GATLINBURG (WATE) — Mountain Tough, along with the Appalachian Service Project and Volunteer East Tennessee, are working to build 25 homes for Sevier County fire victims.
WATE 6 On Your Side spent the day up in the Smokies lending a hand as part of Nexstar’s Founder’s Day of Caring. Twenty-one years ago, our founder, Perry Sook, started Nexstar Media Group, our parent company. In celebration of that milestone, stations that make up the Nexstar family head out into the community to volunteer.
Our staff spent the day clearing debris and sifting through rubble at a home that had been burned through Volunteer East Tennessee.
“Right now with the debris clean-up, we’re working against the clock,” said Patty Hopple, Volunteer Coordinator with Volunteer East Tennessee. “Those that live in Gatlinburg, they only have until the end of September to get their home sites cleaned off and then for the county they have until December. It seems like a lot of time, but 60 percent of the homes haven’t been cleared yet, so we really need volunteers to come out and get this done, not only to get the debris, but to help the fire victims move on.”
Hopple says Volunteer East Tennessee needs “locals” who know the area to volunteer to be team leads. Team leaders go through training on safety regulations and what to do at each debris site and then they are sent out with groups of 10-20 volunteers.
“We’ve got groups pretty much from now to the end of August, but what we need is team leads to go out with those groups because they are not familiar with the area,” said Hopple. “What they’re doing is making sure they have a safe experience, that they have the equipment that they need and if there is an emergency.”
Daryl Brewer is a full-time volunteer with the organization who spends 70 hours a week volunteering.
“It’s definitely been slow,” said Brewer “But seeing the progress, I definitely like being a part of it.”
While our staff spent the day clearing debris, other volunteers are helping to rebuild homes. Just a few weeks ago, Mountain Tough, along with the Appalachian Service Project and Volunteer East Tennessee held their first community build day. Volunteers spent hours building frames for homes of wildfire survivors.
Volunteers were out Friday working on the group’s third home, which is close to being complete. Hopple says she hopes the homeowner will be able to move in by the end of July.
“Everything will be taken care of except for possibly the furniture and decorations,” said Hopple. “The appliances have already been ordered. I know they are picking out colors as far as the inside painting. The landscaping is being taken care of by Keep Sevier Beautiful.”
Volunteer East Tennessee needs volunteers and team leaders to help remove debris, rebuild and help with community projects. Opportunities are available daily for volunteers to serve an 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.