5th Annual Muscadine Balloon Fiesta

The 5th Annual Muscadine Balloon Fiesta will return to East Tennessee at Tsali Notch Vineyard. Enjoy balloon rides, live music, food, games, an inflatable Kid’s Zone and much more all while supporting CASA Monroe. The two-day event Balloon Fiesta begins on Saturday September 2nd from 2pm – 10pm, and runs through Sunday. September 3rd, from 2pm – 10pm. The final each night will be a Balloon Glow set to music with at least 20 colorful hot air balloons beginning at dusk. We have 20 of the most talented balloon pilots in the county excited to entertain the community.

This year the Nine Lakes Wines County is joining the Fiesta. Nine local Vineyards will be hosting a tasting event. For $10 you can buy a wristband and sample local wines.

We invite everyone to come out and join in the celebration.

Visit the site for more information.

Continue Reading →

Gardening in Late Summer

Let’s get real, folks. I know darn good and well that most of you are not going to be doing a lot of gardening in the next couple of months. There are some things that you CAN do, however, on those occasional glorious mornings or evenings that lure us outside and away from the AC. Here are the most critical ones:

• Go out and do a good checkup on your yard. Yes, all the way out to the back corners that you haven’t visited since spring. Look up at your trees and see if there are dead or weak areas that need to be dealt with. Do you have insect holes, woodpecker holes or oozing sap? Do you have shelf mushrooms or lichen growing on the trunk? Is there sawdust at the base of the plant? Last year’s drought caused significant damage that will take a couple of years to heal, so keep your eyes open. I’m speaking from experience. The Memorial Day weekend storms put a tree on my husband’s truck, and the storm last weekend put one on my house!

• Check smaller plants for disease and insects. We are seeing a tremendous amount of powdery mildew and other fungal problems on many plants because the humidity has turned our area into a fungal breeding ground. The winter was also not severe enough to kill back the insect population. This puts a double whammy on our weakened shrubs. Give us a call or stop by with a sample so that we can give you the best product to treat your issue. Remember to always treat with the least toxic product first!

• Check the ground for mole tunnels or vole holes. Moles do not hurt your plants, but they make handy tunnels for the voles (field mice) to travel through. Voles will eat the roots of your shrubs, and especially love hostas.

• Do maintenance on flower beds and gardens, even if they are in containers. Again, check for insects and diseases and treat/ replace/remove affected plants. Deadhead annuals and reapply fertilizer. Give leggy plants a haircut. If your flowers have gotten out of hand and are stressing you out instead of giving you joy, throw them on the compost heap and get some fresh ones! Life is too short for ugly plants.

• If your yard is naked and in need of larger plants, there are some trees and shrubs that can be planted now IF you are prepared to water them (unless we are getting at least 1” of rainfall per week). Once we move into the cooler months, it will be safe to plant larger trees. Fall is also a good time to supplement your perennial bed with late blooming and/or evergreen plants.

• Since I mentioned water, let’s talk about that. Water issues are by far the most common cause of plant death. While sprinkler systems are great for grass and annuals, they are woefully inadequate for trees and shrubs. A good sized Limelight Hydrangea can drink 5-10 gallons of water per day. A large Maple tree can suck down 5 gallons per inch of diameter in a week. A drip irrigation system or hand watering is critical for trees and shrubs.

• Let’s talk about fall fertilizing. I think of fertilizers as multi-vitamins for your plants. If you have good soil that you replenish with compost there is no need to fertilize, just like if you eat a well-balanced diet, you don’t need vitamins. Most of us don’t eat a well-balanced diet, however, and we are dealing with some hard clay soil. (I’ll talk more about that later.) Therefore, a little supplementing is frequently useful. The problem is, sometimes gardeners just throw random fertilizer down without knowing what their plants need. This can be like taking Vitamin A for a Vitamin D deficiency. Here’s an example: Billy Bob keeps putting lime on his grass because his daddy put lime down and Billy Bob thinks that grass has to have lime. Billy Bob has azaleas all around his yard that are dying, and he doesn’t understand why. The reason is that the steady use of lime on his yard has caused the pH to rise, and azaleas cannot survive in alkaline soil. Here’s another example: Susie Q keeps fertilizing her hydrangeas with some random fertilizer that her husband had in the garage. Susie Q has no blooms on her hydrangea.

• Did you plant a vegetable garden? Keep harvesting to keep the produce coming! Make notes of what did well and what didn’t, and give us a call if you have questions. Don’t forget to make a note of where things were planted so that you can change it next year. I know it sounds silly to say you have to rotate your crops in a 4×4 raised bed, but it is critical that you do so. It is also important to keep an eye out for insects and disease so that all your hard work isn’t in vain.

• For those of you who do plant veggies, you can plant seeds of cool season vegetables (beets, bush beans, carrots, peas) once we get into mid-August. Later in the month you can plant cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They will need to be protected from hot, late afternoon sun.

• Don’t let the weeds get the upper hand! Keep pulling them and applying pre-emergents, or put down a layer of newspaper or cardboard under your mulch to prevent seeds from germinating. That’s because she has grabbed a high nitrogen fertilizer that results in a beautiful green bush that doesn’t bloom. The bottom line is, educate yourself and/or do a soil test before you just start throwing fertilizer out.

• Now let’s talk about clay soil. I know that some of you have moved here from other places where there was actual black dirt. You aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. We have clay, which when mixed with sand becomes the brick that many of your houses are made of. It can be amended, however, and does a great job of holding nutrients. The trick is to amend, amend, amend. Compost, rotted manure and soil conditioner will all help. A soil test is best if an area is struggling. You can pick a kit up here.

• Take care of our feathered friends during fall migration. Keep feeders and birdbaths clean and full. That is all for now. Please stop by or give us a call if you have questions. We want you to have a beautiful yard!

Continue Reading →

INNOVATOR • SCIENTIST • ENTREPRENEUR • NEAL CALDWELL

Growing a successful garden takes time, patience, a lot of hard work and one very important aspect—the right tools. When Neal Caldwell and his wife, Alice, built their home in Knoxville, Tennessee, they certainly possessed the determination to tackle their difficult yard, and fortunately, Neal had the innovative know-how to create the tools they would need to make their garden grow. What began as a project to beautify a plot of land others saw as useless developed into a series of inventions and even a successful business!

Neal Caldwell is a graduate of Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee, where he earned degrees in both physics and mathematics. For 40+ years, the seeds he began to sow in his own backyard led to numerous successful products and the birth of Dalen Products, Inc., which manufactures innovative, quality gardening products. Of the products Dalen offers, Neal is especially proud of the Dalen Great Horned Owl.

Each Dalen Owl is hand-painted by American workers and serves as a scarecrow to frighten various critters away from developing gardens. The Dalen Owl has had several modifications over the years, including the additions of solar power and a swivel head that moves in both wind and sun to make it appear more lifelike. Neal enjoys interacting with his customers and encourages them to send in photos of the Dalen Owls they see or what his supplies have helped build. In germinating the seeds of trust with his consumers, he builds relationships and proves that gardening can truly bring people together.

In addition to building a successful business, Neal Caldwell has helped build up his spiritual community at the Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, where he has served several roles over the years, including deacon, elder, Sunday School teacher and superintendent, small group leader and a community Bible study leader. Not only does he volunteer for his own church, he was also on the building committee as chairman for the New Covenant Presbyterian Church. His heart for serving the community has led him to volunteer as a Board of Directors member for Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) and to work for several charities abroad and here in Tennessee. Neal also believes the growing seed is the most important part of development and needs to be cared for in order to grow into a healthy individual plant. This is why he invests in young people by serving on the Board of Trustees at King’s College, as well as the Jobs Partnership Board of Knox County.

Neal tirelessly works to grow and improve his community, from helping others cultivate a garden to improving their daily lives through charity and volunteer work. The seeds of his tenacity and generosity continue to spread throughout our region, leaving a lasting legacy that will bloom for many years to come.

Continue Reading →

Roy Smith

Balloon Meister 1957-2017

Roy Smith has been contributing to the future of kids and the joys of spectators as the Balloon Miester for Monroe Life Magazine’s Muscadine Balloon Festival since it began 4 years ago. Last year was Roy’s final opportunity to serve the kids, the pilots and the community. This spring, he surrendered an epic fight to a 6 year battle with cancer.

Roy’s joy was helping kids in hopes for the adults they would become. He did it through service in this festival and also through his contributions as Vice President of the Shiloh Riders; a local motorcycle club that raises money to provide a Christmas for the children of East Tennessee who would otherwise miss a few presents and the love that accompanies them.

His joy and passion live on in those who were close to him and even in those he never got to meet. It is with glad hearts and knowing Roy’s desire to see this event be a success that we continue his efforts. This year, we will fly in memory of our friend and leader, for the kids.

-Thanks Roy

Continue Reading →

The Legend of Coco Belle

Back in 1959, Esther Gray and her late husband Sanford purchased an unusual bit of Coker Creek history. It wasn’t a nugget of gold, a pottery jar or an arrowhead, but a grave site.

And it wasn’t just any grave site. This grave site was, and is still believed by many, to be the century-old burial place of Coker Creek’s legendary Indian maiden, Coco Belle.

History credits Coco Belle with trying to keep peace between the white-man and the Indians during the early 1800’s, before Coker Creek became a part of the infamous Trail of Tears. Over 4,000 of the 17,000 Indians died from hunger, disease and freezing weather during the 1838 and 1839 march out West.

It is said that Coco Belle made the trip several times to aid her fellow Indians on the long journey and to help them establish new homes upon their arrival out West.

But one question still remained: Is Coco Belle really buried in that immortalized grave in Coker Creek?

“We always believed that an Indian was buried there and it has always been said in the community that it was Coco Belle’s grave,” says Esther.

Today, the grave site is marked by stones piled waist-high in a wooded area on Esther’s property fronting Highway 68 in the middle of Coker Creek. The grave is situated on the side of what was once known as Hot Water Hill, but in more recent times has come to be called Coco Belle Ridge by adjoining property owners. Cabins and roads have been constructed nearby but the grave has remained intact.

When the Grays purchased the grave site in 1959, it was part of a 160-acre parcel the couple eventually turned into the Tellico Mountain Youth Camp. Records show that in the years before the Grays purchased it, the land had passed through the hands of three other families and one gold mining company.

There was already plenty of folk-lore surrounding the grave site when Esther and Sanford Gray made the purchase. They were especially aware of the time-honored tradition of tossing stones on the grave and the consequences of removing them.

“The saying was that for good luck you throw a rock on the grave and for bad luck you take a rock off,” explains Esther. For their young, curious campers, the temptation was often too much.

“We had two or three instances where little boys didn’t believe it and they took a rock off,” she says. “They took one off and sure enough they fell down or scraped a knee or something and we reminded them of that saying,” she says with a grin.

It is not known where the rock-tossing tradition originated but it is said that Coco Belle herself may have made the request before she died.

Esther, now 86, says that while it was rumored that the previous owners of the property had allowed the directors of a museum in Knoxville to excavate the grave, she and her husband saw no evidence of that happening. “The stones were still piled on it when we bought it,” Esther stated.

Some historians believe that in her later years, Coco Belle married a white settler named John Coker and that she went by the name of Betsy Coker for the rest of her life. She and her husband are said to have started a small store in Coker Creek which catered to travelers on the Unicoi Turnpike, a popular wagon trail which ran through Coker Creek.

When the Grays sold a portion of the 160 acre tract 20 years ago, they decided not to sell the little 16 by 40 foot strip of land making up the grave site. Esther said her late husband wanted the grave of Coker Creek’s best known Indian maiden preserved. “We were glad to have it and to be able to take care of it.” Esther said.

The Grays closed Tellico Mountain Camp back in 1988. During the years since her husband’s death a decade ago, she has passed up the offers of those wanting to buy the grave site, fearing that the hallowed ground might be lost forever to roadways or home-sites.

Even today, with the site of the old Tellico Mountain Camp property up for sale and the adjoining grave site to be sold with it, Esther is concerned about the grave. “I would like to see the grave site preserved and I hope that whoever buys the property will want to see it preserved too,” adds Esther.

For now, Coco Belle’s final request appears to have been honored. The stones remain piled high over her grave and her legend lives on in the little community of Coker Creek.

Continue Reading →

Farragut Football for the Win!

It’s football time in Tennessee! Time to watch your favorite high school football teams compete in a game of speed, skill, and strength. This year, the Farragut Admirals have big shoes to fill. Named the News Sentinel’s 2017 Team of the Year, the Farragut Admirals received the award after winning their first state championship in 2016. This year they’re going after the title again.

Named after the Union Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, Farragut High School was originally constructed in 1904, and moved to its current location in 1976. The school has had many successful athletes who graduated, including Bill Bates, who played with the Dallas Cowboys and University of Tennessee, Neil Clabo, who played with both the University of Tennessee and Minnesota Vikings, and Tyson Clabo, who played Wake Forest and the Atlanta Falcons. Farragut was further decorated with three awards at the field- the anchor from the USS Farragut gifted in 2006, as well as the star, also placed in 2006, and the gun.

The roster for 2017 has many fine young men on their team, like Andrew Williams, Tucker Jones, Jon Buel, Nathan Morgan, Griffin Swicegood, and Jaden Gibbs as the wide receiver/defensive back. Isaiah Gibbs is the runningback and defensive back, while Max Travis and Gavin Wilkinson act as quarterback/defensive back. Robert Brewster and Jackson Fontenot play wide receiver and outside linebacker. Jason Maw is tight end and defensive end.This is certainly not the full roster, which can be found at Farragut Football’s website, but it is a taste of what you’ll be in for as you take your seat to watch the game.

Coaching these men is Head Coach Eddie Courtney, who has served 36 years on Farragut staff. Assisting him are coaches Tom Doucette, Geoff Courtney, David Hawkins, Reese Browning, Hal Brooker, Gerald Robinson, Chris McNeer, Marcus Huie, Chase Scott, Alex Cain, and Albert Fontenot.

With an exciting line-up, fans and parents are chomping at the bit for the season to begin. You won’t have to wait long for the Varsity games. The first game is an away game on August 18th, held at and against Bradley Central. This game, and every other unless otherwise noted, starts at 7:30. The first home game is on August 31st, against Morristown West. The Junior Varsity games are played at the same place, but start at 7 rather than 7:30. The full schedule, subject to changes, is on the Farragut Football website.

Continue Reading →

“Glamping” at Castleton Farms

Are you looking for a unique and memorable way to do teambuilding with your work crew? Trying to come up with something fun for a bachelorette party, sorority event, birthday celebration, family reunion or “Girls Weekend”? How about giving “Glamping at Castleton Farms” a try?

“Glamping” is camping without having to “rough it!” We all romanticize camping to some degree and recognize the benefits it affords for bonding and enjoyment. Images of good conversation, singing around an open fire, falling asleep under the stars, waking up to a piping hot mug of coffee, and watching the sunrise all pass through our minds – until we remember the nasty mosquitoes, hard ground, and not so hot coffee.

This past Spring Castleton Farms welcomed its first group of “glampers” on property – the Farragut Middle School Cheer Team! The team’s coach, Megan Aaron, was looking for an opportunity to bring the girls together away from their normal surroundings so they could all get to know each other better and practice in a fresh environment.

The girls arrived and were immediately busy creating their own personal space. No sleeping bags here! The Farragut Middle School Cheerleaders were each assigned a beautifully draped “room” in The Carriage House complete with a mattress, bedding, and chandelier! Their customized package included decorating supplies for them to personalize their “rooms” which was a fun project to help them get to know each other better and the perfect activity for middle school girls.

“They had such a great time, “ shared Coach Megan, “The activities and environment were perfectly planned for our group to bond and have some fun. I would recommend this experience to any group wanting to bond and create an experience no one will forget. The beauty of it is that Castleton will customize the “glamping” to suit your group’s particular style and need. And, did I mention the Farm is absolutely gorgeous?”

The next 24 hours included fun, games, bonfire, group meals, midnight snack, and even a practice session with The University of Tennessee’s cheerleader, Chelsea Harris! I think it is safe to say that fun was had by all.

“The girls are still talking about the experience!” said Coach Megan.

So, do you want to go “glamping?” Whether you’re a sports team, youth group, business colleagues, or friends needing a “Girls Night Out,” the team at Castleton would love to talk to you about your vision for your group’s night of “glamping.” Whether your goal is team building, celebrating a birthday or just making new memories, Castleton will assign you your own “Camp Director” (a.k.a. Planner) to help customize an experience that will accomplish your vision and goals.

Castleton Farms is a stunning 114 acre property complete with rolling lawns, mountain views, skeet shooting field, Manor House, The Carriage House, a covered Pavilion, pond, croquet lawn, fire pits, woods, and outdoor meeting areas. Your “Camp Director” will help you plan an itinerary that will meet your group’s needs in the best way. The possibilities are endless and we guarantee your group will have a unique experience that will keep them talking for years to come.

Why not try something new? We can’t wait to have you and your group out to the Farm for some “Glamping!” Call us today and let’s start planning your night away from it all.

Continue Reading →

Meet Randy Boyd

Native Knoxvillian, entrepreneur and business owner Randy Boyd believes that the best way to impact his community is through public service–and that’s just what he’s going to do. The 2018 gubernatorial hopeful is chasing the opportunity to serve as the 50th Governor of Tennessee as a way to give back to the state the Boyd family has called home since the 1800s.

“In many ways, I’ve been running all my life–running to be a better husband, a better father and now to be the Governor of Tennessee,” said Boyd. With the election over a year away, Boyd knows success will come down to one key ingredient: work ethic.

As the CEO of Radio Systems Inc. and former Commissioner of Economic and Community Development for Tennessee, Boyd has worked hard to get where he is today. His work ethic developed early in his South Knoxville childhood when his father, Tom Boyd, began bringing him to work every day. For a dollar an hour, he swept the floors until he was old enough to begin working the heavy machinery at his father’s electric fence company. He didn’t just learn a work ethic, however–he also learned resilience. Before his father focused on making electric fences for cattle and horses, he made something called a Fido Shock, a device to discourage dogs from knocking over metal trash cans by applying a gentle corrective shock. Unfortunately, only a year after Fido Shock was invented, so was the plastic garbage can, rendering the Fido Shock obsolete.

“But Dad showed me how to be resilient. To persist and never give up,” Boyd said. At 8 years old, he watched his father start over in electric fences for cattle and horses and build a successful company.

Working with his father wasn’t the only thing that profoundly influenced Randy’s life. Growing up, he would spend about half his time in Vestal, attending the Immanuel Baptist church with his grandparents.

It wouldn’t be until he was married that he’d switch to Erin Presbyterian, where he and his wife have attended for 34 years, always sitting in the same pew his wife’s father sat at. “Every Sunday morning, we feel his presence there.” Boyd said.

First College Grad

At age 16, Randy was ready to move on to the University of Tennessee, but his father was not supportive of pursuing a college education. He thought that Boyd could work in his factory and didn’t need a secondary degree. Determined to make the next step, Boyd struck a deal with hisfather that he would work for minimum wage at the factory to pay for classes at UT.

“Every weekend, I would run injection molding machines, two twelve-hour shifts.” Boyd recalls. “…It really showed me the value of work, and learned the value of education. If you want to make a difference in the world, it starts with education.”

While at college, he doubled down on coursework to graduate early and became the first college graduate in his family at the age of 19. As a newly-minted college grad, he decided to keep working for his father for four years before striking out on his own to start a company. Within a year, that company failed. Forced to confront his own failure but too full of pride to come back to working for his father, Boyd tried again. This time, he learned from his mistake.

A Job Begun

He began selling fencing parts out of an old Dodge Maxi van in June of 1991. He would go from Florida to Georgia to Alabama, staying in the best hotels he could find for under $18. One of his favorites was a $13 a night place in Georgia. “I still remember that hotel,” Boyd remembers, and then laughs, “You never wanted to touch the rug there.”

“…I didn’t have air conditioning in my van, and that’s because I was cheap.” Boyd said. “… but I didn’t have a radio because I wanted to make sure that I was listening to my customers.” In 1989, his customers started asking for the “Invisible Fence.” They told Boyd that they would buy “as many as [he] could get.” So Boyd called the company in order to supply his customers’ demands.

When Invisible Fence refused to sell products to him, Boyd did some digging and found out their patent was about to expire. Seizing his chance, Boyd decided to make his own and sell it as a do-it-yourself product versus the professionally installed sales model the Invisible Company used.

An engineer quoted him $30,000 to design what he would call a Radio Fence. Randy recalls that while that may sound like a lot of money to some, it was more than his total net worth of $26,000. He and Jenny bet everything on the design of this one product. By 1991, they began selling the product. Randy hoped to sell 100 units a month, but instead, in the first month, he sold 3,000 units and $1 million worth in the first year. The next year, sales grew to $5 million, then $9 million and then $15 million.

Though those numbers look good on paper, success didn’t come to him overnight. For the first few years, “I was sleeping three hours a night, and we didn’t know if we were going to make payroll each week. It was very, very difficult times,” said Boyd.

Working out of his van, and then a 40-ft tractor trailer, Boyd had very little to help support his wife, Jenny, and their two-year-old son. This was where his father’s lesson kicked in. To persist and never give up.

Eventually, Radio Fence would give way to the Invisible Fence brand and Radio Systems Corporation. Today, the company makes over 4,600 products with 700 employees and sales over $400 million. “God has blessed both Jenny and I beyond our wildest dreams. I feel like if I spent my whole life trying to pay back what I’ve been blessed to have, I’ll still die in debt,” said Boyd

Giving Back

Overcome by a desire to give back, Boyd’s passion for education emerged as he recalled the trials of being the first college grad in his family. In 2007, he began exploring ways to impact the K-12 public school system in Knoxville, including potentially starting a charter school for at-risk students. He worked with Pond Gap Elementary School to develop a middle ground between public and charter schools–a community school. With the help of UT professor Bob Kronick, Dean of Education Bob Rider and countless other administrative partners, Pond Gap became Pond Gap Full Service Community School.

This concept expands the services of an existing school to offer evening programs for the whole family, from extra reading and math for students to GED classes for parents to dentistry services, along with a hot dinner for the entire family. Based on the success of this model, Knox County has now rolled out 8 other schools funded through the Great Schools Partnership.

People began to notice Boyd’s education expertise, including Governor Bill Haslam. In 2012 ,Randy served in the administration of Governor Bill Haslam as an unpaid advisor on education.

“I was very resistant because I thought that government was too slow and bureaucratic, and as a business person, I would never want to do anything like that, but he [Haslam] convinced me that if you want to make a difference, the place you can make the biggest impact is in public service,” said Boyd.

His work resulted in creating the Drive to 55 and the Tennessee Promise. Tennessee Promise empowers more first generation students to enroll in community colleges and technical schools than ever before, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.

After his successful tenure as a special advisor on higher education, Boyd was appointed to Governor Haslam’s cabinet as the Commissioner for Economic and Community Development, a post that fit perfectly with his skills as an entrepreneur and executive. As commissioner, his new “customers,” Tennessee citizens, showed him just how much work needed to be done for the state to thrive economically and educationally.

He saw that 19 of Tennessee’s counties were in distress, and 33 were at risk. That less than 50% of all Tennesseans got an education beyond high school. Yet his energy, coupled with revolutionary solutions, took him to all 95 counties of Tennessee in a quest to create job opportunities for rural and urban areas alike. Under his leadership, the private sector committed to creating 50,000 new jobs and investing $11 billion in the Tennessee economy.

Those that know him well know Boyd’s passion for public service isn’t just fueled by work ethic: it’s his boundless energy to push limits and never shy away from the challenge. The race for governor may be a year away, but Boyd is busy visiting and revisiting all 95 counties and recently announced his plan to run 537.3 miles across the state from Bristol to Memphis.

In the meantime, you may just see him running down Kingston Pike in pursuit of making Tennessee the State of Opportunity

Continue Reading →

Smokey Mountain Service Dogs

Many see the needs around them, but never put actions to their desire to help. In 2010, Mike and Susie Kitchens saw a large need in their community and decided to help those who had nearly given their all to our country. With a vision and a strong desire to change lives, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs organization was established.

What started as two puppy labrador retrievers and a few volunteers, has grown into the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accredited Assistance Dogs International organization headquartered in Tennessee and the surrounding 12 states that utilizes nearly 100 volunteers. Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is an organization dedicated to serving those who so bravely gave to our country and have sacrificed physically or psychologically that now need mobility assistance in their daily lives. SMSD is dedicated to one simple goal: “To enhance the physical and psychological quality of life for wounded Veterans by providing custom trained mobility assistance service dogs (at no cost to the Veteran).”

On July 20, 2018, the organization “Passed the Leash” to their 20th Veteran recipient and their second female veteran to receive a canine companion. The process of training and receiving a dog from SMSD is a labor of love, and quite a diligent process. Dogs are trained by world renowned canine program manager, Heather Wilkerson. Her experience includes training police dogs and working extensively on search and rescue missions all over the world. Lead trainer, Susan Travis, and staff trainer, Kassie Krause, complete the list of the only paid employees in the organization. The SMSD business model allows 95% of all donations to go directly towards fulfilling the mission of enhancing lives of those they serve. In the 1800-2500 hours and $25,000 it takes to train a dog for service to a veteran, nearly 100 sets of hands will have worked with each dog to ensure they are ready to aid their new warrior. The extensive application process is open to any Veteran that qualifies for mobility assistance. SMSD founder, Mike Kitchens, said the organization is happy to have aided many Veterans in the East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee regions. “When we began this organization, I was amazed to see that there were so many Veterans who needed help right in our backyard.”

How can you be a part of this life changing organization? SMSD is kicking off their campaign, “More Wags for Warriors” in October at their Annual “Night for Patriots” fundraising event that will be held this year at The Venue in Lenoir City. This extremely patriotic night will include dinner, a silent auction and testimonials from those who have experienced first hand the life changing effects that are results of a canine companion from SMSD. Special guests will be Wayne and Debbie Kyle, parents of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. They will be presenting the organization with a $225,000 donation as the 2017 recipient of the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit. This money will be used to help jump start the building of the SMSD new canine training facility on the organization’s existing training grounds in Lenoir City located off of Highway 321. The new facility will provide more room for training and new training technology so more dogs can continue to change lives. Volunteers are always needed for simple tasks such as raising funds or being a weekend helper with dogs in training.

Smoky Mountain Service Dogs organization is a reminder that dogs and desires to better our community can successfully go hand in hand. One dog and one Veteran at a time, lives and the legacy of them, can be changed forever. For more information about SMSD, how to apply for a canine companion, how to volunteer, or how to buy tickets for this year’s Night of Patriots Annual Fundraiser, visit www.smokymountainservicedogs.org

Continue Reading →