If your life hasn’t been touched by addiction, count yourself not only lucky but in the minority. The statistics are staggering: 31.9 million American adults (aged 12 and older) are current illegal drug users; the number jumps to 53 million Americans if you include both those who use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs; 14.8 million people have an alcohol use disorder in the U.S. Drug abuse and addiction costs American society more than $272 billion annually in lost workplace, productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. Of the 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails, more than 65% meet the criteria to be considered addicts.
In 2018, 47% of young people had used an illegal drug by the time they graduated high school. Additionally, current users (within the past month) included 5% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, 24% of 12th graders. Between 1999-2017 over 700,000 people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses.
No person, no race, no age group is immune.
From the housewife who convinces her doctor to keep her on valium, to the husband who drinks a six-pack driving home from work each night, to the injured worker who starts on pain pills and can’t get off, to the teenager who smokes weed on the weekends, to that pretty girl we all remember from high school, that has now lost her family, her children and maybe even her life to meth – it’s all around us.
Be it directly in your family or just in your community, it effects us all.
So how do we stop it? The million-dollar question, of course.
Jail is always an option. Arrests and then convictions, at least get drug abusers and sometimes their dealers, off the streets, but rarely is this a permanent solution.
In Middle Tennessee, however, specifically Wilson, Macon, Smith, Jackson, and Trousdale county, there is an option that is definitely making some headway.
The 15th Judicial District Drug Court Program began in 2002 with the help of the late Judge Bond and a team of professionals trained to break the cycle. Drug courts are specialized courts across the country for those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Rather than send people to jail, over and over again, drug courts use a multi-faceted approach with the aim of reducing the chances of re-arrest and relapse. They do this through interactions with the judge, treatment and rehabilitation services, monitoring, supervision, sanctions, and incentives.
There are consequences for failure, so if the individual continually relapses or commits crimes, the system effectively reverts to the ordinary, incarceration-based approach.
Initially, our local drug court program was only open to persons arrested in these five counties, for crimes involving felonies – basically any criminal charge that did not include violence, for which you could be sentenced to serve more than a year in jail.
Judge Bond and later Judge Wootten, were instrumental in growing and supporting the drug court program that was near and dear to both of them. Upon Judge Wootten’s retirement in 2019, Criminal Court Judge, Brody Kane took over the reins and expanded the program to include any misdemeanor offenders out of criminal court in all five counties that he serves.
“I’ve got children. That’s my reason for wanting to be involved in this,” says Judge Kane. “I see the devastation first-hand drugs are doing to our community – my community. I grew up right here in Watertown and moved back to Lebanon after graduating from law school in Memphis because I wanted to raise my children in a community far away from drugs and crime. But, realistically, I was being a naive 27-year-old father. I know now that those same things affecting the larger cities are coming this way and some are already here. I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of Judge Bond and Judge Wootten and also proud to serve alongside Judge Tiffany Gibson who has started a misdemeanor drug court in Jackson County and Judge Michael Collins who has started a misdemeanor drug court in Smith County. We all grew up right here when things were maybe simpler, we all have children we are raising in these communities and we want them to stay here and be safe here and we are all determined to fight this fight against drugs in as many ways that we can.”
“But this isn’t about the Judges,” he continues, “ we are just the ‘heavy’ you might say, this is really about the drug court team led in the 15th Judicial District Drug Court Program by Program Coordinator, Jeff Dickson. Jeff and his team include professionals that have years of experience helping people successfully battle drug addictions. They truly care about the people in the program and are cheering them on when they succeed and are devastated for them if they fail. The team includes probation officers, behavioral health services and provides services specific to veterans. For me, the best result is, if we Judges never see our participants in our courts again – maybe I’ll see them at Walmart – but I hope to never see them in my court again.”
Drug Court – as it’s called – is a sentencing option available to the court that focuses both on treatment and supervision of people convicted of felony or misdemeanor charges. In essence, the Judge has the option, if you either plead guilty or are found guilty of any crime not involving violence, of allowing you to participate in the Drug Court program as part of your sentence.
If chosen to participate then those individuals will receive treatment for alcohol and/or drugs at the local level while also being under intensive supervision to ensure compliance for at least 18 to 24 months.
“You are still under probation during the 18 to 24 month period, so you still face punishment for your crime, but as part of that probation you now get this intensive drug and alcohol treatment,” notes Program Coordinator Jeff Dickson.
“And yes, it’s a two-year program, because that’s what it takes to break the cycle.”
Treatment is provided locally and usually begins with a residential or in-house stay. Thereafter, participants step down to an intensive outpatient program – 3 days a week for 3 to 4 hours a day.
After that, each person continues outpatient treatment with AA/NA meetings and continuing education. Home visits, as well as work visits, are conducted by the supervising team throughout the length of the program. Every participant is required to work full time, attend school or if disabled, do volunteer work. If the participant does not have a high school diploma, they are expected to work towards their GED. The participants are drug and alcohol tested regularly and randomly, they must remain drug and alcohol-free, and they must adhere to strict rules about who they associate with and abide by curfews. They check in weekly, not only with the drug court team, but each week, in court, with the Judge and if there is a misstep the Judge can sentence them immediately to jail for that violation.
There are different levels – after a participant proves himself with not only continued sobriety, but also following all the rules and expectations in place, they move to the next level, and then the next level, with the goal that in two years they can graduate from the program.
Jeff Dickson has seen some real success with the program, “It’s intense. We only allow 30 participants at a time and we closely monitor them, encourage them, and support them. Of those that are allowed into the program, only 30% will actually graduate but of those graduates, 70% will not return to court in the next 5 years.”
That’s a very good result because, without intense treatment and monitoring like this, the national average recidivism rate is that 77% percent of drug offenders are re-arrested in five years, and nearly half of those within the first year of release.
Anyone convicted of a non-violent crime can contact the drug court office either on their own or through their attorney to apply. The Drug Court Team then evaluates each candidate based on their prior record, their support systems, whether they have transportation or employment, the type of substance abuse, and the amount and frequency of said drug use.
The program is also voluntary. Judge Kane finds, “you’ve got to want to get off the drugs or alcohol. My ordering you to treatment won’t help anyone truly recover from addiction. The fire inside you to seek treatment has to be brighter than the fire around you. But if you are ready, then this team will do everything in their power to help you never see the inside of a jail again. We are losing a generation of people. I’ve seen folks I’ve gone to school with come in front of me for sentencing and now I see their children in court for the same crimes. We have to find a way to help that doesn’t just involve locking them up and then letting them out to just get locked back up again. That only puts addicts back on the street to not only possibly hurt themselves but also your children and my children.”
Success stories abound with this program, notes Shelley Gardner, District Public Defender who has been on the drug court team for a number of years, “we have three former graduates that have started their own business. Two former graduates that either work or volunteer in the Drug Court program and most importantly, seven out of ten graduates of the program never return to court. We support them but they do the work and I’m always amazed at the two-year mark by the transformation.”
Assistant District Attorney James (Jimmy) Lea Jr, adds “Our team works with each individual on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis to give them support and feedback when they are struggling. During the COVID-19 crisis, when we couldn’t meet in person, we quickly moved the face to face meetings to Zoom because continuity and contact is so important. We try to be there not just when participants are succeeding but also when they have hurdles because getting over those hurdles without relapsing is the key.”
Dickson and his team stand ready to continue to help those in the community that are ready themselves. Some people are not given the gift of recovery because they are either too far gone or no longer with us, but for those that are prepared to fight for that recovery, there is not just hope, but a structured road with a light at the end of it.
To find out if you or someone you know is eligible for this program, contact the Drug Court Director at 615-453-5314.
15th Judicial District Drug Court Team serving Wilson, Macon, Smith, Jackson and Trousdale counties
Program Coordinator: Jeff E. Dickson Drug Court
Senior Case Manager: Paula Langford
Criminal Court Judge: Judge Brody Kane
District Public Defender: Shelley Thompson Gardner
Assistant District Attorney: James M. Lea, Jr.
State of Tennessee Probation: Bethany Maynard
Treatment Provider Volunteer Behavioral Health: Kristine Seay
Drug Court graduate and volunteer: Logan Rosson
Vocational/Veteran Services: Pete Pritchard Veteran
Peer Recovery Volunteer: Terry Yates Drug
Court Case Manager: Darlene Cahill
If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’re ready to get outside, enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in Middle Tennessee and begin to get back to life as we know it. Luckily for all of us, the perfect place that offers all this and more is just a few miles up the road. Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company provide both the experience and the equipment to enjoy many of the lakes and rivers that surround us.
Local owner, Brad Smith, originally from Red Boiling Springs, moved to the Cookeville area after high school, and thereafter, graduated from Tennessee Tech University with a degree in Business Marketing. He grew up active in boy scouts, lifeguarding in the summers, and the son of a logger, so his roots run deep both for the love of small towns and the love of the outdoors. Soon after college, Brad discovered that he could use his love for the outdoors and combine it with his education in business to do something good for his own family and the community he holds dear to his heart.
With all the growth occurring in the area, he decided this would be a great time to offer people the chance to discover the hidden beauty that surrounds Smith County. With lots of prayer and support from his friends, family, and community, Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company was born!
Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company is located in Carthage, Tennessee. It’s in the perfect location that has access to 2 rivers and 2 lakes: the Cumberland and Caney Fork River, and Cordell Hull and Center Hill Lake!
The Company offers half-day and full-day river trips with your choice of a single or tandem kayak or canoe. Not only is all the equipment provided, but all you have to do is show up and they take care of the rest. A shuttle will take you to your starting point and pick you up from your ending point. Transport service is also available if you have your own gear and just need shuttle service. Special rates are available for groups such as churches, civics, and employees.
They offer countless opportunities for adventure, but also offer outdoor gear, kayaks, and clothing available for purchase in their shop, including water gear, as well as camping, fishing, and hiking equipment. Additionally, they have many options for footwear, backpacks, and even snacks and drinks for your trip. In the future, Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company also plan to offer specialty events such as fishing trips, overnight trips, sunset kayaking, moonlit paddles, and guided lake excursions.
To plan a trip, you can visit tnkayak.com or call 615735-7995. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We encourage you to visit and then let the adventures begin!
In January, many of us were still in disbelief that 2010 was a decade ago and trying in vain not to date documents 2019. You might say we were living in our own little bubble. That all changed in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, when an EF-3 tornado decimated that bubble.
In the end, three people were killed and more than 1,300 homes and buildings in Wilson County were damaged or destroyed by tornado winds of up to 165 mph.
Moments after the initial touchdown, Wilson County law enforcement, emergency personnel, resident volunteers, and local officials were making their way to those neighborhoods and businesses to help. “No one knew at that time how much damage we were looking at.” Lebanon Police Department Public Information Officer PJ Hardy said. “We knew it was significant, but I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the sight of those homes.”
Something else Hardy and other first responders weren’t prepared for was the volunteer effort. “Almost immediately people started showing up at the prescient. Others who lived closer to the areas that were the most heavily hit went right to work. As tough as that night and the aftermath were, the volunteers brought an electric energy to the recovery. It was something to see and feel”
By Friday, March 6 damages were estimated at more than 1 billion dollars.
Even though it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The tornadoes seemed to be an early wake-up call that natural hazards still loom large as whispers about something called COVID-19 soon turned to roars.
From Tornadoes to Covid-19
On April 2, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order requiring all Tennesseans to stay home unless carrying out essential activities.
The goal…to slow and hopefully curtail the novel virus that first made headlines in late 2019.
It was up to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and other local officials to educate and enforce guidelines for Governor Lee’s order.
A task that proved challenging to say the least. “The shelter in place order brought some confusion early on. Everyone had to be educated on who was in charge. Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, Madison and Sullivan Counties own their health departments, so their County Mayors were making executive orders and people wanted the other 89 counties to do so as well.” Hutto continued, “Then, we learn that those other 89 county health departments, including Wilson, are controlled by the state. Therefore, we had to wait, each day to hear Governor Lee’s direction.”
Mayor Hutto faced a tug of war each day. “Some thought we were doing too much others not enough. All the while, we felt the weight of each citizen on our shoulders to protect and yet maintain an economy so people could live.”
Soon days turned into weeks then months. That’s when a plan to begin reopening slowly began to take shape. But this didn’t mean life would go back to normal. Not by a longshot. “People go back to their lives; they remain effected and still in need of help.” Mayor Hutto said. “Thanks to Recover Wilson-a long term recovery group formed by Pastors Regina Girten and David Freeman, Wilson County now has a solid foundation to be prepared for the next disaster.”
Because many local businesses were primarily shuttered for two and a half months, owners had to get creative while looking for ways to stay connected. Necole Bell who owns The Beauty Boutique Salon & Spa in Lebanon overhauled her stores website to make it easier for customers to shop for clothing and beauty essentials.
“Until Covid, our site was set up for customers to book appointments and learn more about our store. We built a new ecommerce site in five days. That was a gamechanger.”
In addition to the website, Beauty Boutique offered customers curbside pickup, local delivery, and shipping, as well as Facebook Live events showcasing BB’s new spring inventory. Beginning in May, salons opened at half capacity and at press time spa services are still being phased in.
No one with an internet connection can deny the impact social media played in helping business owners stay connected to customers.
Gym’s like Hot Yoga Lebanon, Sports Village Fitness, and Taylord Fitness offered an array of Facebook Live classes for members to stream.
When we were sick of cooking at home restaurants were there to save the day. Sammy B’s, Town Square Social, Cheddar’s, Wildberry Café, Sake’, and many more offered up their culinary de-lights curbside.
How Wilson County will fare when the dust settles from the pandemic is an open question, as it is for many areas throughout the US. Unlike many other places, Wilson County has had a practice of surviving devastating events.
As businesses were still boarding up busted windows from the tornado mere days after the first touched down on March 3, a makeshift sign went up on the Southside of Lebanon’s square, that established a new town motto, “TN Strong.”
It was during this time that Mayor Hutto noticed something familiar. Among the scattered debris and shuttered business doors, were signs that our community would get through this. As emergency personal and volunteers continued to work round the clock, residents rallied around their favorite businesses. “You realize that people in Wilson County will be all ‘hands on deck’ when there’s a crisis. You realize organizations may be the most important tool you to have to put all the parts together. You learn to never underestimate the public when there’s a cry for help. Maybe the most important lesson is that there are always rainbows in the storm. No matter how bad things got, there were blessings mixed in that would really blow your mind.”
Most of us are aware of the steps we can take to be more eco-friendly, and some of us even do small tasks every day to help keep our Earth clean. However, John McFadden and Heather Bennett partnered up to inspire and equip people of faith to become better stewards of the Earth. Blessed Earth Southeast has been thriving since 2014.
Executive Director, Heather Bennett, has always had a love for creation. It all started when she read “Serve God, Save the Planet” written by Dr. Matthew Sleeth. “I was excited to read something that finally connected the dots for me. I asked my husband Ryan, who is a United Methodist Pastor, to read the book. When I realized Ryan had a meeting in the same town where Dr. Sleeth lived, I asked my husband to try and meet him!” Heather continued about how her husband’s meeting with Matthew Sleeth and his wife set in motion her call to action. “My husband, Ryan, was in luck. The Sleeth’s were hosting a clergy luncheon. Ryan attended the luncheon in hopes it would get me off of his back about reading the book, but when he had a conversation with the Sleeths, he admitted he was very honest with them. He discussed with them that he didn’t really see the connection between his faith and creation care. The Sleeths sent Ryan home with a box of “Serve God, Save the Planet” books. From Genesis to Revelation, what Ryan discovered was a biblical call to care for God’s creation. This was over ten years ago.”
Since then, Ryan Bennett has been a member of the Blessed Earth Board and advisory team, and Heather has written articles for their website. She also received her Masters in Sustainability from Lipscomb University. The Sleeths and Bennetts, to this day, are family friends and loyal ministry partners.
John F. McFadden (PhD) became a part of Blessed Earth, as Senior Fellow, in March of 2019. McFadden has over 35 years of sustainability, conservation, environmental and not-for-profit experience. His background includes community engagement, urban and rural forest restoration, watershed and wetland assessment, restoration and education.
McFadden exhibits a strong love for nature, and his return to his Christian roots are portrayed in all of his work. “They are forever linked together in my life,” explained McFadden. “From a young man playing in the west hills around Nashville, Tennessee, to surviving a massive heart attack when I was 48, I am indebted to God’s creation for life.” The partners passion, drive, and exuberance of what God has called them to do, has earned them an admirable reputation in the community and across the state and country.
Blessed Earth’s mission is to inspire and equip Christians and other people of faith to become better stewards of the Earth. Since it was founded, Blessed Earth has led groups and workshops on Sabbath and creation care retreats, led workshops for church groups and teachers, and even preached sermons. “We will continue working with faith based groups on three initiatives: We encourage houses of faith to preach, teach and practice creation care, and we work with faith groups to help them move toward daily operations that have less negative impact on natural resources and promote healthy behaviors for their members. Also, we are currently working with faith groups across 10-12 states to carry out the largest tree planting in the country.” McFadden went on to explain how Tennessee currently holds the one-day record planting 190,000 trees with 25,000 volunteers. They believe that by working together with other believers across the southeastern United States, that they can plant one million trees, in a day, with over 100,000 volunteers.
“Trees are one of God’s finest works of creation in that they not only provide us with oxygen, food and shelter, but they save us money and make us feel better!”
“We need community members to support the mission with their presence, presents, and actions. Obviously, with our goal to plant one million trees in one day, helping to plant trees is going to be a huge need of ours! Folks can also do the simple things like recycling in the church offices, and using ceramic or paper cups, instead of foam or plastic.”
For more information and tips about how you can help take better care of the earth, or to get involved with Blessed earth, you can check out their website at blessedearthtn.com. if you are interested in coordinating a tree planting, please contact John McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org. if you have questions or would like to request Blessed earth Tennessee for speaking, workshops, retreats or have other requests, please contact Heather Bennett at email@example.com.
You might call him a trendsetter. Before, mixology became a word. Before, liquid nitrogen became part of cocktails. Before microbreweries. Before, bartenders became the star of the show. Before it all, Wilson County native James Cason was calling the shots and pouring on the fun.
Cason’s storied career began 50 years ago by accident. “I was asked to work at a wedding reception at Lebanon Golf & Country Club. When I got there, they gave me a jacket and asked me to pour champagne. But they didn’t tell me not to give it to the kids.” Cason says with a hearty laugh.
Even though a few children had their first taste of alcohol that night, he caught the attention of Lebanon Golf & Country Club Manager, Larry Swafford, who thought Cason was a natural. Swafford convinced him to bartend at the club full-time. “That first night, I made $5. And $5 in 1970 was A LOT. So, I decided that this was the job for me, and I haven’t looked back.”
Growing up the 5th of 18 children (his mom had TWO sets of twins in the same year!), James dropped out of Baird’s Mill School after the 8th grade to help the family.
He worked at various jobs in Wilson County before that evening spent pouring champagne changed the trajectory of his life. As Wilson County’s first licensed African American bartender, Cason had dreams of moving to a different state to expand his knowledge and grow in his career. Today, he’s happy those plans didn’t work out. “A long time ago, I wanted to move to Atlanta or Washington,” he continues, “But the Lord directed me to stay here, and it’s been wonderful.”
Married for 55 years, Cason and his wife Katharine have two children and four grandchildren. When he’s not crafting cocktails at Sammy B’s Restaurant or singing in the choir at Lebanon’s Primitive Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, he tends to a small herd of cattle on his farm in south Wilson County.
It’s been five decades since Cason began his impressive career and lucky for everyone who’s had the privilege to watch him mix a cocktail while sharing a funny story, he’s not showing down anytime soon.
“It’s the people that keep me coming back. I’ve met so many good people. I’ve had customers who became friends and took me under their wing and gave me an education in business. It’s hard to beat the life I’ve lived.”
Cheers to you, James Cason! Wilson County appreciates you!
Covid-19: something everyone in this community, and the world, can relate to. Four months ago, those words meant nothing to any of us, today, we cringe when we hear them.
Lives have been shaken up because of the “Corona Virus,”; health put in jeopardy, schools, graduations, proms gone awry, jobs changed overnight and, in some cases, even lost. When they say “we are all in this together”, they really mean it, because never in our lifetimes have we experienced something so globally, that we can just look at someone else and know exactly what they are feeling, because we are feeling it too. And yet, even during this crisis, it is evident that we are slowly learning to overcome.
“You were forced to adapt overnight and it wasn’t easy at first but we finally did get the hang of it,” notes Tonya Sacci, Lebanon resident and a kindergarten teacher at May Werthan Shayne Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. In a matter of days, Tonya and her students were forced into their homes and the school year came to an abrupt halt. It was up to her and many other local teachers and administrators to insure some sort of normalcy not only for the children, but their parents as well. Zoom or on-line learning became the new norm for high schoolers as well as many college students sent home after Spring Break never to return.
“Meeting with students through Zoom is a completely different atmosphere than face to face. My fellow teachers and I have had to find creative ways to adapt to this situation while still providing learning opportunities for the children. Many kids did not have access to Wi-Fi or a computer, so one thing I did was is mail different educational worksheets to the kids to have options to continue their learning. Although this has been an adjustment, I believe the new techniques and skills we have picked up will be beneficial to us in the future when we make it back to the classrooms. I speak for myself and other teachers, we miss our students and pray everyone is staying healthy!”
Not only has the teaching profession changed in the blink of an eye, but others like doctors, nurses, and grocery store workers, have become known as the warriors on the front lines. From long lines at the grocery stores that led to many citizens working double shifts, to nurses and doctors setting up, almost overnight, COVID testing facilities, these folks truly stepped up in our time of need. Fear gripped the nation and most of us were shuttered within the safety of our homes, and yet, those on the frontlines kept it all together for the rest of us. For that, the words, thank-you, will never be enough.
Small businesses, restaurants, banks, lawyers, and the courts had to find alternatives in order to continue to stay in contact with their clients and to continue to be of service. Many restaurants began curbside pickup and even delivery. Boutiques and shops transitioned to online orders as well. Judges and lawyers started having hearings online or by phone. Attorney, Ashley Jackson, a Wilson County resident and mother of four small children, found herself in many hearings where her client was at home on one computer screen, the Judge was at the courthouse on his computer screen and she was in her office looking into her screen as well – all for one hearing that used to take place in the courtroom. “Yes, it was different and at first, we all didn’t know how to make it work, uploading documents, sharing screens, muting participants but justice can’t stop just because there are stay at home orders. We had children who weren’t seeing their parents and clients in jail so, together, we just figured it out. And now, it’s almost seamless. All the attorneys and Judges are participating in Zoom hearings and have become quite the experts in technology. I can see the future of law changing for the better because of what we’ve been through.”
And in times of crisis, the one place a community can always turn to is their church and sadly, many of those had to be shuttered like the courtrooms. Pastor, Randy Cook, of Crossroads Community Church experienced first-hand the loss felt throughout the world. “Everyone is struggling with a lack of fellowship. People who were previously battling addictions, mental health and their faith now have lost encouragement they found by physically being in the church. We can’t let people believe the lie that we can hide ourselves and our hardships in the darkness. We all need to be surrounded by light and reminded that we are still connected and never alone, even in these trying times.”, stated Cook.
Cook went on to note that the church has been impacted in three major ways, “physically we have been affected by
not being able to gather, logistically by adapting and learning to connect with people outside of the church in new ways, and spiritually by not being able to fellowship and grow our relationship with the Lord in the ways we have in the past.” He added however, “we have been working together to be a resource for those in need. We just finished a 2-week food drive and have received many forms of donations that will all be available for people in need. Our members have also been reaching out through phone calls, personal cards, and grocery shopping for those at high risk Regardless of where you were in relation to technology, it was a major disruption, for some smaller churches, like Crossroads, more so than others. We decided not to do Sunday morning services to keep from overloading all the other churches who gather virtually at the time. Also, we understand that for some, it is hard to sit and stay engaged in an hour-long online service. We decided to meet through Facebook and Instagram briefly every afternoon (Mon-Fri) at 4:30, which we call Connection Point. We simply encourage people to spend 5 minutes surrounded by others of faith to replenish and give hope during these times.”
When asked if Cook had any words of encouragement as we are now slowly recovering, he added that “we strongly encourage those losing their jobs or having hours cut to continue to reach out to people and places of faith. Although we can’t solve all their needs, we can help them in many different areas. People want to help! Don’t make the mistake of shrinking back into isolation. It’s an easy thing to do, but it is toxic. We were created to be in community, so be proactive and continue to make connections in any way possible. When all of this is over, what will you come out of this with? Let this be a season of introspection. Don’t let this time go to waste. Emerge from this full of growth in your faith in God!”
Covid-19. Words we will never forget, but one day we hope when we hear these words, we will remember a time that as humans, we grew stronger because of it.
Jennifer Rowland Sheppard’s mom, Sue, started dating Jennifer’s dad in 1968. That courtship lasted 10 years before marriage.
He loved farming and he ran cattle,” Sue said from her daughter’s home in Timber Ridge during quarantine. “There was a beautiful, big Oak tree there and we would meet under the tree before we were married.”
When it was lunchtime, she’d take her future husband, Albert, lunch to the massive tree that graced the family farm on Tuckers Gap Road in Lebanon.
“We’d sit under the tree on the truck tailgate and eat lunch,” she remembers.
Albert passed, 10 years ago, this October. Majestic in size and form, through the decades it was known as “the tree.”
“After we married, it was the meeting place,” Sue said. “He would call and ask what I had for lunch and say, ‘meet me at the tree.’”
Everyone knew which tree it was. The mighty Oak commanded the respect it de-served, smack dab in a big hayfield.
“It was a gorgeous tree,” recalls Sue.
“Beautiful and humongous. After the grands came along, it was their meeting place as well.”
Sue reckons the tree must be 100 years old, or more. Through the seasons, this family had picnics, get-togethers, sunny day siestas and more under the tree that sidles up to a narrow gravel road that goes deep into the farm.
Jennifer got engaged to husband Micah under this tree. Their daughter, Maggie Grace, turned 2 April 11.
For over a century, this tree stood tall and took many hits when storms were restless, and winds were high. Its roots were deep, and they held strong.
The March 3, EF-3 tornado’s winds upwards of 136 miles per hour were simply too much for this aged and mighty Oak. Her roots let go and she toppled to the ground in what was likely a graceful and dignified bow.
The original family farmhouse, built in the late 1880’s, also took a huge hit from the ferocious winds. The ceilings caved in, as did the ancient chicken coop, outhouse, and smokehouse. It is futile to repair the house, but they will salvage the large logs, for keepsakes. A barn was demolished.
But it’s the Oak tree still laying in the field that puts collective daggers in the hearts of this family. The uprooted tree’s naked roots are exposed and reach as high as a tall man.
Jennifer was determined to somehow capture the tree’s integrity and memories. She heard about a Mt. Juliet woodworker, Bruce Humphrey, who makes boxes and bowls out of family trees that are down. When the March 3 tornado blew down stately, timeworn, family mascot trees across our region he reached out to families to say he could do something “small” for them. For these families, this gesture and token of empathy is not “small” but huge.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said from his workshop on Benders Ferry Road. “They are beautiful, a memento, some-thing of beauty that will last a lifetime or more.”
He thought the process of being gifted with a bowl made from the wood of a once living family favorite would “ease the process” for them.” It’s the overall process that runs deeper than an old tree’s roots but encompasses a gamut of feelings.
And, they are gifts from him.
“When it comes down to it,” said Bruce. “If no bowls are made by me, these ancient trees would be no more than fire-wood. I can’t let that happen.”
Bruce likes to go out to the downed trees to choose the best piece of wood to work with. In addition to Jennifer’s gorgeous bowl made of Oak [one of the trickier woods to hone], Bruce has crafted different sized bowls from Walnut, Maple, Cherry, and other types of wood. All are one of a kind, with different gradations of colors and veining.
He shared a picture of his very first turned bowl.
“At that time, I thought it was pretty great,” he said.
“Looking at this picture, the walls are too thick.”
Turning wood is a rather new hobby for Bruce. He works full time. Several years ago, after work, he found himself “falling down in front of the TV and so bored.”
“I went to the University of YouTube,” he said with a laugh. “I was too stupid to be scared of losing fingers.”
He thinks that first bowl ended up the burn pile. If he didn’t burn some, his workshop and home would be inundated with the beautiful pieces.
“I look back at them as from my ‘youth period,’” he said. Many of the bowls are literal works of art, and, some can be used for decoration and even fruit bowls. These recent, heartfelt pieces of wood gifted to grateful tornado victims are some of his favorites. He also sells bowls made from treasured trees that have finished their time on earth to non-tornado victims.
The Rowlands recently received a memorial bowl from Bruce to help them remember the mighty Oak that was their meeting place for generations.
The bowl’s home is at Jennifer’s right now. Her mom dreamed of a rocking chair made from her favorite tree, so she can sit in it and remember. The bowl is the perfect piece and now an irreplaceable family heirloom.
Sue always said no matter what, this Oak would be pre-served and never taken down by man. She said only if the hand of God took it down, could she live with it.
“And, it was an act of God,” she said. “The bowl is absolutely beautiful. My new grandbaby never got to meet Pa Albert, but she has this bowl that represents many of his memories. It gives us comfort.”
This grandma said she’s yet to go down and see the toppled tree.
“Too many memories,” she said. “I’ve not been able to go back there. I have not done it yet. It’ll break my heart.”
To see Bruce’s works, go to riverviewwood.com or on Facebook.
By Sarah Haston, TCEcD
Economic Development Director | City of Lebanon
For the first time in his adult life, Lebanon Assistant Fire Chief Nick McCorkle sheltered in a closet with his wife in their home as a violent storm swept through his Westview Acres neighborhood. Minutes after the storm passed, he was dressed and attempting to assess the damage, first to his house, then to his neighbors, then to the whole area.
William Glover, the public safety officer for the Lebanon Police Department, heard the alert on his radio after midnight – and like he does for any perceived emergency service, he headed toward the police headquarters. He had to pull under a canopy at a gasoline station as he neared Highway 109 as the wind and rain pushed through the city around 1:30 a.m. on March 3.
Lebanon’s engineering services director, Regina Santana, was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas, on behalf of the City of Lebanon, and was awakened in her hotel room by her daughter-in-law, calling to tell her that an EF4 tornado with winds exceeding 150 miles per hour had just raged through Lebanon. She cancelled her plans and booked the first flight out of Dallas the next morning.
McCorkle and Glover and their first responder colleagues, aided by Jeff Baines, Commissioner of Public Works, General Services Director Lee Clark, and his team, worked through the night and into the next night. Santana was on site by early afternoon, and they all proceeded to be key players in the near miraculous search, rescue, and restoration response that unified the city and exemplified the spirit of volunteerism by residents and kind-hearted strangers alike. All three long-time Lebanon residents and city employees worked tirelessly through the next two weeks to help bring some semblance of normalcy to the city as it reeled in the aftermath of the deadly storm. And all give credit to the entire community.
“The quick action by first responders, other city employees, residents, volunteers from other police and fire departments, and thousands of volunteers from near and far is a great point of pride for me,” said Mayor Bernie Ash. “It was grueling, exhausting work, and a great example of what communities can do when they work together, and I am exceptionally proud of the City of Lebanon employees.”
McCorkle’s home sustained what he called minor damages, but the homes of neighbors two blocks away were leveled. Glover knows several members of his church whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Santana’s home was spared, but her grandmother’s house was heavily damaged. All knew someone who suffered from the tornado.
“As terrible as the damage was, we were lucky the storm hit in the middle of the night when most people were not at work. The number of injuries and possibly deaths would have been much higher if it had been in the day,” the 20-plus year veteran of the Lebanon Fire Department said.
The trip to Fire Station #4, which usually takes McCorkle 6 to 7 minutes, took 45 minutes. Power lines were down, trees blocked roadways, the Eastgate area was devastated, a fire there was reported, and an injured tenant of one of the many destroyed businesses was rescued and taken to the nearest ambulance in the fire chief ’s pick-up truck.
“We’re used to dealing with chaos, but I have never experienced anything like this,” he said. “Radios went out; we had two firefighters take off on foot to help clear a path into the area. “We went business to business, house to house that first night along Leeville Pike and Eastgate Blvd.
McCorkle said Lee Clark and Lebanon’s public works crews, along with Middle Tennessee Electric teams, were instrumental in the initial clearing of downed trees, power lines and debris. And he praised City Garage workers for setting up shop at Station #4 where they changed damaged tires on local and neighboring fire department fire engines.
“The fire chief decided to open up a big bay at the Administration Office to accept donations. There were an unbelievable amount of donated supplies, from food and water to cleaning supplies every day and we were able to saturate the area with these items over the next two weeks.” Glover’s role, working from the police department’s mobile command center since power was out at the main headquarters, was helping make sure people were safe the first day, and then to coordinate the huge volunteer response. “We had more than 400 the first day and from Wednesday through Sunday a total of 3,500 showed up to help.
“Regina and I worked extremely well together. We wanted everything to be as smooth as possible.
Glover said Highland Heights Church of Christ on North Cumberland still had power, and immediately agreed to provide shelter to displaced residents. And he praised local businesses in the surrounding area which then sent food and supplies.
“Police Chief Mike Justice, LPD Command staff, Officers and dispatchers worked tirelessly for our community. Police officers from other communities, driving their marked patrol cars and wearing their uniforms, assisted with traffic, and worked intersections around the clock. Firefighters and their equipment were dispatched from Hendersonville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Brentwood and even the Millersville Volunteer Fire Department,” Glover said.
He also lauded Lebanon’s C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) for the 500 hours of volunteer service 20 of its members logged.
“The outpouring of love was amazing. Everyone was tired, but the thing that kept me going was the love of our community. It made you so proud to be from Lebanon,” Glover said.
“From the time I received that phone call in Dallas, it was an emotional roller coaster. When you see so many people hurting, you wanted to do so much,” Santana said.
She set out moving through the city, helping to identify areas where volunteers could make a difference.
“People, our neighbors, showed up in force with gloves, chain saws, skid steers, tractors, trailers, back hoes, knucklebooms, dump trucks, rakes, shovels, food, hugs, prayers and lots and lots of love,” she said.
Her team also helped assess property damages for use in receiving aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and volunteered on weekends identifying downed power lines, potential traffic snags, and with debris removal.
Santana praised Glover’s role in helping coordinate the response. “For two weeks, he stayed calm and cool. He was a great leader.”
“Just to see the impact of what the volunteers were able to do was unbelievable,” she said.
She echoed what her colleagues said when asked how they kept the steady pace for two weeks.
“How did I keep going? I got home, fell into bed, couldn’t sleep. Kept thinking…all these people who need help. All these people who want help,” she said.
“After working here for 24 years, I know a lot of the people who work here. Some I’ve worked with closely over the years and others not so much. One thing I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt is that there isn’t a group of people I’d rather go to war with than the ones who pulled together when the tornado hit and the days that followed. This group worked in sync as if we had hand in hand on a daily basis for years, “Santana said.
We keep you in our hearts as your journey continues. Wilson County is truly a great place to live, work, and play. Together we can make a difference.
During the March tornado, the response and support of volunteers who stepped up to help in rebuilding our community was extremely overwhelming. It proved that our county came together lending a hand to help one another. We were stronger together.
In honor of National Hospital Week, we presented TriStar Summit Medical Center, TriStar Summit Medical Center ER Mt. Juliet, Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital, and McFarland Campus with a blue ribbon and signage to say, “Thank You”. A hospital is more than a place where people go to heal; it is a part of the community that fosters health and represents hope.
This week allowed the opportunity to show our support and appreciation to our health care workers. It is important to highlight hospitals, health systems, and healthcare workers and the innovative ways they are supporting the needs of their community members. Our healthcare workers continue to be the frontline of each community. We can’t thank them enough for their time, commitment, and dedication. Anytime you see a healthcare worker, take a moment to thank them.
In honor of National Police Week and Peace Officer’s Memorial Day, we presented the Lebanon Police Department with a black & blue ribbon and signage to say “Thank You” for your service and show gratitude to our fallen soldiers. Our Law Enforcement officers continue to protect and serve our community. We can’t thank them enough for their bravery, commitment, and dedication.
In honor of National Public Works Week, we were able to say “Thank You” to all City of Lebanon, TN – Public Service leaders and their dedicated staff for the hard work and commitment they give each day. They have continuously been instrumental in our community, especially since the recent tornado. The tireless hours they give are appreciated.
As a countywide initiative, the Lebanon Wilson County, Mt. Juliet, and Watertown Chambers of Commerce are presenting Blue Ribbons to businesses that have implemented Governor Lee’s Tennessee Pledge. We want to recognize them for their commitment to protecting their business, their employees, their customers, and their community. Your businesses make a difference and provide our communities with the quality of life that makes Lebanon and Wilson County home.
Memorial Day is a day to celebrate, honor, and remember those past and present that have served our country. “Thank You” and God Bless the USA.
-Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce
Showing sheep is not a skill and passion that everyone has the drive for, but when it comes to 5th grader Marshal, he has us all beat. It all started with his great grandfather in California and continued on with his grandfather, his uncle, and mother in Oregon. They brought their love of showing with them when they came to Tennessee, and the legacy and knowledge have been passed down to Marshal; this makes him the 4th generation in the Hull family to be raising and competitively showing sheep.
What a difference a few years make with a new direction and focus. Before I get ahead of myself, let me first give some background on my athletic development.
Growing up I always enjoyed running. It came naturally to me. Being the youngest of four, I would always try to find ways to get noticed. So, running was the way I stood out. The compliments didn’t hurt either.
These days, life is looking a little different for Wilson County resident, Randall Clemons. After more than 30 years at the helm of Wilson Bank & Trust-the institution that he helped organize-Clemons passed the torch at the end of 2019 and called it a day… sort of. “I’m still on the board at the bank so I’ll still be around, but not in the day to day operations.”
With Shop Springs’ growing population, Elizabeth and Jeffrey Turner decided to no longer wait to put their dream into action! Both being raised on dairy farms, Shop Springs Creamery’s founders have a passion and love for the dairy industry and agriculture. “The Dairy industry has faced many challenges over the past decade,” explained the Turner’s. “The greatest of those challenges being financial burdens due to low prices that farmers receive for their milk from processors and market uncertainty.” This is one of many reasons they feel there is a great advantage to processing and marketing their product directly to consumers.
Wilson Manor reflects the decades of experience that Inspirit brings to the vocation of caring for seniors. Formerly known as Southern Manor, Wilson Manor is operated by the same friendly and welcoming faces as before. Southern Manor has been in business since 1998, and it came under new ownership in 2019, by Inspirit. The new owners put endless time and effort into choosing a company that already had the same values and care as they did. Continue reading “WILSON MANOR NEW OWNERSHIP – SAME VALUES”
Kristy Oakley has painted her magic in Mt. Juliet. To say her fingerprints – brush strokes – crisscross Wilson County is a mammoth understatement.
Though just 5’2” tall, she sure paints big. Her broad strokes are enormous, but she manages to get in exquisite detail.
A well-known muralist, with signature murals in Donelson, Nashville, the YMCA, and some other places, Kristy, 49, took her large strokes to Mt. Juliet last June on Jennifer Osborne’s office building near City Hall.
Two brick and mortars, a thriving online store, a podcast, a new lifestyle brand, an upcoming bible study series…and all conceived, carefully curated, and managed by the 25-year-old owner of Poppies Boutique, Sarah Collins. Impressive isn’t it!? Before sitting down with Sarah, I did a little research. Given all that she has going on, I assumed she was in her mid-30’s. When I found out she was just 25-a full two decades my junior, I felt like Chris Farley’s character in Tommy Boy. Then I met her. She’s smart, kind, creative, and has one of the most infectious laughs you will ever hear. Plus, she shares my affinity for all things Golden Girls. She’s like a unicorn! Continue reading “Things are ‘Poppin’ at Poppie’s Boutique”
Therapy dog and her owner give back to young readers
As a Registered Nurse Alison Keenan spent her career caring for others; however, she found herself on the other side of the lab coat in 2015. Keenan was diagnosed with terminal blood cancer.
Recovery from a bone marrow transplant was difficult. Keenan spent one month in the hospital and three months homebound. She shared that her dog got her through the hard times.
Keenan made a vow that somehow she would use her experience to help others. “I thought, ‘There has got to be something I can do to give back,’” she recalled. “I was given this second chance.”
Keenan found her calling in a dog named, Piper.
Keenan, who moved to Wilson County from Wisconsin, had owned several dogs during her life, but Piper, a Golden Retriever, was special. “When I started training her, I envisioned more of a service dog. I had a total knee replacement and needed her for balance. A service dog is trained to be devoted to only you, but Piper was so engaging that it wasn’t fair to her,” Keenan said. “I pulled her out and into a therapy dog program and she blossomed.”
Both Keenan and Piper went through extensive training with Intermountain Therapy Animals and one of its registered programs, R.E.A.Ding Paws.
“The first program was six weeks but it also entailed eight hours of class for me as a trainer. You can teach a dog to do anything. You have to teach the trainer how to train,” she said. After that, the dynamic duo had to pass an exam with other handlers in various scenarios. Because Piper is trained to offer support everywhere from classrooms to nursing homes, she had to become familiar with those environments.
“When we passed, we became registered and supported by an insurance program. We are insured as a team,” Keenan added. “We have been tested and proven we can meet the requirements of going out into the public.”
When the family moved to Tennessee, they were eager to integrate themselves into the community. Piper spends many days visiting the elderly at McKendree Village in Hermitage and veterans struggling with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Still, children are her forte.
Keenan realized Piper’s interest in children early on. “When she would hear kids in a commercial on television she would wake up and try to find those kids. It became really clear to me that she loves children. She wants to play with them. She isn’t afraid of them,” she said.
Keenan reached out to the Lebanon Wilson Public Library about their unique services through Reading Paws. The Reading Paws program launch in 1999 helps struggling readers by having them read to the therapy animal.
“I reached out and let them know we would like to come once a week. This was something that hadn’t been done there,” she said.
Two young children from the private school next door, Cedars Preparatory Academy, came every Thursday to read with Piper. They didn’t miss a session for months. Their mother introduced Keenan to Cedars Prep teacher Brittany Sewell. Sewell helped arrange for Piper to visit the school beginning in 2019.
Currently, Piper visits Cedars Prep on Monday mornings. Prior to her visits she follows protocol including, but not limited to, bathing and having her teeth brushed so she is shiny and clean for reading time.
The maximum a therapy dog can perform duties in these situations is two hours. Otherwise, the animal can become stressed and tired.
Piper spends two hours weekly at Cedars, where she works with eight students. “We work a lot with teachers to identify who are the kids who need support and one-on-one motivation. The kids get to turn the tables a bit and be the teacher. They tell the dog what is going on in the book and their interpretation of the story,” Keenan said. “Children improve their reading skills in a unique and fun environment, free of performance pressure. That makes a huge difference for a child.”
The program is free of charge. Keenan simply wants to uphold her promise to give to others and support her community.
“I’ve seen the magic that happens when you take a child who is reluctant, afraid, or challenged in their reading ability and give them that consistency and support. I’ve seen that working with a dog becomes a success for them,” she said. “I was given this wonderful animal with a lot to share and it only seems right that I give back.”
Keenan has written Piper’s story in a children’s book, “Piper Finds Her Special.” It follows Piper from getting trained to become a Therapy Dog and how she discovers what makes her special. In the process, Piper and her family learn she only has one kidney but triumphantly overcomes health issues. The book is in its final stages of publishing and will be released in the spring.
No matter where you grow up, to the young, the grass is always a little greener somewhere else. Bryson Eubanks was certainly someone who wanted to spread his wings.
Bryson and his brother Lee were raised by their single mother, Marie Eubanks. “We lived near Carroll Oak-land school and it was the late 80’s, early 90’s, so Wilson county didn’t have as much going on as it does now,” notes Bryson. “Growing up I attended church at Immanuel Baptist Church, went to Lebanon High School, played baseball, football & basketball, the usual things kids from around here do. My family is very close so I was usually with my brother or my cousins, Lisa Eubanks Nave or Michael Eubanks but I always figured I’d move away.”
After high school, Bryson attended Carson-Newman where he continued his baseball career. Later he obtained a Masters in Gerontology from Appalachian State. “When I was growing up, my great-grandmother was very important in my upbringing. She would babysit my brother and I when needed and taught us many life lessons. It was tough seeing her fall ill because she was the first person I had ever seen age and progress through the later stages of life. I watched my entire family come together to care for my great-grandmother. There were not many options back then nor was there information as to what options were even available. We did what we could to help insure her later years were good ones, but it was then I knew my calling would be working with the aging population.”
After obtaining his Masters Degree, Bryson returned to middle Tennessee, settling in Nashville working for two of the leading attorneys in Elder Law. My adult life has been focused on the field of public benefits, Medicaid planning, VA planning, and asset protection. It was while I was working for Tim Takacs that he and another attorney came to me and encouraged me to attend law school because I had a real knack for elder law. I laugh now because most attorneys I know don’t like math but I loved it. I was really good at reading the Medicaid laws and then figuring out how to reallocate client’s assets to meet Medicaid rules.
To say his mother is proud of the fact Bryson not only has a college degree, graduate degree and now a law school degree would be an understatement. “We didn’t have much growing up but I instilled in Bryson and his brother that an education and helping those less fortunate than you, are two things that will always steer you in the right direction.”
“I learned so much working with Tim and later Barbara Moss. They are both outstanding attorneys who specialize in the areas of estate planning and elder law. In fact, it was also at Barbara’s office where Bryson met his wife, Miller Hunt, also an attorney. The couple will soon be celebrating their one year anniversary and are excited about all their future holds.
“After law school, I knew the right place for me was back home. Back to my roots, back to my family and friends, back to where all this knowledge could really make a difference. So I knocked on a few doors and here I am, back in Lebanon practicing law with the law firm of Kane & Crowell. It’s a great fit because the firm already handles estate planning and I’m able to offer even more services to their clients by bringing my years of experience in elder law as well as asset protection. Plus it was about time the law firm hired a male attorney – I’m their 6th attorney and the only male, which makes for lots of laughs every day.”
Senior Law Partner, Amanda Crowell points out that “helping families has always been our goal, but as we ourselves are getting older, we are seeing the need locally for more expertise in the areas of Estate Planning and Medicaid and VA Planning. That’s why when we met Bryson, we knew he would be a perfect person to lead our Estate Planning & Asset Protection Division, with our other local attorney, Kayla Horvath.
Bryson points out that “U.S. News and World Report previously published an article that stated that 75 million Baby Boomers are on the verge of retirement, and over the next twenty years, approximately 10,000 people will turn 65 each day. The same report goes on to say that 18% of adults will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and the number of senior citizens in the population will total 89 million by the year 2050. To add to these staggering numbers, the parents of these baby boomers are living much longer than their parents due to better medical care, easier access to nutritional choices, and a focus on exercise and well-being.
These facts are important because the cost of long-term health care is rising as fast as those aging into it. The 2018 Genworth Cost of Care Survey presented facts from a study done by CareScout showing that nursing home care in 2019 will cost a resident between $78,960.00 and $84,588.00 per year; additionally, lower levels of care in an assisted living facility or at home will cost between $17,952.00 and $48,456.00 annually. All of those numbers are up from the previous year and can only be expected to rise; therefore, how people pay for long-term care is very important. Statistically, one in three Ameri-cans over the age of 65 rely on Social Security benefits alone.”
Being proactive is always the best option, but no matter the situation or timing, Bryson’s goal is to help clients face disability, aging, and the rising cost of long-term care head-on. Kayla Horvath, who has been with Kane & Crowell for several years notes that “our approach is a holistic one that focuses on care, finances, and the law. These three focus areas will work together so you and your family can answer questions such as:
• “Does my Will really do what I want?”
• “How will we provide for our disabled child when we can’t take care of ourselves?”
• “Who will make financial and healthcare decisions for me when I can’t?”
• “What do Medicare and Medicaid actually cover?”
• “How will I afford nursing home care, and will Medicaid take everything from me?”
• “Can my status as a Veteran help me in any way?”
Attorney Angel Kane, one of the founders of Kane & Crowell Family Law Center, commented that “everyone knows us as a Family Law and Estate Planning law firm which is what we do, but Elder Law is something very different from typical Estate Planning. We all need a Will, Power of Attorney and Living Will, because no matter how old you are, you should plan for who will take care of your children or your affairs if you suddenly pass away. Kayla Horvath has been working in this area of law with us for many years, and she has both the knowledge and compassion to serve our clients well with these needs.
Elder law, however, is for older adults who want to plan for their future care needs. It lays the groundwork for a financial legacy rooted in protecting family assets. It also encompasses crisis care planning for elderly adults that have immediate health and safety needs with a focus on getting proper, affordable care. This includes both Medicaid and VA aid and attendance benefits.
Amanda and I began focusing on this area of law many years ago as our own grandparents and parents were getting older, and we needed to help them plan and prepare. And as often happens, we grew busier and busier, and the cases we saw became much more complex. This area of the law is not one you can learn overnight. You really have to immerse yourself in this area of law to truly understand the complexities of Medicaid and Trust laws. Bryson has done that, plus when he told us he was raised here and all about his great-grandmother’s story – we knew he would be a perfect fit because he has a real passion to help those around him.”
“Elder law is near and dear to my heart,” Bryson says. “Watching my family’s struggle with my great-grandmother impacted me. Watching that struggle led me to focus my career on helping our aging community, and I’m glad to be back working in my hometown, serving the people who helped make me who I am today.”Recently, Kayla and Bryson, were asked to speak to a church group about elder law and asset protection. “People had so many questions and we loved being able to answer them and help make a complicated process easier to understand.
In 2020 we are planning many more seminars so if your organization or group would like us to come out, we are happy to do so. My goal is to help the aging population preserve their dignity and protect their assets. Information is power. I’ve got the information and I’m ready to help you get your power back.”
To reach Bryson call (615) 784-4800 or visit www.kane-law.com. Or to schedule a speaking engagement email him directly at beubanks@ kane-law.com
Denise Vermeulen of Lebanon has taken what might have been a story of sadness and shame and turned it into a story of generosity, compassion, and love through her leadership in a local Prison Fellowship Angel Tree ministry.
Vermeulen’s dad was a drug addict and dealer and was in and out of prison most of her childhood, as well as her adult life.
Christmas was often a hard time for Vermeulen and her family when she was a child. Her parents were divorced, leaving her mother to raise three young children on her own. Her grandparents provided as much as they could for their grandchildren, and she has many happy Christmas memories with them. However, her contact with her father was intermit-tent, often via a letter from jail, and Vermeulen only remembers only receiving one gift from him after her parents’ divorce.
“He was actually so big-time that he was on the TBI list,” she said. “The last time they got him, not only did he have a large amount of cocaine and marijuana in the car, but he also shot at a police officer, and they got him on that, too. I was 17 or 18 at the time, and he stayed there [in prison] until about four years ago,” Vermeulen said.
When she passed by an “angel” tree in the lobby of Fairview Church in Lebanon almost 15 years ago, Vermeulen was intrigued by the paper angels hanging on the Christmas tree and asked Janice Holden, who was overseeing the ministry at the time, for more information. She was surprised to learn that each angel represented a local child who had one or both of their parents incarcerated, and Janice was gathering Christ-mas gifts for them.
“When she explained it to me, I just started bawling. This particular angel tree ministry was something that really resonated with me.”
Vermeulen was so moved that she began to assist Janice with the program at that time and then, about 10 years ago, started serving as the church coordinator for Fairview Church. She continues to lead that ministry until today.
Angel Tree is a Prison Fellowship program that serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. Through this ministry, children receive a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their mom or dad behind bars.
In America, 2.7 million children have a mom or dad in prison, which is about 1 in every 28 children, or one boy or girl in every classroom. Fairview will be assisting over 70 children, the majority of whom live in Wilson County, this Christmas.
Vermeulen encourages everyone to remember: “It’s not the children’s fault.”
“As a child, you should not have to deal with the consequences of your parents’ decisions. But these children deal with those consequences every single day. This is why it is so dear to my heart. I want them to know I understand.”
“To me, for the children to get a gift and know that their parent is thinking about them, regardless of the mistakes that they’ve made, that really spoke to me, because I never felt that way.”
“When you’re a kid, you don’t understand mom or dad is in prison,” Vermeulen said. “All you know is that it’s Christmas, and they should give you a present no matter what,” she laughs.
Terry Kemp, another member at Fairview, was help-ing Vermeulen hand out gifts on an afternoon at the church several years ago when he felt a desire to do more.
“These people–many of them would come through the doors and you could see that they were hurting–and sure we were giving them gifts and praying with them–but I told Denise, ‘We can do better than this,’” Kemp said.
Kemp’s community group got involved next year and helped to add the party element to the ministry. Now participating families come to the church to pick up their gifts and stay for a pizza party with games and arts and crafts.
“We have members of our class who look forward to helping with this every year,” Kemp said.
“It’s about the children, letting them know they are loved and sharing the Gospel with them,” Vermeulen said.
Churches, companies, and organizations will provide gifts to families and individuals in need through a variety of “angel” trees across Wilson County. Check with your local church to find out how you can give and what group they will be serving this year.
For more information about the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree program, visit prisonfellowship.org.