Tennessee’s First Lady Maria Lee visits Cocke County

Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee, left, chats with Jeremy Faison and Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger.

Tennessee’s First Lady Maria Lee visited the Lakeway Area Monday promoting her “Tennessee Serves,” an initiative designed to encourage Tennesseans to serve one another and volunteer in their communities with a special focus on distressed counties.

Lee visited Newport after having visited Unicoi County earlier in the day. Cocke County is one of Tennessee’s 15 federally-designated distressed counties.

“It’s my heart to get out and serve the people of Tennessee, so we are serving and highlighting non-profits and organizations such as Empower Cocke County who are serving in their communities, and hopefully mobilizing people around the state to serve in their communities as well,” Lee said.

Empower Cocke County is a non-profit which facilitates positive life change through faith-based skill-building and workforce development training.

Lee joined State Representative Jeremy Faison, (R-Cosby), Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger and others, to do tile work in the Empower offices.

Lee said volunteering is important in all communities.

“Government can’t do everything, that is not the answer to a lot of our challenges. But people helping their neighbors, getting involved in their communities and helping out in their own piece of the world is what is going to change lives. So if you can get out and help somebody, and meet a need, it’s going to make life better for all of those around you.”

Annette Burke, director of operations for the Empower Cocke County, said her organization wants to see individuals “overcome things like addiction, depression, breakdown of the family and poverty.”

She says volunteerism is important for her organization because virtually everyone involved is a volunteer.

“We have a few employees who work through ETHRA, but if it wasn’t for volunteers teaching the classes, going into the jails and doing the things that we do, we wouldn’t be able to function the way we do right now.”

Individuals who want to volunteer with the organization, or apply for a service provided by Empower should go by the offices at 370 East Broadway and fill out an application, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.