Good Neighbors of Blount County put the spotlight on those who make this a better community last week, celebrating kindness and community service.
The 10th annual Spread the Spirit Awards were presented in three categories — Everyday Community Neighbor, Professional Neighbor and Focused Neighbor — on Thursday, Nov. 17, at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Maryville. Nominees and guests were invited to a coffee and dessert bar as Good Neighbors representatives told the story of what this nonprofit is and the work it does for those struggling financially.
From January through October of this year, Good Neighbors saw 1,340 clients, or neighbors as they refer to them. Over 3,300 individuals were helped as this nonprofit provided $204,160 in assistance. That includes 764 families who received help with utilities and 427 families who received aid for rent.
The recipient in the Everyday Community Neighbor category is Natasha Warren, a member of The Vineyard Church who volunteers for a number of local causes, including being on the building board for the new Isaiah 117 House, which serves children in the foster care system.
Other nominees included Kathleen Arendt and Joyce Hunsley.
Amy Dunaway is the recipient in the Professional Neighbor category. She is the development director at Blount Memorial Foundation, where she has used her experience to help secure donations that fund several community programs.
The others nominated in the category were Aaron Clark, Katie Martin, Jessica Belitz, Amelia Geis-Scott and Tom Hatcher.
In the final category, Focused Neighbor, Brad Bryant is the recipient of the award. He has been involved with RIO Church since 2000 and became a pastor in 2008. He has also served as a chaplain for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.
Karla Susek became executive director of Good Neighbors of Blount County in March, succeeding Lisa Blackwood, who retired. She said it is the donations from Blount Countians that are used to help Blount County.
“Would you know what to do if something happened to you?” asked Suszek. Job loss, high medical bills, a broken down car and increased rent can all cause people to struggle to pay bills, she said.
“Many people don’t know what to do, but our volunteers do,” Suszek said. “We help guide our neighbors to find solutions to everyday problems and challenges, something that’s invaluable to them.”
The nonprofit helps to the tune of $20,000 being given each month, she added.
Good Neighbors programs include a budget program that includes free financial coaching and educational support; emergency assistance for rent or utilities; needs assessments that offer referral to other resources; and Secure Utility and Rent Entry, which focuses on helping residents start in a new home.
Board member Gary Skolits addressed the crowd of nominees, families and Good Neighbors volunteers. He thanked everyone who came in support of the event.
“I tell people we live in the best county in the United States,” he said. “Some people think it’s because of the beautiful environment, beautiful trees, beautiful park, beautiful Smokies. I tell people that’s only half the story. We have beautiful people like the nominees tonight who work hard to serve the needs of all members of our community.”
According to Good Neighbors, its volunteers contributed more than 3,710 donated hours so far this year. Some of them were in attendance Thursday night. Chuck Parkins is board chairman.
Board member Matt Webb also told some of the story of all that Good Neighbors does. It has been around for 26 years, he said.
“Our mission is to prevent homeless,” Webb explained. “If we do our role, we prevent things from happening and spiraling.”