Brenda Lawson named as CSCC’s top ‘Person’

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG christy.armstrong@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 3/31/17

Local business leader and philanthropist Brenda Brown Lawson has been named Cleveland State Community College’s “Community First Person of the Year.” 

She was given the award during …

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Brenda Lawson named as CSCC’s top ‘Person’

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Local business leader and philanthropist Brenda Brown Lawson has been named Cleveland State Community College’s “Community First Person of the Year.” 

She was given the award during the college’s second annual awards gala, held Thursday night at First Baptist Church.

During the event nine people were honored with Community First Awards in each of their fields, and one was posthumously honored for his contributions. With the nine category winners having previously been announced, Lawson was surprised with the top honor.

“We seek to honor those in our community who exemplify the ideal of always putting community before self,” said Cleveland State President Dr. Bill Seymour.

He explained the award recognition was also a chance for the college to continue to promote living out the college’s motto — “Community First.” 

This year’s CSCC Community First Award winners were: 

n Arts: Mary Beth Wickes — Director of Accompanying, Lee University School of Music, Cleveland;

n Business: Debbie Melton — General manager/partner, Don Ledford Automotive Center, Cleveland;

n Education: Jonathan Pierce — Career and Technical Education Supervisor for McMinn County Schools, Athens;

n Healthcare: Dr. Ronald Coleman — Entrepreneur, former partner, Surgical Associates of Cleveland, Cleveland;

n Nonprofit Leadership: Julie Thornton — President, Ocoee River Jam Music and Arts Festival, Ocoee;

n Philanthropy: Brenda Lawson — President and CEO of Lawson and Associates Cleveland;

n Public Service: Ed Lay — Cleveland Housing Association commissioner, Cleveland;

n Student Leadership: Brianna Riley — Student, Cleveland State Community College, Athens;

n Volunteer Service: Jason Robertson — Owner, Southern Construction Group, Athens.

While presenting Lawson with her awards, Seymour described how she has been involved in numerous community service efforts in Cleveland. These included starting DiaperLove of Bradley County, which helped provide diapers to low-income families with babies, and efforts to provide gifts to needy children at Christmastime.

Lawson has also made sizable contributions to the Cleveland Family YMCA, which has a youth center addition bearing her name, and has sponsored a luncheon for breast cancer survivors as part of Lee University’s annual “Volley for a Cure” festivities. She has also been involved with numerous community organizations, including Cleveland 100, the United Way of Bradley County and the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation.

Lawson said she was “blessed” to have had people supporting her throughout her life, and she is grateful she has the ability to give back. However, she noted that everyone has something to offer the community.

“I feel that giving back is important for everyone to do at their level,” Lawson said. “We all have time, and we all have talent to give.” 

Wickes was honored for her contributions to the local arts community, teaching and providing piano accompaniment for numerous musicians at local colleges and First Baptist Church over 28 years. A cancer survivor, she has also been involved with efforts like “Race for the Cure” to raise awareness and money for those battling the disease.

Melton was honored for her contributions to the community. Her contributions include helping local schools raise money through test drive events through her car dealership and being involved in organizations like the United Way of the Ocoee Region, the Salvation Army of Cleveland and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.

Pierce was honored as a champion for students in McMinn County. He has been heavily involved with helping students get connected to careers with local industries there, and he has also served that community as a volunteer firefighter.

Coleman received his award for his efforts to provide medical care to impoverished people both here and abroad. He founded the Good Samaritan Clinic in Cleveland and has been involved in numerous medical missions work efforts. He accepted his award via video from a field hospital in Mosul, Iraq, where he is currently volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse.

Thornton was honored for her role in creating and leading the Ocoee River Jam music festival in Polk County, which raises money for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Benton. So far, her efforts have helped raise some $15,000 for the organization.

Lay was recognized for his efforts to help low-income and disabled individuals through the Cleveland Housing Authority. In addition to serving on the board, he has helped with efforts such as partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs to create new units in housing developments.

Riley was praised by Seymour for her contributions as a presidential school, vice president of Phi Theta Kappa and more at Cleveland State.

Robertson was recognized for his efforts to help his community after a tornado hit last year. The construction company leader volunteered and paid his workers to provide free cleanup services to help emergency responders and residents.

The college also chose to give a “Special Recognition” award to the late Tim Spires.

Spires was the president and CEO of the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers and the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association. He was also the chairman of the Pathways to Prosperity initiative in East Tennessee, which partners with schools and colleges like Cleveland State to promote job readiness among students.

While Spires was involved in several nonprofit organizations, he was noted to have spent a great deal of time volunteering in Gatlinburg to help people affected by wildfires there last year.

The awards gala was also a fundraiser for the Cleveland State Community College Foundation. Attendees learned about how the college is trying to raise a $5 million local match to receive state funding for capital project needs. Seymour noted this could allow the college to construct its first new building in 43 years.

“We need the community’s help in this endeavor,” said Tracey Wright, assistant to the president for community relations and special programs. “We can’t do this alone.” 

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