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College Leaders Tour United Way Sites, Issue Challenge to Give to Campus Chest

Much like the university as a whole, the Tickle College of Engineering strives to live up to the Volunteer Spirit, the idea that the ability to serve and improve the lives of others is of paramount importance.

For many years now, one of the prime ways that the college has been able to give back is through its key partnership with United Way of Greater Knoxville.

“Just last year, United Way supported over 106,000 people in our area,” said Wes Hines, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering. “That is one out of five people in the greater Knoxville area.”

Hines is serving as a “loaned executive” for United Way at the request of former Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, who now serves as campaign chair for the organization.

In his role, Hines visits with area organizations and helps them set up their own campaigns to benefit United Way.

As part of his training for that task, he visited some of the groups supported by United Way and saw the impact donations can have, including the Florence Crittenton Agency, which serves special needs of adolescent girls; Family Promise, which helps families get back on their feet; and Samaritan Place, which provides housing for homeless senior citizens.

“We saw and met with young girls who have grown up in abusive environments and have become temporary wards of the state, families getting counseling to help them become financially stable, and how the vulnerable older members of society are cared for,” Hines said.

To give others in the college the same impact, he set up a tour of some of those facilities for Interim Dean Mark Dean, department heads, center directors, and others within the college.

The first stop for the group was Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service (SCHAS), which provides care for seniors, both at the facility, through in-home services, and through assisting with things like grocery trips and doctor visits.

Dentist's Office at United Way
Volunteer Ministry Center’s Mary Beth Ramey shows a dental facility in the building to the team from the Tickle College of Engineering.

“We try to enable people to live in their own homes by helping them with home activities,” said Tim Howell, CEO of SCHAS. “We served almost 2,100 people in 19 counties last year, giving them the opportunity to live their lives how they want and in a dignified manner.”

Howell said that SCHAS works with clients to keep their expenses down, supplementing whatever income they have from state and federal programs such as Medicaid to reduce overall costs.

Whereas the median annual cost of care in a nursing home is more than $79,000, for example, the same cost at SCHAS is $2,187.

Howell credited United Way’s contributions to the program for making that possible.

The team from the college then visited Volunteer Ministry Center, which oversees a resource center that provides case management and opportunities for meals, showers, and laundry facilities for the homeless, the Bush Family Refuge, which assists families with rent and utilities in an effort to prevent homelessness, and Minvilla Manor, a permanent housing facility for formerly homeless individuals with medical or behavioral needs.

Closet with Necessities at United Way
A closet with clothes and necessities for all ages and genders is at the ready at Volunteer Ministry Center, which is supported with United Way funds.

Mary Beth Ramey, VMC’s chief development officer, said the immediate goal of the center is to help those in need, but that its greater purpose is to provide permanent solutions for those in crisis.

“We’ve now had more than 1,000 placements through our center, with more than 94 percent of those being permanently successful,” Ramey said. “Knoxville has a need for services like this, and we’re trying to help.”

Ramey took the college group on a tour of Minvilla Manor, a prominent example of how VMC is a force for good.

Located in what was once the 5th Avenue Motel, a longtime location the Knoxville News Sentinel referred to as a “skid-row residency motel,” the building was transformed by VMC through a total refurbishment, gaining registration as a historic location in the process.

“This is their home now,” said Ramey.

For the college officials, seeing the ways United Way is making a significant local impact reinforced the importance of its mission and of fundraising efforts at UT such as Campus Chest.

Hines pointed out that engineers, in particular, would be familiar with how the United Way selection process works, with agencies presenting proposals and following up with outcome reports mimicking the process of grant funding.

“United Way’s goal is to help people become self-sustainable by investing in 120 local programs in the areas of health, education, and financial stability,” Hines said. “These visits serve as a reminder of how fortunate we are to be healthy, have good jobs, and have strong support systems in our own lives. I am passionate about this need and personally feel compelled to assist our neighbors who are less fortunate.”

Hines challenged the group to donate at the “Leadership Giver” level of what comes out to $24 per week.

UT’s Campus Chest drive for 2018 is currently under way, with Beth Thrasher serving as the coordinator for the Tickle College of Engineering.

Interim Dean Dean has challenged the college to meet its overall goal of $28,000, offering a pizza party to the department that has the highest percentage of people who give.

Thrasher will give out weekly Campus Chest gifts to randomly drawn contributors, with a final grand prize given at the end of the campaign. Jamie Coble, the Southern Company Faculty Fellow and an Assistant Professor in nuclear engineering, was the first weekly winner, while Communications Director Christie Kennedy was drawn in week two.