Skip to content

Chip and Joanna Gaines are Inspiring

David and I escaped to my parent’s cabin this weekend. As we always do, we sat on the porch (my favorite place in all the world) and talked about our dreams and goals for our future as we looked out over the lake. Throughout our marriage we’ve made many decisions while sitting on the porch with the clarity that comes from having no distractions and the deep level of peace found there.  We’ve also lifted up many a prayer, most in praise for the blessings bestowed on us, but also we agree in prayer about concerns that we have. Through it all, we have found God to be faithful in His time.

This weekend on the porch we talked of changes we would like to see in our home, which is badly in need of repair and revision. But when it comes to home repair and renovations, we’ve lacked vision because we couldn’t see the possibilities available to us in our own home. But then, after deciding to watch a little TV, we discovered a show on HGTV that I’ve heard many of my friends rave about for years, #FixerUpper, with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Wow! Have we been missing out. They are amazing! Together they are able to make possible what seemed impossible to us. Such talent! Needless to say, we did some catching up on the series and thankful for the opportunity to binge watch. Although I would love to have @chipgaines and @joannagaines share their vision and talent with us on renovations they would do to our house, truthfully, just watching their show has given us the hope and vision we dare to dream and stirred our faith that it can truly someday happen.

As a bonus, we also saw the episode where the Gaines family, with the help of their community, the Make a Wish Foundation, and the Tim Tebow Foundation, renovated a house for a couple with two special needs boys. Not only was the house made handicapped accessible to meet their needs, the house was designed to meet their dreams as well. It was an amazing show. In the Hurst house, we have great respect for @TimTebow and his foundation and the love and help he freely offers others. And clearly, the Gaines family has a heart for others as well. This episode brought tears to my eyes.

Now, once again, we’ve returned from the cabin refreshed and with a new vision. Sometimes we find answers to problems in the most unlikely of places. I must say though, watching #FixerUpper is addicting, but also educational and often times a warm fuzzy, all at the same time.

Article and photo by Rebekah Hurst

Stephen Ray Inspires Students to Persevere Sharing His Life’s Story

During the month of September, schools across the country place an emphasis on students aiming for excellent attendance, knowing that students who regularly attend school achieve more. In September of 2016, Stephen Ray was asked to be the key note speaker at the Coffee County Raider Academy Attendance Pep Rally in Manchester, Tenn. Sitting in the gymnasium stands waiting to hear the guest speaker, students were probably thinking “What can this man say that is any different than what teachers tell us daily, come to school, be prepared and your life will be better.” All that is true but it takes on a higher meaning when the advice comes from one who has walked in their shoes and has overcome the challenges that many of them face each day.

Stephen’s speech caught their attention from the beginning and held it tightly until the end and mine as well. Although he looks like someone who has had a normal life, his story is far from normal. Through no fault of his own, his school years were filled with poverty, sorrow, and self-doubt.  And for many students sitting in the stands that day, his story resembles that of their own. So quietly they sat, eager to hear how as a teenager he was able “change his stars” and put his feet on a path that led to success instead of the doomed life he expected to have. Before them stood a successful, confident man and one who overcame his past. His story is a “how-to” lesson many were eager to learn that afternoon.

After hearing his speech, I knew it was a story that needed to be shared with the masses. What follows is an excerpt from Stephen’s Raider Academy speech and afterward, the Coffee County News (CCN) interview, where he expanded on his story, describing his challenges and how he was able to overcome them.

“Good afternoon, Raider Academy. I want to take this moment to thank the administration, faculty, and staff for allowing me to come here this afternoon and I want to thank all of you, today you showed up. Attendance to many of you is something that’s only collected in those books that is in one of your teacher’s classrooms. Most of you, up to this moment, only know attendance as a word that is only used in these halls and classrooms, but I am here to tell you, that you are wrong. Attendance is something that will be collected throughout life and when you want something bad enough, you will show up.

Stephen Ray pic

Stephen smiled as students laughed and applauded when he mentioned he was married to CCRA teacher Rose Ray. CCN Photo by Rebekah Hurst

So, who am I and what right do I have at all to talk to you about attendance? What do I know about showing up? Today, I want to tell you my story and I will start with where I am. My name is Stephen Ray and I was born and raised in this very city. I have worked at Motlow State Community College for the past nine years and I am currently the director of its facilities at the McMinnville Center. I am married to my beautiful wife of seven years, Rose, who teaches physical science here at the Raider Academy. Together, we have a beautiful home, four cats, one dog and no children yet, though if you were to ask her, she would tell you that she is raising one. My hobbies include hunting, fishing, and I love to ride bikes. By bikes I mean bicycles, so much so that in 2013 I was signed on to race for Volkswagen out of Chattanooga. I also love to give motivational speeches. See, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2009 and was told I wouldn’t walk within a year. I remind you, in 2013 I was signed as a professional athlete. I didn’t listen to what they told me. I’m going to tell you right now and I want you to hear me, ‘He who says he can and he who says he can not are both usually right.’

So what got me to this point? I was born in 1986 and in every sense of the way I was born into a loving, caring, and great family. My mother was a nurse at the Manchester hospital and my father ran a business with my grandfather. I had two brothers and one sister, and what I remember the most is how happy that home was. All that changed in 1991. My brother was hit by a car and died and the repercussions from that January in 91 sent shock waves through my family and ripped it apart. My mother became addicted to prescription medications, my father became addicted to alcohol, and they eventually divorced and I really never saw my father much after that. I am sad to tell you that they still struggle with those vices today. That happy home we lived in became a trailer with holes in the floor. Guys, I am telling you holes and I don’t mean something you could poke pencils through. I’m saying holes big enough that you could put a small refrigerator through. We often times had no electricity. On several occasions we had no water to wash clothes or take showers. New clothes and shoes never made it to my house, even food was hard to come by. See, we received those food stamps but my mother would use those to trade for even more drugs.image4

In 1999, I failed 6th grade on the account of missing 53 days on school. My sister failed the same grade that next year on the same account. See, we were in a hole and we wondered what did it matter? We felt that if we were this deep, it would never be worth climbing out of. We felt that there was no hope and throughout the rest of middle school, we seemed to skate by and we spent most of those days in ISD (In-School Detention) and after school detentions. I came into the 9th grade with that same mentality of a troubled, young man and I don’t know why, but a coach I had earlier in life made an appearance in my life when I seemed to need him the most and he gave me something that I didn’t have a lot of to that point. He believed in me and he made me realize that who I am to become is entirely up to me. Teachers, I want you to hear me as well as the students because that was a teacher that told me that. That was someone that for whatever reason saw something in a kid that had nothing, he saw something in a kid that had ragged clothes, shoes that didn’t fit, and he saw something in me that I did not see, he saw hope.

That day I started and I got my sister to follow my exact same footsteps. For some reason, I remember doing homework for the first time ever at home that evening on a bed in a house that had no power that day. I will tell you that years later, I received that diploma all because I showed up not only physically but mentally as well. From that moment I was given hope, I changed, though that diploma would have been enough I strove to make myself better. Throughout the years in high school, I not only received that diploma but I received six academic awards and several times I received the CHS Student of the Week. I went from missing 53 days of school in one year to having perfect attendance the last two years of high school. I also received a scholarship to Cleveland State Police Academy.

The number of educators that believed in me grew as my respect for them grew. Educators, I will tell you this, often times it will be hard to see past the rough parts of someone’s life but when you give hope, you give a chance. I am still great friends with those educators who believed in me so many years ago. That one educator that had me to believe in myself is Mr. Richard Skipper. I will never be able to repay his kindness to a kid that was promised nothing and I believe that if I would have continued down the same road, I would have failed in life as well.

Skip and Stephen pic

When Stephen invited his former high school teacher Richard Skipper to hear him speak as he addressed the CCRA students, Mr. Skipper had no idea that Stephen planned to honor him by telling the students that it was through his encouraging words and actions that Stephen was able to believe in himself too, and succeed. Pictured after the rally together are Richard Skipper, left and Stephen. CCN Photo by Rebekah Hurst

The other educator that believed in me wouldn’t become an educator for many years later but for some reason, saw something there too. I am happy to tell you that I married that person and she still believes in me to this day.

It all started with showing up first and foremost. By you showing that you want to be here you are showing that you want more in life. I leave you with this question. “Why start something tomorrow that you will regret not starting today?” I leave you with this quote. “If we always settle for others expectations, we will never understand how it feels to do the impossible.”

I thank you for letting me come and letting me tell my story. I throw out a challenge to you all. In 2020, I will be at the Coffee County Central High School Graduation and I challenge you to be there as well. I challenge you to be on that field and I challenge you to have showed up throughout your high school career. I challenge you to help one another with this goal. I challenge you to be better tomorrow than what you are today. I want you to commit every day to be better than what you were yesterday.

I want to thank you all for letting me be a part of your today and I’ll see you again in 2020.”

CCN Follow-Up Interview with Stephen:

CCN: In what way did Mr. Skipper encourage you and what did he say to you that let you know that he believed in you?

Stephen: Skip, that’s what I have always called him, just told me that it’s up to me of what I become. He had me to see that if I wanted to come out of the situation I was in, that I would have to climb out on my own and show that I wanted more. He had a very strong presence in my life when I needed him the most. He was like a big brother that showed me love and though it was tough love a lot of times, it was love regardless. It let me know that the world didn’t owe me anything and I was going to have to earn it.

CCN: What symptoms did you have that led you to the doctor?

Stephen: I first started noticing something was wrong in the fall of 2008 when I started to lose feelings in my extremities. My legs and arms were starting to go numb from the tips and working its way in. My vision also started to blur up pretty bad and felt like I was constantly trying to gain focus. My weight had dropped from about 180 to 118 in a matter of two months. I really felt as if my insides were on fire because the nerves to my insides were all out of whack.

CCN: How were you able to overcome the diagnosis?

Stephen: I had to first change my entire diet. I started to eliminate foods that people were most commonly allergic to and through that I was able to gain back some muscle. I really believe that the fact of starting to ride a bicycle helped utilize my nerves that were causing pain.

CCN: Were you a cyclist before 2009?

Stephen: I was not a cyclist nor did I even understand the sport. There was actually an old bicycle in the corner of a garage and my wife thought that might be a good exercise for me. She had thought it might give me a sense of freedom and have a little bit of an emotional and physical therapy aspect. I actually had to strap a cane on the side of the bike for the first couple months of riding before I no longer needed that cane.

CCN: How did you become a professional?

Stephen: Through any process there are steps you have to take. In cycling, you start often times as an individual in the sport with no team and often times with no support and you are categorized as a Category 5. Through the years, you are able to become more acclimated to the sport and depending on how fast you are, as well as your record in the sport, determines how fast you are able to move up the categories. I was fortunate to move up the rankings and categories fast through winning many races in the respected categories. I was asked in my second year of racing to come to the Volkswagen team out of Chattanooga. As I moved into my second year of racing and my first year with Volkswagen, I also unfortunately suffered a stroke three weeks before that first race. But since I fought back from worse things I knew I could still have an impact in that season. I finished that year among the top 15 percent in the country in that category and I made my way into the 3/2/1 Pro Category.Stephen Ray pic 3

CCN: Do you race now and how often?

Stephen: I actually had a hard fall in 2015 and suffered a very bad concussion and was told that it would be a good idea to not race the 2015 season. I have been in cycling events this current year but it’s been mostly fun type events, no racing. Training is at 110 percent right now with on and off road cycling and I do plan on racing in 2017 in the best shape of my life.

CCN: What advice do you have for others who have challenges to overcome?

Stephen: Challenges are going to be a part of life but it’s how we overcome the challenges that define us. Assess your own goals and determine the action that you need to take to achieve that goal. Once you have done that, then go after that goal. You are more than likely going to fail and fail and fail again but throughout all of those failures, never lose the reason that you started in the first place.

CCN: What role did faith play in getting you to where you are today?

Stephen: Faith as always been a strong base in my life, however in 2009 prior to my diagnosis, I went against God and wondered why me. Why must I go through all of these trials and why is it that I must suffer? I remember praying to God and in my prayer I thanked him for the sending of Jesus Christ who had really suffered and I stopped thinking of myself as being the center of the universe and realized that no matter how much pain I was in, it was nothing compared to the pain Jesus put on when he took my sins with Him to the cross. I always keep faith close and know now that it is the reason I am here. I am here for a much greater reason than I understand.

If you would like Stephen to come and talk to your youth group or organization, he may be contacted through Facebook or by email at SRay@mscc.edu.

CCN feature first written and posted Sept. 22, 2016 by Rebekah Hurst. Photos by Rebekah Hurst and also provided by Stephen Ray. Updated and reposted with permission.

 

 

 

The Time Jumpers Show is Sure to Please

My goodness, was the talk around Music City ever true! Over the past few years I had read articles in the Nashville papers and internet reports about The Time Jumpers, a band comprised of some of the best musicians found in Nashville, but seeing really is believing. The show, a gift from my daughter Allison and her husband Chris to me and my husband, David, exceeded all expectations. We arrived early at 3rd & Lindsley and shared a meal as we waited with a packed house for the 8 p.m. show. From the first chord played until the last, the concert did not disappoint. These award winning musicians truly are masters of their craft.

Included in The Time Jumpers are “Ranger Doug” Green (vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar), Paul Franklin (steel guitar), Brad Albin (upright bass), Billy Thomas (drums, vocals), Kenny Sears (vocals, fiddle), Larry Franklin (fiddle), Andy Reiss (electric guitar), Jeff Taylor (accordion, piano), Joe Spivey (fiddle, vocals) and Vince Gill (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars). Sears, Joe Spivey and Larry Franklin were recently jointly inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. When listening to them play you would think that it is one fiddle, not three, because they never miss a beat. All of these extremely talented musicians can often be found on the Grand Ole Opry stage as well, or names seen in the credits of a vast array of musical projects.

Did I mention Vince Gill? I realize that he is just one of the wildly talented performers on the stage but he has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters for many years. He adds wit and charm to the playful banter among the band alongside his vocal and instrumental abilities. Although TTJ have a set Monday night schedule at 3rd & Lindsley, Vince sometimes is on the road playing other commitments. As many have probably heard, after the death of Glenn Frey in 2016 Vince was asked to tour with The Eagles. The band is scheduled to play March 23 and 24, 2018 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. But even if Vince is not on stage at 3rd & Lindsley, TTJ is well able to please a crowd.

As for some history of TTJ and according to its official website, “The Time Jumpers was established in Nashville in 1998 by an assemblage of high-dollar studio musicians who wanted to spend some spare time jamming with their sonically gifted buddies. The notion of building a rabidly devoted following was the last thing on their minds. But that’s what happened. Learning that Monday evenings were the slowest in the week for the Station Inn bluegrass club, the superpickers settled into that fabled venue at the start of each week and set up shop. Pretty soon Monday nights were sounding a lot like Saturday nights— and drawing commensurately lively crowds… As word spread along Music Row that something special was happening at Station Inn, big stars began dropping by, some to sit in with the band, others just to enjoy the vast array of country, swing, jazz and pop standards The Time Jumpers rejoiced in playing. Among those drop-bys were Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Norah Jones, Robert Plant, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Jimmy Buffet and Kelly Clarkson.”

After ten years together, the band re-located its Monday night shows to 3rd & Lindsley, a larger venue that would better accommodate their growing fan base and interest. Still with the larger venue, the Monday night show regularly sells out so it is in ones best interest to order tickets on-line ahead of time, especially if traveling from out of town to see some of Nashville’s most sought after attractions. And it is also true that you never know who will swing by and share a song or two with the band. When we went there were a few surprise guests sharing songs on stage, one of which was the Grand Ole Opry’s Mark Wills.

Indeed, The Time Jumpers are a sight to see and an experience that will bring a smile to your face and have your toes tapping. The show is more than worth the price of the $20 admission ticket. Check them out at http://www.thetimejumpers.com or on Facebook.

Time Jumpers Concert edited pic

The Time Jumpers perform a great show Monday nights at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. Photo by Chris Wilkinson

Story by Rebekah Hurst, Photo by Chris Wilkinson

Grif, the K9, Rescues Autistic Boy in Rural Tennessee

Note: Sgt. Bob Argraves, with the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department, tells the story of his K-9 Grif’s great rescue of a lost autistic boy.

Grif and I had been on many adventures together since his 2006 US arrival from the Czech Republic. He was just two when I first saw the Czech Shepherd in the crate at the airport, growling and not in the friendliest of moods. But as we trained together and got to know each other, Grif became more than my K-9 partner, he became family.

Whether searching for drugs or tracking criminals, Grif and I made a great team and were very successful together. But through all our accomplishments, the one that most stands out happened on a long, hot August day in 2010.

On that day, I knew without doubt that it wasn’t just Grif and me on the job, God was with us.

Grif and I had gotten a call to meet law enforcement, rescue workers and volunteers in rural Coffee County, TN to look for a nine year old, autistic boy that had gone missing. We had gathered at the grandmother’s house, where her grandson Kyle had been playing and last seen. It was during the heat of the day, around two in the afternoon. Southern heat can be especially scorching in August to people and animals alike. A long search would be hard on Grif with his thick, furry coat but the boy needed us to find him, and soon.

With Grif harnessed, he took the scent of the boy from the child’s blanket and then the search was on. We went around the house and then toward the pasture at the back of the property. Grif went under a barbed wire fence and continued trailing across the pasture until he came to another fence. But this time, instead of crossing the fence in front of us, he turned left and went under the fence that bordered the pasture’s left side. We trailed through a small growth of woods before coming to a creek. Grif didn’t stop to drink for he was on the job and on scent of the trail. He came back to the bank and started trailing along its side, back toward the direction of the grandmother’s house. After coming to another fence, Grif turned and went back to the creek where he had started to cross the first time out. He then crossed the creek and went to the other side, coming to an open field. He went left and followed the creek until it came to another fence. He then turned right and came back into the field and then to a road that would lead to the left of the grandmother’s house.

On and on we kept going while other rescue workers were searching in mass as well. Surely, with so many looking for the boy we would find him, I thought. But the clock kept ticking and still no Kyle. Grif kept going until he came to a road and stopped. We then searched more property with houses and out buildings and fields all around. At one point a woman came out and advised that there was a house with a pool up ahead and a couple of ponds close by as well. The deputies and rescue squad members checked there immediately, fearful Kyle might be in the water, but still no sign of him.

Afterward, I put Grif back on the trail at the last scent he was on. Together we tracked behind the houses and trailed through a strip of woods that led back to the creek we had earlier crossed. After crossing the creek, Grif returned to the grandmother’s house where it all started, without success.

The temperature was in the high nineties and Grif had been working now for an hour and a half and just couldn’t go any further. I put him back in the patrol car where he was in the air conditioning and had access to water.

My heart sank for I had such high hopes in finding Kyle. Being autistic, you can’t be sure if the boy is aware when danger is possibly close by, especially out in the country with ponds in its midst. I knew Grif had done his best and I hoped that someone else was having better luck than we were in finding Kyle.

The Sheriff was on the scene and we discussed the rescue effort. He advised he was trying to get the THP helicopter to come from Nashville to fly over the area. We knew that with every moment, there was a possibility that the boy could find himself in harm’s way. I also knew from my K-9 training that once the dog had exhausted the scent of his trail, he had performed his best and further attempts would most likely be futile.

But something deep in my spirit was telling me that Grif could find this lost boy. I told the sheriff I was going to let him try again. After getting him out of the patrol car I let Grif sniff the blanket once more and to my surprise, he took off crossing the road, turned and trailed in and out of the ditch until he came to a road turning left. He trailed down the center of the road until he went past a house on the right where there was a dog barking in the yard. There were also horses to our left. Grif ignored both distractions and kept trailing until he passed them and turned right. He then trailed back to the first road he was on. Turning left he crossed the bridge over the creek that he had earlier crossed in the wooded area behind the grandmother’s house. We tracked on through a cornfield, already combined, before turning left toward the creek once again.

Grif began to air scent, though his training would have him scenting the ground. His natural instinct had taken over and it was though his awareness to urgency had been heightened. He came back to the field, turned left, and went back yet again to the fence where stood a wood line and thicket between the fence and creek. After air scenting once more, Grif came back to the field, turned left and again continued trailing. He did this several times until he got to the far end of the field before he went and tried to get through the fence. Anticipation was rising within me but I wasn’t sure if Grif had the scent of the boy or had an animal caught his attention. One thing was for sure, Grif was determined. Before I could help him maneuver the fence, he went to the right about fifteen feet where he could successfully crawl under. Still holding the leash, I crawled under too. Once on the other side, Grif was pulling so hard that I tripped and fell crossing a dead log and thicket.

As I was getting back to my feet, the leashed slipped from my grasp but Grif kept going. By now, he was at a run. As I was standing up, I could see Grif running toward a person standing in the creek, and I just knew it had to be Kyle. I called to him, assuring him that Grif would not hurt him, but really not knowing for sure if he would understand my meaning while seeing a large dog running toward him. I just didn’t want Kyle to be afraid and I surely did not want him to run from Grif. With Grif getting to the boy first he did exactly as he’s been trained to do. He stopped in front of Kyle, touched his nose to his left shoulder and then laid down in the creek next to him, watching him until I arrived. As I got closer, I told Kyle who I was and that I was there to help.

After checking to make sure the boy was alright, I called the sheriff telling him that Grif had found Kyle safe and sound and asked that he bring the Gator to pick us up for we were some distance from the grandmother’s house. Within minutes the sheriff and rescue squad assistant chief arrived and I handed Kyle over the fence to them. I got hold of Grif’s leash and we crawled under the fence to catch up with the others. But then, unexpectedly and unashamedly, emotion overtook me and I bent to my knees. The Sheriff concerned that I may be in physical trouble, called out to me but I assured him I was fine, only emotional. He told me to take all the time I needed for indeed, it was very understandable. Within myself, I felt this overwhelming thankfulness knowing that God had been with me and Grif every step of the way. And without doubt, it was the Holy Spirit stirring within me that encouraged Grif and I to press on, not to give up even when by man’s logic the scent was gone, the trail cold.

I will never forget the joy in seeing the family reunited, rejoicing Kyle’s safe return as rescue workers cheered. And as for Grif, he got lots of hugs and loving too! Many praises went out to Grif that day, my partner, the hero!

Bob and Grif pic

Sgt. Bob Argraves and his K9, Grif. CCN photo by Rebekah Hurst

Update: Since this article was first published, Sgt. Argraves (now retired) was informed that during the period of time when he thought Grif had exhausted his search, family members, who had been notified of Kyle being lost while in an airport terminal waiting for a flight, began praying together for God to help him be found. After receiving this information, Sgt. Argraves has no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit that moved within him to have Grif begin his search again.

May 14, 2016 CCN Article by Sgt. Bob Argraves with Rebekah Hurst, Photo by Rebekah Hurst

Reposted with permission.

Sharing Life Through the Peace Corps…Where the Journey Leads Featuring Josh Donegan

“Where the Journey Leads” features individuals who once lived in Coffee County, Tennessee but whose journey in life has led them to new adventures in new places; it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends.”

As the Greek Proverb states, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Taking this to heart, Josh Donegan is living a life of service to those around him and is also sowing seeds into the future lives of those he will never know, yet will someday reap the harvest of his efforts.

The Coffee County Central High School Class of 2007 graduate is using his talents, skills and experiences to invest in the lives of others through his work in the Peace Corps and other environmental efforts. Building on the foundation he received as a youth in Manchester, Josh attended Tennessee Tech University and received his Civil and Environmental Engineering degree. Afterward, he continued his studies at the University of South Florida working toward a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering specializing in Water, Health and Sustainability. While there, he also completed his Peace Corps Masters International program and was named a National Science Foundation Scholar.

With hands-on experiences, Josh has acquired a vast amount of knowledge and skill sets throughout his educational career that have aided him on his journey. Among his many accomplishments, he served as the American Society of Civil Engineers Southeast Conference Team Leader in Environmental, Hydrology, and Hydraulic Rocket competitions, was an Honors University 1010 Peer Mentor student teacher for the Environmental Village at TTU, served as the Tennessee Facilitator at Powershift 2011 (sustainability conference) in Washington, D.C. as well as chairing the TTU Sustainable Campus Fee Committee, TTU Honors College Green Committee and President of Students for Environmental Action Coalition. Through his efforts, Josh was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Campus Sustainability Award and was named the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Campus Fellow representative.Josh Donegan la jornada pic

All of his studies and accomplishments laid a firm foundation for further studies in specializing for the Peace Corps. Changing the world for the better is no small task, especially with limited financial resources. In these situations, the wise man himself becomes one of his best resources and assets.

In pursuit to best accomplish his efforts abroad, Josh completed 106+ hours of formal instruction in Spanish as well as 10+ hours of formal instruction in Ngabere, a local indigenous dialect. Furthermore, he completed 143+ hours technical training in rural water and sanitation systems, 30 hours of cultural diversity training, 40 hours of medical, safety and administrative issue training and 190 hours of program event training, all to take on the task before him to the best of his ability.

In an interview with CCN, Josh shared some of his experiences and views on his amazing journey thus far.

CCN: Did you have a favorite teacher at CHS and if so, who and why?

Josh: I guess I’d say Mrs. Rita Young, she was always so focused and motivating. She isn’t afraid to give you a project that will truly challenge you, but provides support during the process. She and Mrs. Michelle Henley were always tirelessly working on BPA organization/competitions (Business and Professionals Association now referred to as Future Business Leaders of America) etc., while promoting a true learning environment. Also, although she and I clashed at times, Ms. Joyce McCullough was an intellectual role model for me. She valued intelligence and concision very highly, was incredibly articulate, and pushed her students to always be better versions of themselves through education and literature.

CCN: What inspired you to go into the Peace Corps?

Josh: I joined the Peace Corps (PC) for several reasons: primarily, I wanted to use my engineering skills on a local level and work on a project which I could truly see an important change/outcome of the work I’d done. Additionally, I’ve always been a wanderlust kind of guy. I love to travel, experience new culture/food/people/ways of life. PC was a way for me to get out of the cubicle lifestyle which I felt I was too young to commit myself to fully, and explore more about myself, the world around me, be challenged, but also highly rewarded in life experience and skills as opposed to just money.Josh Donegan working with Peace Corp

CCN:  What have you learned during the time you have spent with the Peace Corps that you have found to be life changing?

Josh: There are several. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned is a personal one. We, as humans, are incredibly resilient, adaptable, and clever. The challenges of PC life showed me day to day, just how strong and capable of an individual myself, and essentially all the other volunteers who accepted the same challenge, are/can be. There is literally nothing in this world that you can’t do. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but if you dedicate yourself to self-improvement, focus, and education on the subject, there is literally nothing I feel a human being can’t do (given reasonable observation to physical and biological laws). Additionally, I carry an incredible joy in my heart to know that no matter how different I am from the indigenous people of Panama (language, diet, lifestyle, priorities, education, appearance, etc.) when it comes down to it, we are truly no different at all. We all value family, friends, shelter, food, water, and fun. Also, the power of language and understanding. The community I lived in was an indigenous group. They spoke their native pre-Columbian language as well as the secondary Spanish. It was always interesting to me to think about the fact that we were living harmoniously and working productively in both of our secondary languages. Learning new grammatical structure, phrases, spelling, and vocabulary has truly expanded my cognitive ability and perspective on how language shapes our lives and experiences.

CCN: After investing your life into the lives of others, what have you learned that you wish others knew as well?

Josh: Again, two things here. One, too many of us live our lives in fear and hate. Xenophobia is a rampant and highly unproductive worldview which has little to no basis in reality.  My parents were always very concerned about my safety, living in a ‘developing Latino world’ but honestly, I’ve never felt safer, more valued, or more at home than while living in Panama. Despite the fact that we, the United States of America, invaded Panama in 1989. One would think, myself as a ‘gringo’ or white person, would be hated, feared, targeted, etc. But the fact of the matter is it’s just not a productive way to live life, constantly in fear and hate of different races/foreigners. I admire the people of Panama’s ability to live with so many other different walks of life, sharing such a small, intimate and beautiful country.  Additionally, the phrase “Lose yourself in service to others” is an inspiring quote to me. Although I believe in taking care of oneself above all, if you have any more capacity to care, you will learn so much more about life by working with others less fortunate to help better their existence.

CCN: Have you had any major challenges that you have had to overcome to be successful?

Josh: Life is full of challenges. One challenge I never knew I had growing up was access to different ways of life, the reality of existence is difficult to perceive staying in your hometown your entire life. I was fortunate enough to go to college and meet many new people who loved traveling and provided me with more opportunities to travel inside our country and out, in order to gain more worldly perspective. Additionally, most of us are familiar with relative poverty. Because of lack of money, we eat poorly, watch too much TV (cheap entertainment), and are typically under educated and over stressed. I’m not unique in facing the challenge of pulling oneself out of not only money-oriented poverty, but out of a spiritual poverty as well. I believe many of us have begun to see things more clearly; it was incredibly eye-opening to live in true poverty for such an extended period of time. It helped me reclarify what is truly important in life, and how much we have here in the US.

While in PC I lived on about $400 a month, which is still significantly more than the people with whom I lived in my community (I was considered a rich guy in town). To be perfectly honest, I was overall much happier with my life, with less stress, and more appreciation of the small things. It was very common to hear the people in the community say how poor they were, which allowed me the opportunity to explain to them how truly wealthy they were while reminding me that the grass is always greener on the other side. My point being, they have NO debt, no car payments, no rent, free basic health insurance, heavily subsidized education costs, they own their own (productive) land, they rely on natural resources heavily. While in the US, I had more student debt than many of them could ever imagine, I owned no land – much less cultivable land, had no savings, rely completely on government/state infrastructure, have no natural resources at my disposal, and have largely much less control over my daily lifestyle due to the external financial pressures.

CCN: From your pictures on social media, it is evident you love to rock climb. Where are some of your favorite places to climb?

Josh: I’ve climbed in several different places now. Panama, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, Oregon, California, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky. I’d say my favorite places to climb are still the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Although I’ve really enjoyed everywhere I’ve been climbing!

I was developing some routes and climbs in Panama and had a two hour hike to the mountain from where I lived. So that was a super cool experience and teaching the kids about the sport as well. I don’t get to climb as much as I used to because of thesis writing/peace corps projects, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop climbing.Josh Donegan climbing

CCN: What are some of your favorite memories from living in Manchester?

Josh: Obviously growing up with Bonnaroo has been an amazing experience. As a music and arts lover, I feel super blessed to have had the opportunity to see so much amazing live music and sharing of good times out on the farm. Speaking of farms, I truly value growing up in the proximity of farmers and a small town. It instills a value of friendship and hard work which have been fundamental in relationships I’ve developed throughout my life. As a kid in a small town, you learn the true value or work, family, friends, and honesty. Everyone knows you and you know everyone, so being personally accountable is a necessity, which is a characteristic I value highly.

CCN: What are your dreams for your future and what do you plan to do next?

Josh: Now that I’m back state side, I’ve moved back to Tampa, Fla. to finish my Masters of Science in Environmental Engineering with a graduate certificate in Public Health, Water, and Sustainability. Also, a year or so ago, I, with a few close friends, began organizing to start our own business. Because we aren’t established yet, I can’t divulge too many details but essentially, we’re attempting to bring urban agriculture to the cultural forefront of Tennessee, beginning in Chattanooga. Stay tuned for updates.Josh Donegan with shells pic

CCN: What advice would you give young people today to help them reach their goals for the future?

Josh: Read, learn, experience, trust, value honesty, take calculated risks, treat yourself, your friends, and family well. Value the planet and its’ resources, think, think for yourself, stay organized, spend wisely, and never give up.

Note Story Addition: The following are specifics of Josh’s work in the Peace Corp:

Josh surveyed, designed, solicited a grant, budgeted, and trained the community in constructing a 6 kilometer gravity fed aqueduct with capacity to serve approximately 2000 people.

Josh worked with a newly elected diverse water committee to become a more proactive, functional, and responsible group through training of local laws, managing funds, and regular maintenance of the aqueduct.

Josh developed and implemented an improved cook stoves program for the community school and increased interaction between the Panamanian Ministry of Environment and the community to continue working in the area.

Josh increased awareness in the community with regards to personal and sexual health.

January 28, 2017 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Photos provided by Josh Donegan, Reposted with permission

 

Mother & Daughter Duo Conquer the West: Lynda and Brittany’s Excellent Adventure

Summer of 2016, Lynda Fox and her daughter Brittany, celebrated Brittany’s graduation from Tennessee Tech University by loading their car, packed with bags and bicycles, and heading out West.  In an interview with CCN, the mother and daughter duo share highlights from their cross country adventure.

CCN: What inspired you two to go on this trip together?

Lynda: My daughter asked me to go with her and I couldn’t remember the last time we went somewhere with just the two of us.

Brittany: I had graduated from Tennessee Tech with my bachelor of science in Accounting. I knew that soon enough it would be time for me to be moving from the small city I love to conquer the next stage of my life and not seeing as much of my mom and family as I would like. So as a graduation gift, I wanted to experience the second half of the country with my amazing mom, who also had not seen much of the western US.

CCN: Where did you go on your journey?

Brittany: Our first stop was Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, which happened to be the location our previous music director at FBC had moved to. We were able to meet up with them (Bart, Roni, and Leeanne Starr) and they were able to show us right where we wanted to go, which I’m not sure mom and I would have found it by ourselves.

Brittany, Lynda and Bart

Brittany and Lynda join friend Bart Starr at Cadillac Ranch in Armallio, Texas.

From there we headed straight to the Grand Canyon where we spent two days in. Our first day was at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We spent the day biking 14 miles along the outside of the canyon. I was soon to figure out how much more in shape my mom was than me as I was found walking most of the way while she biked around me. After our bike ride, we drove to the North rim (which surprisingly takes 4 hours). Most of the trip we would call in for hotels but that day, because we never really knew where we were, this quickly bit us in the rear when we found ourselves on the north rim of the Grand Canyon with no reservations and no rooms available. We may or may not have slept in our car in a National park but I will never tell. We spent the next day on an amazing mule trip into the north rim!

Brittany and Lynda riding mules.

Brittany and Lynda riding mules in the Grand Canyon.

After the Grand Canyon we set out for Yosemite National Park which in my opinion was the most beautiful place we went to where we hiked and even got to see a bear!

Brittany at Mirror Lake

Brittany and Lynda visit Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park.

From Yosemite we set out for the gorgeous Yellowstone National Park where we saw bison on bison on bison.

Brittany and Lynda at Yellowstone Park

Brittany and Lynda visit Yellowstone National Park.

After Yellowstone, we made a quick stop to Mount Rushmore to visit the big 4.

Brittany and Lynda visit Mount Rushmore

Brittany and Lynda visit Mount Rushmore.

After Mount Rushmore, we found ourselves on the only part of the trip where we got lost and that was the Badlands. My “amazing” sense of directions directed me onto a 10-12 miles detour on a dirt road that ended us in a “no entry entrance” and swarmed by prairie dogs. Yet, once we found our way, it was my second favorite stop!

Brittany and Lynda visit the Badlands of South Dakota.

Brittany and Lynda visit the Badlands of South Dakota.

From the Badlands, we headed to ease our sadness of our trip ending by meeting up with my older sister, Kristen, and our family friend Leslie Sherrill in Louisville, Ky. to sing our hearts out at a Kenny Chesney concert.

CCN: What were some of the best things you saw and experienced?

Lynda: The Grand Canyon. It was beautiful! Yosemite Park, so much to see and do there. Just driving out West. I had no idea how empty parts of our world actually are. We would drive for days and see nobody or anything but empty land.

Brittany: One of the favorite things that I saw was at Yosemite National Park. We had just left the main part of the park and were heading down the mountains when a huge traffic jam had come upon us. As we inched closer, we could hear people shouting “bear!”.  I was driving and quickly pulled to the side of the road to jump out and see, and low and behold, there was a grizzly bear about 50 yards from the road. There were around 30 people jumping out of cars and running up to see it. I also enjoyed watching how much the environment changed from little, small town trees everywhere in Tennessee to the brown everything vast openness of the Wild West. There were some places we would go 50 miles without seeing a town or gas station.

Lynda, Leslie, Brittany, Kristen Concert pic

Lynda, Leslie Sherrill, Brittany and sister, Kristen in Louisville, Ky. at a Kenny Chesney concert.

CCN: What were some of your most laughable moments?

Lynda: Almost running out of gas twice in the Wild West because gas stations and people are rare out there. Having to sleep in our car at the North Side of the Grand Canyon because we did not make reservations, only to wake up parked beside a sign that said, “No sleeping in vehicles”. Giving Brittany “Advil” ALL day one day because she had a headache and then putting my glasses on and realizing I had grabbed the wrong bottle before we left and I was actually giving her stool softener (yikes), and just the time we had talking about absolutely nothing.

Brittany: My most laughable moments had to of been my mom and I stranded with no hotel room and sleeping in our car at the North rim of the Grand Canyon. But for free, the view was amazing! Also, I drove most of the way yet I woke up twice while mom was driving to an almost empty tank of gas and the next gas station well over 25 miles away. Once, we really tested our luck when mom let the gas go from 25 miles to empty with 30 miles to the next gas station. Luckily, we made it, although we were already prepared to ride our bikes to the next gas station.

CCN: What was it like going on this trip just mother and daughter?

Lynda: It was amazing. She has grown up on me somewhere along the way and I had failed to realize it.

Brittany: It was amazing going with my mom. I know within the next few years I won’t be seeing my mom as much as I would like and going on a trip like this was amazing.

CCN: What are some of your favorite memories from the trip?

Lynda: There are so many I don’t know how to pick out just a few. Eating dinner with Bart and Roni and Carol Trickler in Texas. Riding our bikes around the Grand Canyon because I was faster than Brittany. Seeing a bear in Yosemite. Spray painting the Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch. Riding the mules at the Grand Canyon just like on the Brady Bunch. Stopping in Arizona at the Bed Rock Campground, The Flintstones is still one of my favorite shows. Just getting to see this beautiful place we live in.

Brittany: My favorite memories would have to be realizing how fit my mom is and her biking circles around me at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The whole trip really will be a memory I will never forget.

CCN: Do you have any suggestions for anyone planning a long trip like yours?

Lynda: Don’t make plans, it is sooo much fun just to go and see where you end up.

Brittany: I suggest don’t plan anything! My mom and I literally knew where we wanted to go and that was it. We traveled to various cities, stayed in various hotels and it couldn’t have worked out better.

With her summer adventure over, Brittany is on to a new chapter of her life with new adventures ahead in Colorado.

“I have moved out West for some years, to experience a little more life.”

Sept. 1, 2016 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Photos provided, Updated and reposted with permission

Joining the “Seven Summits Club” Where the Journey Leads…. Featuring Kevin Vann

“Where the Journey Leads” features individuals who once lived in Coffee County but whose journey in life has led them to new adventures in new places; it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Manchester’s own Kevin Vann has lived a life many only dream about.  For the past thirty years, hometown friends would exchange stories of “Have you heard what Kevin is doing now?” with great interest and delighting at hearing about his storybook life, filled with adventures and challenges. Many in our community have a great sense of pride in that one of our own has had the courage to truly venture out into the far corners of the world and literally view creation from the tops of the highest mountains.

Kevin Vann on top of mountain pic

Kevin Vann reaches the top of Mt. Albrus, Europe’s highest mountain, July of 2012. Photo provided

It brought me joy when Kevin was asked to be the Keynote Speaker at the Coffee County Central High School Class of 2007 Graduation ceremony because my oldest daughter, Allison, sat amongst the other graduate candidates hearing that anything is possible when you pursue your dreams. Thankfully now with social media, family, friends and spectators alike have occasional opportunities to see a glimpse of Kevin’s adventurous life through incredible pictures and stories. In a interview with CCN, Kevin shared some thoughts from his past, present and future life adventures.

CCN: What are the names of your family members?

KV: How much space do I have to type? AMAZING clan! Thurmon, Sally (who sadly passed away in March) Michelle, Eileen, Stephanie, Renee and Mark. It’s nice to have normal siblings…when compared to my life.

CCN: What is your educational background?

KV: I’m a proud member of the greatest graduating class in the history of Coffee County Central High…The Class of 1977. Equally, I’m proud to have attended Motlow College and receive my Nursing Degree from this gem of a school.

CCN: Did you have a favorite teacher at CHS and if so, who and why?

KV: I would have to answer that as TNTC (Too Numerous To Count) I was blessed with so many inspirational educators. But if I were to name one, I can readily say it was James Blalock. Mr. B., as we affectionately called him, was my band director throughout junior high as well as high school. At the time, many of us didn’t understand why he insisted on precision, timeliness and discipline. The results spoke for themselves. We had one of the most rewarded and admired music programs in the state. He provided his students with dozens of “Blalockisms” that we carry with us today. I recall once, when a fellow trumpet player carelessly left his horn on his chair, it fell to the ground and severely damaged his horn. Mr. B.’s response to the young man was, “If it’s on the ground, it can’t fall.”  Brilliant! That’s just one of many that I remember to this day. I miss that man and owe him so much for my growth and development.

CCN: Where do you live now and how long have you lived there?

KV: I divide my time between San Francisco (where I’ve worked for the past six years) and Manchester (where I call home…and where I can afford a home!)

CCN: What is your occupation?

KV: I’m a Cardiovascular ICU Nurse and work per diem at two hospitals and have recently been hired as a clinical representative of an innovative medical technology company based in Israel.

CCN: What do you like best about your job?

KV: The stress! (LOL) No, I’ve been allowed to treat some of the most interesting people from all over the world. It’s been an honor.

Kevin Vann on bike pic

Kevin Vann bike riding through Amsterdam. Photo provided

CCN: What activities are you involved with?

KV:  As the co-owner of a trekking company, TREK8848.com, I’m involved with guiding folks to Mt. Everest Base camp on a yearly basis. Obviously, travel is my passion.

CCN: Please share about some of your greatest adventures.

KV: Was it caring for the Afghan Mujahadeen rebels fighting the Soviets in 1987…was it being the first person to ever canoe the entire length of the Duck River (268.5miles) in 1999…was it the summiting of Mt. Everest in 2003…was it joining the exclusive “Seven Summits” club having climbed the highest mountain on all seven continents) in 2013? I’m not prepared to say that my greatest adventures are behind me!

CCN: What stands out in your mind as some of your favorite Tennessee memories?

KV: Remember when Tennessee beat Alabama in 1982, ending an 11 year drought? I was there! Recall the World’s Largest Pajama Party held on the square in Manchester in 1986? There too!

CCN: Have you met people during your journey that have made an ever lasting impact on your life?

KV: Aside from the most important and impactful (my family), there was my mentor Dr. Demetrio Sodi-Pallares. He was the greatest electro-cardiologist of the 20th century and the only TRUE genius I’ve ever known. Imagine living in Mexico City and being mentored by the greatest heart specialist in the world? I still can’t believe I was afforded that opportunity.

Kevin Vann selfie pic

Kevin Vann’s smile of success after summiting the highest mountain in Antarctica. Photo provided

CCN: What are your future plans and dreams?

KV: I would like to be an astronaut (seriously) and if I could be on that first Mission to Mars….

CCN: Do you have any special accomplishments or have received any awards or recognitions you would like to share with our readers?

KV: Let’s wait until I’m done…I’ll let others decide that one.

CCN: What are some of your favorite memories from living in Manchester?

KV: Exploring Old Stone Fort well before it became a state park, all the experiences with the music programs and all the insanity associated with my fellow jocks playing baseball and softball.

CCN: What advice would you give young people today to help them reach their goals for the future?

KV: OK…here goes. Avoid the vacuous appeal of pop culture. Remember, popularity is fleeting and lasts about as long as “a fart in a hammock.”

My beautiful picture

“The most exhausting day of my life.” Kevin Vann wearing a down suit, with oxygen, May 23, 2013, after a 20 hour round trip climb from Camp 4 to the Summit of Everest and back to Camp 4. Photo provided

Kevin’s life story is far from over and I look forward to hearing about his future accomplishments and experiences. But his adventures weren’t ever just about him and I would be remiss if I didn’t include an aspect of his life that is truly as heroic as every mountain he successfully scaled. For those who don’t know Kevin, I share with you something that many of his friends have known for several years now. Though he is often quiet about such matters, not eager for attention for selfless deeds done on behalf of others, Kevin is known as one that where ever his journey leads, he is willing to share his medical skills and reach out and help those in need. Fully aware, that though his travels take him to amazing and beautiful places, there too is often found the impoverished, sick and hurting.

Kevin truly does purposely live an adventurous, courageous and compassionate life. It will be exciting to see where his journey next leads him.

July 30, 2016 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Photos provided, Reposted with permission