Reaching out to help

Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach provided roughly 375 backpacks full of school supplies to needy children throughout the county.

SNEEDVILLE — A new non-profit and volunteer-run organization is taking root in downtown Sneedville. Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach is the brainchild of Dianne Bartlett, and, as their name suggests, the focus of the organization is on meeting the needs of underprivileged children in the county.

They are a sister organization to Help4Kids based out of Conway, South Carolina, upon which many aspects of Hancock Co.’s ministry are based.

What do they do?

“We specialize in helping children — however that might be,” Bartlett said. “We want to meet a need that is not currently being met.”

As one of the organization’s first projects, Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach recently held a back-to-school program that gave school supplies to needy children in the area. The organization stuffed backpacks with necessary school supplies to be given to children for the upcoming school year. All of the materials given to children were from generous donations to the organization.

The backpacks contained three packs of notebook paper, three notebooks, a pack of pencils, a pack of pens, a pack of highlighters, a pencil case, scissors, crayons, markers, glue sticks and erasers.

Bartlett explained that, when the project was in the initial planning phases, the organization estimated that they would need to provide around 150 backpacks. By the time school began, however, they had given roughly 375.

“We also gave out to most of the children — and we will continue to give out — new clothing,” she said. “New outfits — new shoes, new coats, underwear, socks and that sort of thing was given to each and every child that we helped for back-to-school.”

Bartlett estimates that the organization provided around $100 worth of material to each child.

Bartlett admitted that the organization’s supply of clothing and school supplies began to dwindle towards the end of their back-to-school program, as more than double the estimated number of children were served. However, Bartlett isn’t letting this set her back, as she explained that she was thrilled that the organization served as many children as it did.

“Those children who didn’t receive clothing for back-to-school will receive some in the future,” she said.

The organization has also just begun a partnership with Ashley Furniture Industries, which has generously offered to donate beds to children who are currently without them.

In addition to clothing and school supplies, the organization also gives Christmas gifts to needy children in the area. The ministry is different from many other children-focused operations in that children over the age of 13 are still served during Christmas.

“A lot of organizations say, ‘well, if they are 13 years old, they don’t need Christmas gifts anymore,’ but that’s just not fair,” Bartlett said. “I would hate to know that there were five kids in a family, one of them happened to be 13, for example, and all of the other kids were sitting around the tree on Christmas morning opening the gifts that we had given them. Then, that 13-year-old child would not be opening anything. Just because they’re 13 doesn’t mean they understand things like that.”

She explained that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to who can receive assistance from Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach.

“It’s one of those ‘every situation is different’ sort of things,” Bartlett said.

In the future, the organization also plans to add a Clothing Exchange Program.

“The way that’s going to work is, if a parent brings in a decent pair of blue jeans that their child has outgrown, for example, we will exchange them at no charge for another decent pair of blue jeans that their child can wear,” she said. “We will even have adult-sized clothing for children who need those sizes.”

In regard to the manner through which the organization identifies those in need, Bartlett told the Eagle, “we do not ask any questions.”

“If a parent comes in and says that their child needs help, needs a backpack, or needs school clothing, we don’t turn anybody away,” she said.

Getting started

Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach is the sister organization to Help4Kids, which is based in Conway, South Carolina and just a few miles away from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Bartlett based many aspects of Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach off of this organization. The majority of the donated material offered to children in Hancock Co. is shipped from Conway, South Carolina to another sister organization Swannanoa, North Carolina where Bartlett is from. That organization then ships some of its material to Hancock County.

Help4Kids began when its founder, Barb Mains worked as a community volunteer just after hurricane Hugo hit the coast of South Carolina in 1988.

“Barb Mains is just an angel of a person,” Bartlett said. “She went out into the community, and she saw need. She saw the need of children in the community who were sitting around without shoes on, their house blown away, and they had nothing. At that time, Mains began collecting donations, and it has grown exponentially. She especially helps around Christmas and back-to-school.”

Eventually, though, Mains began receiving more donated material than was needed by children in the area. Mains’ sister then began similar ministries near their homes in Western North Carolina, where Bartlett volunteered. Many of these organizations, such as the Swannanoa branch, for example, are run out of an individual’s home. These locations, too, eventually were flooded with generous donations.

“Several years ago, we began praying as an organization that God would lead us to an area that needed help,” Bartlett said.

Identifying a need in Hancock County

One of Bartlett’s life-long friends and residents of Hancock County suggested that Bartlett check out the area.

“Voila! Hancock County came out of that prayer,” she said. “One morning, I was off from work, and I just jumped in my car and drove over here (to Hancock County). So, at 57 years old, I had lived in Swannanoa, North Carolina all of my life, but God picked me up lock, stock, and barrel, and moved me to Hancock County.”

When Bartlett first arrived in Hancock County, she volunteered with the county’s branch of Of One Accord Ministries. It was during this time, she said, that she discovered a need within the area.

“I knew then what He brought me over here for,” she said.

She first began serving the area’s children from her own home, and was able to serve around 150 children through the back-to-school program last year.

However, the ministry soon became large enough to require its own building. At first, Bartlett worked with members of Goins Chapel Church in Sneedville to serve around 180 children last Christmas.

She was later able to secure an unused building in downtown Sneedville.

The next steps for the organization

“Hancock County was extraordinarily helpful in allowing us to use this building,” Bartlett said. “Right now, the only thing that we are having to pay for is the upkeep. However, there are a lot of things that need to be done to this building, and that’s where our fundraising is coming in.”

In addition to the routine payments required to activate the building’s electricity, water and sewer services, much of the flooring is in disrepair, many ceiling tiles are covered in mold, and the building’s heat pump is “only a lawn ornament” as Bartlett described.

“Everything that came through the door went into our back-to-school program,” she said. “Now, we’re looking at probably several thousand dollars just to get the heat pump replaced. So, we are in desperate need of getting our name out there so that folks know we are not just a fly-by-night organization. We desperately need some support from the community. Financially, we could really use a boost.”

Bartlett explained that many people have already offered to volunteer their labor for the building project, but the organization doesn’t yet have the money to purchase the supplies. The number of people involved in the organization is ever expanding, though. They even just recently added a new member to their board.

Bartlett hopes to begin partnering with the churches in and around Sneedville and any interested businesses in order to raise funds and begin expanding the organization.

“I’ve had members of a few local churches come in and ask, and I told them ‘it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you went down to the electric companies and just gave some money to go towards getting our lights turned on,” she said. “Or even if they went to the water company and did the same thing. I don’t necessarily need the money in my hand, as long as it is a means to an end.”

Now that the back-to-school program is largely finished, the focus of Hancock Co. Children’s Outreach is on fundraising and promoting the organization. Though they do not currently have any large-scale events planned, they hope to do so in the future.

Though Bartlett is largely the reason this new Hancock County organization even exists, it is important to her that the focus of the organization should not be on her.

“I do this because I know there’s a need,” she said.

If you or someone you know has a child who is in need, or you are interested in contributing to the organization, you can drop in at their new location, email them or call them. The building is located directly across the street from the court house at 147 Court Street, Sneedville, TN 37869. You can also call 828-989-4003 or email hancockcochildrensoutreach@yahoo.com.