From the beginning of September to the height of the holiday season, Clevelanders heard about other Cleveland natives doing things like visiting every single county in the United States, finding themselves 200 pounds lighter after a yearlong weight loss journey and starting an organization that would give developmentally disabled adults the chance to experience life on a college campus.
In late August, a Cleveland man who had already died attended a ceremony hosted by the Bradley County EMS. Roy Bond had been considered clinically dead when his heart stopped weeks before but was resuscitated by the EMS. He was later honored at a “Second Chance for Life” event where the EMS and county officials celebrated with him and recognized those who had helped.
Around the same time, J. Stephen Conn, a retired minister and Cleveland native who was living in Ohio, was traveling all over the country in his quest to visit every county, parish, borough, census area and independent city in the United States. On Sept. 1, he set foot in the final Nevada county he needed to visit before he met the goal that had taken him 17 years of off-and-on traveling to complete.
Chris Stewart, a 15-year-old home-schooled student from Benton, later won the grand prize in a national filmmaking contest called FilmFest 4-H for a 28-minute film he made with his three siblings. The film, titled “Boo! Do Something,” depicted the story of Sam P. Jones, a circuit-riding preacher. Together, Stewart and his siblings ran a company called S.C. TreeHouse Productions and had previously created a feature-length film together.
Another creative endeavor started in the Cleveland area was StageWorks of Cleveland, a new community theater group. After Cleveland’s only community theater group, the Ocoee Players, disbanded in 2010, three of the company’s actors joined with another theater lover to found a new group this fall. The group held auditions for its first play in late August and performed “The Dining Room” by A.R. Gurney Oct. 19-21. The group hoped to perform its second play in early 2013.
Local author and amateur historian Debbie Stephenson Moore released a book called “Confederate Voices” on Sept. 1. Moore said the book “gives a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers and their families in East Tennessee and North Georgia” and that she was inspired to write the book after a woman from the United Daughters of the Confederacy gave her some historic documents that chronicled the lives of those soldiers and families.
Charleston played host to its first-ever Cowpea Festival on Sept. 15. The cowpea, a generic name that describes legumes like black-eyed peas and crowder peas, was the focus of an all-day event that featured cook-offs from professional and amateur chefs, a “Princess and the Cowpea” beauty pageant, live music and arts and crafts. Melissa Woody of the Cleveland Bradley County Chamber of Commerce said they hope it will become an annual event.
In September, the community also learned about “Heavenly Treasures,” a downtown Cleveland thrift store run by people who have a heart for the homeless. The volunteer staff of people like Charlotte Howaid, her son Steven Howaid and Larry Porter offer clothing and other items at low prices to people who can pay for them, and often give away pieces of clothing for free to those who cannot.
That month, Danielle Jennings, a 21-year-old Lee University student from Maryland, also shared her story. Jennings had spent her summer traveling to Papua New Guinea with an organization called Wycliffe Bible Translators and had helped translate Bible verses for people in a village called Lavege who had never before been able to read the Bible in their native language, Mangseng.
Jon Metzger also shared pieces from his 13-year collection of celebrity autographs. He had amassed a large number of autographed photos from the likes of Lucille Ball, Neil Armstrong, Mother Teresa and a few former U.S. presidents after he began writing letters to them as a teenager.
After a year of working to lose weight from his 440-pound frame, Dominique Craigmiles had lost 213 pounds. He made some lifestyle changes that included beginning to eat healthier and exercise five days a week and said he was inspired to do so after he realized his weight was holding him back from doing the things he wanted to do. Craigmiles’ advice to others was to reject the idea that they cannot lose weight and to begin doing what they can, after consulting doctor, to work out.
In October, a Lee University student from Georgia named Mariah Varner spoke about the student club called “Lee Buddies” that she founded to give developmentally disabled adults the chance to make new friends and learn what it is like to spend time on a college campus. Students from Lee University and the Trousdale School were paired together as “buddies,” and Varner and a team of students and faculty advisors partnered with the Trousdale School to plan ongoing activities for the group.
Not long after, Tiffany Jordan, a U.S. Army specialist stationed in North Carolina, shared her story of finding her life’s mission as she enlisted and served in Afghanistan. She said she had become complacent in her everyday lifestyle of working in a movie theater and attending community college after high school. She later found that her Army experiences would help her find faith in God and spark an interest in writing to share original poetry and stories of her experiences at war.
Rodney Williams, a local barbershop owner who had battled an infection due to flesh-eating bacteria, was impressed by the outpouring of support he received as he recovered from surgery. Williams had volunteered his time to help others through a variety of local charitable organizations and expressed his thanks after he received help of his own.
Russell Coffey, a minister who started a nonprofit organization to help people dealing with drug addictions after having overcome an addiction to prescription drugs himself, celebrated the number of people helped since its founding in 2004. Over the span of eight years, the Anchor Point Foundation had helped some 1,500 people through its referrals to drug rehabilitation facilities, support groups and a program for inmates in the Bradley County Jail.
In November, friends of a deceased man who had been known as a “giving person” to others in the community started an organization to continue to give back in his honor instead of just focusing on the loss of their friend. Leslie McKaig, Jessica Wolfenden and others started the Raider Rumble Foundation in honor of Cleveland High School graduate Jason Matthew Rumble. The organization had the goal of giving scholarships to Cleveland High School students to allow them to attend college just as Rumble, a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, had.
Later, readers learned about a youth internship program through the Salvation Army of Cleveland designed to help young people 16 and older learn leadership and customer service skills. Youth in the three-level, 350 hour program work as baristas in the organization’s Inman Street Coffeehouse. “It has impacted my life in so many different ways,” intern Colter Shell said of the coffeehouse and internship program.
Local couple Gary and Pat Allmon shared how they had overcome lifestyles of crime and become Christian missionaries to Chiapas, Mexico. In 1992, both were arrested and served time in jail on drug and gun-related charges. Ten years later, they were splitting their time between living in the United States and Mexico as they helped people in need of basic things like food. Both credited God for helping them overcome their pasts and begin to help others.
In December, a mother who had given birth to her son months early shared the story of the “miracle” that was her son. At 1 pound, 13 ounces when he was born, doctors did not give Lolita Harris much hope for her son Paxton’s survival. Despite problems such as autism, he is now a “happy and very active 3-year-old” who proved everyone wrong when it came to his premature birth.
Around the same time, Christopher West, a local animator and author, was hard at work on a series of graphic novels about an original character named Kizmit. A former high school teacher and adjunct college professor, West turned the project into his full-time job. The graphic novel series, “Kizmit: An All-Ages Adventure,” was what you would get “if Walt Disney produced a Jules Verne version of ‘Lord of the Rings,’” West said.
Readers also learned about an orphanage in India founded by a Cleveland couple that, at the time, was home to 54 girls and 10 boys. Cleveland couple Dr. Aaron Samuel and his wife, Nalini, started the Mary Diana Samuel Home for Children after the loss of their daughter. A team of 14 had recently visited the orphanage, and some of them shared their stories of learning about the Indian culture and about themselves as well.
One day, Cleveland resident Terry Caywood got a phone call saying he had won a trip to Africa. He thought it was a joke, but it turned out that his wife, Dana Sue, had actually won the “Know Your Heritage” 2012 Sweepstakes, a contest held by The Africa Channel. The couple spent nine days traveling in the country of Ghana and seeing sights like a nature preserve and a location that played a major part in the slave trade while Dana Sue kept a log of her travels for National Geographic and The Africa Channel.
December also came with memories from Cleveland resident Carol Kendrick, a retired health care worker who volunteered her time as a Public Service Unit officer with the Cleveland Police Department. She shared the story of how she had met her late husband, Pete. She met him within her first week in town after moving from Cleveland, Ohio. The couple had their first date at a fast-food restaurant, and he proposed over a meal of hamburgers. She said yes, and the couple married about a week later. They were married for 42 years before Pete passed away.
Getting ready for Christmas, a new music group held its first performance on Dec. 17 after music conductor Dr. Cameron LaBarr and others decided Cleveland needed to have a professional choral music group. The Tennessee Chamber Chorus consisted of 16 singers from a variety of locations, and they met to practice for the first time just three days before their debut because they had each been practicing on their own.
The days and weeks to follow would find Cleveland getting ready for and celebrating the holidays while beginning to look forward to what 2013 would hold. Those who had accomplished much in 2012 were making plans to continue their progress, while others were working toward entirely new goals. With a new year come fresh starts and more chances to do the things that will be tomorrow’s news.