas," says Street. "They talk to them, find out their needs, their sizes, and what they're looking for.  The runners get to know the families, and that helps match up the right items to the right person.  If they're not sure, the runners offer suggestions that the families appreciate.  Everybody just takes their time, and it becomes a memorable moment at a wonderful time of the year."

The kids are not left out of the festivities.  That's where Jolly Ole St. Nick comes in.

"The kids get to tell Santa how good they've been this year," Street says.  "None of Santa's kids have been naughty, so everybody gets a nice toy.  We've got a big selection, and nobody is disappointed.  To see the joy on the children's faces with a new toy or a new book, sitting on Santa's lap.. it means a lot.  Some of the kids will tell us 'we've never had a Christmas tree' and they 're jumping up and down seeing the ones here.  Some parents tell us trees are a luxury that sometimes they can't afford, but the kids get to experience it here, and that's important."

"We also have a gift shop that only the kids can go into.. no parents allowed," says Street.  "Inside, the kids can shop for their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or other relatives.  We gift-wrap the items and everything's ready to go.  The children come out amazed and their faces are just lit up."

Those happy faces extended to their parents, too.

None of the items are wasted.  "We donate to several organizations around the area," says Street. "Everything is put to good use."

And as the doors close, efforts begin for next year's event.  "We start collecting items for next year almost immediately," she says. "One of our volunteers has a storage building, and he graciously lets us keep things there for the next year.  It's a lot of work, but just knowing that people look forward to it, that this one event might make Christmas a little easier, makes it all worth it."

Street says, it's a blessing to be able to bring Christmas to families that need a little cheer.  Being able to share their own blessings, keeps volunteers coming back, year after year.

And judging from the smiles from the parents and the happy faces on the children, the Christmas giving spirit has arrived in Kingsport.

Last stop.... Christmas Day.

"I can't explain it.. it's the best feeling in the world," says Street.  "Nobody ever wants to miss it."