Amid dry conditions and hurricane force winds, raging wildfires hit Gatlinburg on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. The fires, which originated in the heavily forested Great Smoky Mountains National Park bordering the Tennessee mountain resort community, destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings and burned over 17,000 acres. Gov. Bill Haslam called this the largest fire in Tennessee in the last 100 years.
Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Harriman’s SkillsUSA chapter knew they wanted to help both the victims and the emergency workers in some way. Tuesday, November 29, lead advisor, Angela Richardson, contacted both the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the East Tennessee Red Cross to obtain information on what was needed right away. With that list in hand, TCAT-Harriman’s SkillsUSA chapter then decided to invite additional east Tennessee TCATs to join them in their efforts. “We knew we could help a little, as a small school,” Richardson stated. “But, we hoped we could help in a big way if we invited the other TCATs and SkillsUSA chapters to join us.” This was all it took to get the SkillsUSA Tennessee Post-Secondary Chapters across the state engaged in an effort to provide relief for the people affected by the wildfires.
When Richardson sent the donation list suggested by the Red Cross with her request for help, the connections were made and each chapter’s lead advisor took it from there. Ten TCATs from the following locations joined TCAT-Harriman to help: Chattanooga, Crossville, Hohenwald, Livingston, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Newbern, Ripley, Harriman, and Knoxville. In addition, TCAT-Harriman dual enrollment classes from Harriman High School and Oak Ridge High School joined in, as well as Roane State Community College.
Donations were brought in from across the state in cattle trailers, semi-trucks, and personal vehicles. In only three days, the schools were able to deliver 28,541 items to the Red Cross donation center at New Hope Church in Kodak, TN. The donations were delivered by truck driving students and their instructor from TCAT-Knoxville, who also volunteered their truck. In addition, SkillsUSA National Officer Sherrie Wilcox, a student from TCAT-Knoxville who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for years, rode with the truck to document the chapters’ efforts to help their fellow Tennesseans!