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New call center building ready: First employees now in training

SNEEDVILLE – The Hancock Co. Commission, during a Monday night, April 8, meeting, learned that the new “Project 95 Call Center” building is finished and that its first six employees have begun training in Johnson City.

County Mayor Thomas J. Harrison, made the announcement at the end of the 7 p.m. commission meeting.

In a related matter, under the “new business” portion of the commission’s agenda, Harrison told commissioners that construction of the center had been 96% financed with grant funds that the county government had won. But the grant funds require a 4.5% match from local funds.

The matching funds, which are to be borrowed from Powell Valley Electric, total $135,000, the mayor told the commissioners in asking for a motion to approve borrowing the needed money.

After some discussion, a vote was taken and 15 of the 16 commissioners present voted in favor of the motion to authorized borrowing the needed matching funds.

One commissioner passed on voting when his name was called. Another commissioner was absent.

“I am very excited because this is the best opportunity Hancock County has had for job growth in the last 40 years,” Mayor Harrison said in December, when recruiting of call center employees began. “This will provide good jobs, close to home, so our folks don’t have to leave the county for work.”

The state of Tennessee offered incentives to any company willing to open a call center in Hancock County. The construction of a new building, which will be rent-free for a period of time, was a major part of the incentive package. The goal of the project is to bring steady, good-paying jobs to the area.

“This has been a combined effort to help the hard working people of Hancock County,” said TDLWD Commissioner Burns Phillips. “We will come to Sneedville and find the best employees for this company, so the folks in this great community can work closer to home, make a fair wage, and spend more time with their families and less time commuting to other counties to work.”

Officials said earlier that the call center could provide up to 100 jobs.

In February 2018, State Rep. Gary Hicks, Jr. and then-Gov. Bill Haslam announced that the call center is to serve Allied Dispatch Solutions, LLC.

“This announcement is transformational for our local community,” Hicks said in making the announcement. “I am grateful to Allied Dispatch Solutions, Governor Haslam, TNECD, and our local officials for their partnership on this important project that will bring much-needed job growth to Hancock County. The daily economic challenges our residents face are clear, and I pledge that I will continue to fight for additional resources in order to improve their quality of life.”

Founded in 2014, Allied Dispatch Solutions is one of the nation’s leading roadside assistance companies. It operates 24/7 and handles in excess of three million calls per year.

TREADWAY VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT: Responding to fires and serving up some of the best fish dinners in NE Tennessee

TREADWAY — If anyone thinks its easy, or cheap, to keep a small, rural, all-volunteer fire department operating, ready to respond day or night to any emergency, and finances “in the black”, they might want to check with Chief Douglas Brown.

Having served as Fire Chief of the Treadway Volunteer Fire Department for the past eight years, Brown says that every day brings new challenges as members maintain their equipment, find time for training, constantly reach out to the community for new volunteers, and to raise money to finish paying for their building and to keep fuel in the trucks.

“And we’re going to keep on doing what we do because we care,” he said. “We care about our friends and neighbors, and people we don’t even know whose houses, farms, businesses or even their lives might be in danger.”

Brown said he recently changed the message on the department’s sign just a few yards down the hill on CR 31.

“It says, ‘If not you, who?’” Brown said. “People don’t stop to think that we are just a handful of people here, and a lot of us are getting older. We need new volunteers, we need younger blood, people who are ready, willing and able to put in the time and effort it takes to train and be ready.”

And, he said, being ready means being willing to hit the ground running in any type of weather, no matter if its a miserable, icy, snowy winter’s night with temperatures hovering near ‘zero’, or the sweltering heat and humidity of mid-summer.

“We’re just trying to be the best volunteer fire department in northeast Tennessee,” he said. “We may be small in numbers but we’re big in heart.”

And while the department may be located in Treadway, it responds whenever called upon to other areas of the rugged, rural, mountainous county.

“We’re 30 minutes or more from some parts of Hancock County,” he said. “That’s why its so important that all of us fire departments help each other out.”

The department gets no financial help from Hancock County, so members put in many hours of time throughout the year on fundraisers.

With only 14 active members and 14 auxiliary members, the department still manages to average eight people who turn out for each fire call.

“We apply for any grant that we find out about that we qualify for,” Brown said. “Sometimes we get lucky, but most of the time those grants go elsewhere.”

Two years ago, the department received $265,000 in two grants — one of which was used to purchase a new 3,000-gallon tanker, and the other to help purchase much-needed other equipment.

“We cover an area of more than 42 square miles, so its important that we have enough water when we go out to some of the really isolated areas,” Brown said, some of which don’t have public water supplies and hydrants.

The department’s ISO rating improved to a 5/5Y last year, which has an impact on the cost of a homeowners’ fire insurance premiums.

“For a small, rural department, that’s a huge accomplishment,” he said.

ISO ratings are determined by a number of factors, such as the type and condition of equipment, availability of water, firefighters’ training, and the keeping of very detailed records for training, maintenance, and other things.

“We train all the time, and you have to, not only so that we will know how to respond to most any situation, but also to teach firefighters how to stay safe and protect their own lives,” he added.

Members not only do an exemplary job of responding to fire calls, but also keep the community fed with their Second Monday Fish Frys at the Fire Hall, which are its major source of income.

“I’d say we serve 200-300 dinners a month,” said firefighter Barry Stapleton.

The dinners have become so popular that people from as far away as Knoxville and across the state line in Virginia show up to enjoy the delicious fried fish with all the trimmings.

“One thing, though, the serving starts at 5 p.m., and we’re usually sold out by 6 p.m. or a little after,” Treasurer Wanda Dalton cautioned. “So you’d better come early!”

The recently renovated community room / dining hall features a full kitchen and enough tables and chairs to accommodate 126 persons.

The facility can be rented for $75 per day for receptions, birthdays, or meetings. Persons may call 423-733-0041 and leave a message and someone will return the call.

Other fundraisers include a Community Day in June, a Labor Day Celebration in September, and participation in the Hancock Fall Festival in October.

The department also has Cookbooks available for only $5 each.

“This place has come a long way from the day that it started in an old garage, just down the road,” Wanda Dalton said. “I remember the first time we met, we sat on old five-gallon buckets turned upside down!”

Their current building is almost paid for.

“That’s thanks to the support of a lot of good people who believe in what we are doing!” Secretary Janet Stapleton said.

“We need cash donations, and yes, we need volunteers, but the thing that would help us the most is if people would install smoke detectors in their homes and then check the batteries at least once a year,” Chief Brown said. “I, myself, have been on fires where people died. Both of those might have been prevented if they had had a smoke detector that worked. They can also help by keeping the outside of their homes as ‘fire safe’ as they can, like keeping weeds, dry brush and junk away from any structures.”

To that end, the department has a supply of smoke detectors that are available free of charge to people within its service area.

“All you have to do is ask,” he said.

Officers of the department include Chief Doug Brown; Assistant Chief Fred Brown; Captains Gary Pyle and Douglas Brown; Lieutenants Justin Brown and Brian Ross; Safety Sam King; and firefighters Roger Dalton, Barry Stapleton, Lyle Bonnell, Anthony Sebastian, Richard Gerrets, and Hailee Bonnell.

Auxiliary members include Treasurer Wanda Dalton; Secretary Janet Stapleton; and members Ron Fuller, Edith Seal, Betty Lawson, Betty Brown, Brittany Jones, Hubert Gordon, Kathleen Gordon, Lois Maxey, Jim Foster and Marcia Foster.

The founding members of the department were Roger Dalton, Hubert Gordon, Raymond Pearson, Henry Holt, and Artis Seal.

Ballad Health donation helps fund literacy program at HCES

SNEEDVILLE — Establishing a comprehensive literacy curriculum at Hancock County Elementary School got a boost last week, with the presentation of a $6,500 check from Ballad Health to help with the purchase of essential books for the Unit Starters program.

Earlier in the year, Principal Brian Greene said that he and other faculty members attended a conference where they heard about a literacy night that another school had participated in.

“I just had an idea that that would be something neat for us to have,” Greene told those assembled in the school’s gym on Friday afternoon. “We took some ideas from others and added some of our own.”

Teachers, he said, have been meeting for some time to come up with literacy-based activities that they could do in their classrooms for Literacy Night that would involve both students and their parents. Students themselves got involved and Greene said that he thinks the campus looked “amazing” for the April 5, 2019 Literacy Night at HCES.

Unique decorations graced the hallways, along with special displays and activities in classrooms.

Prior to the assembly in the gym, where the check was presented, teachers were treated to a catered meal in the cafeteria.

Greene said that in recent weeks, school personnel have had several conversations with people from other school systems regarding Unit Starters, a component of Teaching Literacy in Tennessee, that lays out a comprehensive vision for effective literacy instruction across the state.

“We selected a group of teachers to help pilot that program, beginning next year with the second grade,” he said.

But, one major stumbling block to implementing the program was the lack of funds needed to pay for the “multiple books” that would be required, he added.

“Lo and behold, Ballad Health came along and offered us money — $6,500 — for the program that we wanted to start, and we appreciate them for doing that,” he said.

Greene also voiced his appreciation to teachers whom he said have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support him and new initiatives at the school.

“I hope that at some point I can help you feel just as supported, so thank you,” he said.

“Every time you get an opportunity to come to an event for your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or somebody else in your family, I hope that you will do that,” Greene encouraged those present for the event. “Sometimes that involvement gets lost between middle school and high school. I can remember being in high school and looking to see if I had people in the crowd, and most of the time I did. And it meant a lot, and I hope that you will continue to be involved. It means more to those folks sitting with you than you may realize.”

Paula Masters, with Ballad Health, which operates Hancock County Hospital, in Sneedville, thanked the school for allowing the regional hospital group to be not only a part of the night, but “a part of your literacy journey”.

Masters said that fostering a “culture of reading” in turn fosters a “culture of health”.

“And that’s what we at Ballad Health are all about, trying to make sure that the entire region is the healthiest community it can be,” she said.

Masters said that Ballad is moving from being a legacy healthcare delivery system to a community health improvement system.

“That means going out and into the communities and find out how we can best we can support you,” she said.

She also thanked all of the parents who were present for working with their children to encourage them to read.

Regina Day, Administrator for both Ballad Health hospitals in Rogersville and Sneedville, said the healthcare provider feels very privileged to be a part of the new literacy curriculum.

Phyllis Dossett, with Ballad, said that she could see the excitement in the faces of the teachers and children.

“This is going to be a wonderful project!” she said. “We’re all going to work on it together and I can see it going places.”

Director of Schools Tony Seal and School Board members David Jones and Jack Mullins were also on hand for the check presentation.

The Mission celebrates Grand Opening, new Crisis Pregnancy Center

SNEEDVILLE — The Mission, Hancock County’s drug recovery program, located 186 Campbell Drive, has a full weekend of activities planned as they celebrate their grand opening in a new location, as well as the establishment of a new pregnancy crisis center.

There will be also be a tent revival on the grounds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 12-14, at 7 p.m. nightly.

On Saturday, April 13, from 10 a.m. -1 p.m., a free clothing give-a-way will be available, with the Grand Opening at 2 p.m. for The Mission’s new building and Hancock County’s only Pregnancy Crisis Center in the same location.

The Mission has operated under the umbrella of Of One Accord Ministry for the last seven years. It is Hancock County’s only drug recovery program and during it’s short existence has sent some 80 clients to long-term rehab centers where they can stay up to one year or more to find freedom from drugs. Several have returned to their families to find jobs and are a productive part of society again.

Meetings are weekly on Thursday nights at 6 p.m. A meal is included for those attending. Attendees sing, hear a speaker, and then have individual break-out sessions to help encourage and direct them along their road to recovery.

A couple of years ago, the building that the ministry rented was sold and they couldn’t see a solution in site. O’Neil Greene, director for The Mission, says God has showed up, provided them a very nice facility where they are opening an additional Pregnancy Crisis Center.

This is Hancock County’s first Pregnancy Crisis Center and on Saturday, there will be lists of needs given out, giving those attending the opportunity to go back to their churches and help take up and provide some of these essential items.