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Ali James, Shopper News
In a world where everyone is more reliant on smart devices and computers, a campaign called Spark Connects aims to provide better access to computers for seniors and people with disabilities.
Recently, Spark launched a fundraiser and set a goal of reaching $6,000 to qualify for the USA Today “A Community Thrives” Grant.
“The Spark Connects program is in its infancy,” said Eric Vreeland, who has served on Spark’s board for close to six years.
“I am one of those people that have a small disability that makes me conscious of people with more severe disabilities. Spark can be life changing because of their emphasis on an individualized, tailored approach.”
For those unfamiliar with Spark, formerly known as East Tennessee Technology Access Center, the nonprofit helps individuals improve their everyday life through assistive technology, training, equipment, demonstrations, loans, innovations and referrals.
Spark Connects’ main goal is to help reduce isolation, give people the ability to communicate with loved ones, write an email, search for information online or simply be entertained.
If they need a computer for school or work, Spark may be able to provide that, too.
“We want to help drive some donations to Spark so that they can qualify for the USA Today A Community Thrives grant,” said Vreeland. “Spark will be the intermediary, where they collect old computers, have them stripped, cleaned and retrofitted, where you can do some modification where there may be a dexterity issue for example.”
Dan Scott, president of Scott Recycling, has partnered with Spark to be able to provide these computers.
“Having access to the equipment is the fundamental thing,” said Vreeland. “Spark Connects gets the computer to people to help reduce isolation and be more engaged.
A sizable part of Spark’s budget comes from grants, and this is their first time applying for the USA Today A Community Thrives Grant.
“Our $6,000 goal is significant; it is a big amount for a small nonprofit, but $25 donations go a long way with Spark. The grant will match that multiple times over,” said Vreeland. “It is a really great way to maximize small donations.”
Spark Connects offers tech advice, including security settings, and can help find the right financial coverage if there is a gap or someone lacks the right insurance to cover the costs.
“It is a resource that serves a lot of people,” said Vreeland. “It can be life changing when Spark comes up with an individualized, tailored solution for odd or unique circumstances, whether it is for a child born with a disability or for someone who suffered a stroke later in life.”
Vreeland said that Spark can brainstorm, do the trial and error and come up with verbal equipment, a pointer for someone with muscle control issues or help with backlit settings for people with low vision.
“Spark has a program that maybe isn’t as well known for people with low vision,” said Vreeland. “They can use technology to fix it for people who may have given up. They figure out ways it can be used that aren’t conventional for most users.”
Most people come in to get a piece of equipment, and Vreeland said it is those kinds of interventions that he finds so inspiring about Spark.
“They can really make a huge difference where somebody is frustrated and isolated,” he said.
Any contributions, big or small, can be made at until Aug. 18.
Those in need of a device should call Spark at 865-219-0130 or drop off any technology donations at Spark’s head office at 116 Childress St. in South Knoxville.
Nancy Anderson, Shopper News
Furrow Automotive Group’s Mercedes-Benz of Knoxville put a “paws” on operations for a few moments July 21 to present Young-Williams Animal Center and the Humane Society of Tennessee Valley $10,000 each to continue their life-giving efforts to animals in need. 
“The Furrow and Tolsma families believe in investing in community as do our employees and customers. Our employees are invested in the cause of taking care of animals and voted unanimously to donate money to Young-Williams Animal Center and the Humane Society of Tennessee Valley,” said Lee Ann Furrow Tolsma, president of Furrow Automotive Group.
The dealership raised the money by donating a portion of the revenue of every new vehicle sold in a campaign it called Benzie’s Friends.
“We believe pets are important to our mental health sometimes. We’re animal lovers at my house and have a Cavapoo dog named Louie,” Tolsma said.
“Pets are so important, and we’re just thrilled with the opportunity to give back to the community through Young-Williams Animal Center and the Humane Society of Tennessee Valley.”
Grace Bennett with Young-Williams said she was tickled to be one of the charity partners selected by Furrow Automotive Group’s Mercedes-Benz this year.
“Our $10,000 is already hard at work. Summer is our busiest time of the year. We bring in more than 500 animals every month during the summer months. That $10,000 is going to come in handy to help pay for veterinary care, housing, finding them forever homes. If they need a little extra time, that $10,000 is going to help pay for foster home and behavioral training.”
Constance Paras with the Humane Society said her $10,000 was going toward a medical fund.
The Humane Society transfers in from 55 shelters and rescues across the region. Paras said the Humane Society treats heartworm-positive dogs that a rural shelter might not be able to treat.
“This $10,000 will help us save the lives of all those dogs … and cats. Cats come to us with upper respiratory problems because they’re found outside. That medical fund is critical for us and our biggest need,” said Paras.
Both Paras and Bennett brought precious pooches who stole the show, visiting attendees one after another begging for petting.
The puppies hit their nap time early, but several adult dogs showed off their excellent obedience training.
Al Lesar, Shopper News
Summing up the business model at the foundation of Bin Mayhem is simple: It’s all about product sourcing.
For the last three years, Jason Padovani has run two stores in Arizona by that philosophy. He has relationships with mega-retailers like Target, Amazon and Walmart. When they have overstock, returns, out-of-season inventory, he buys the merchandise for a fraction of what it would normally cost.
From there, Padovani sells it at his discount stores for quite a savings for customers.
The California resident, who graduated from Penn State in 2005, found a location in Powell (5032 Clinton Highway), and opened his third discount store in early July.
“The retailer that has been making the biggest gains is Dollar Store,” said Padovani.
“That says something about what consumers want.
“My plan is to buy in bulk and operate with a thin margin and high volume. It’s becoming more prevalent in the east than in the west. Right now, discount shopping is where it’s at.”
Product overwhelms the 14,000 square feet of space in the store. Padovani said, to keep costs down, there will be only three or four people working at the location.
Over the course of three years in the Arizona stores, they started with just bins of items scattered around the store. They added a clothing section, which was priced separately. Then, half-off shoes were brought in.
The newest wrinkle has been an online auction, which has had a good response in Arizona. Auctions start at $5.
“There is a certain auction crowd out there that just loves the competition in an auction,” Padovani said. “They might get a great deal. There’s a fun element to it. There’s the chance to beat someone else.”
Padovani, who lives in Los Angeles, said he is constantly looking for ways to adjust to the preferences and concerns of the customer base.
The only day Bin Mayhem will close is Christmas. Beyond that, there are daily prices set for everything but clothes and shoes.
Saturday (open 10 a.m.-7 p.m., everything costs $10), Sunday (11-5, $10), Monday (10-6, $8), Tuesday (10-6, $6), Wednesday (10-6, $4), Thursday (10-6, $2) and Friday (10-6, Deal Day – a new promotion every Friday).
Padovani said about 1,000 customers visit his Arizona stores every week.
“One amazing statistic,” he said. “We’ve found that 30% of our customers are re-sellers. They have a side gig where they are selling items. They know that we’re cheap enough that they can re-sell the items and make money.”
Shoes start at $9 at Bin Mayhem. Men’s and women’s underwear start at $2.50. There is a cap of $15 or $20 on any clothes that are sold.
“The important part is to keep costs down wherever we can,” Padovani said. “When we talked about this model, I could tell there was a good barrier of entry that was possible. That’s what gave me the indication something like this could work.”
Nancy Anderson, Shopper News
Hardin Valley Academy Band members may have broken the record for most cars washed at a summer fundraiser Saturday, July 23 at the Food City on Middlebrook Pike.
Band programs receive very little money from the county for expenses such as travel, gas, and equipment. The rest comes from parents and fundraisers like the Spirit of the Valley band contest to be held at HVA on Oct. 1. 
By noon, the band had washed a few hundred cars with lines backing up to the far side of Food City, but each car took only minutes as up to 10 kids attacked with sponges and sent it on to the rinsing station.
The band has about 143 kids this year plus color guard. The kids kept the car wash running with about 50 to 75 kids at a time washing in shifts all day.
“We do a lot of fundraising because we have a lack of funds from the county and from the school, so we are very self-sufficient,” said color guard section leader Marnasia England.
“But without our band parents and fundraising, we wouldn’t be able to travel. Each away game is very expensive, but we want to travel to competitions, too, like regional competition in Jacksonville, Alabama. We’re ending the year with Grand Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
The band organized the event a little differently this year. They sold tickets at $10 a pop to the tune of $10,000.
The contra and base clarinet sections sold the most tickets to win a dinner with the directors.
Parent Laura Denton said the band is a tough load financially, but band parents are supporting what the kids love.
“I didn’t know how much fun and how much work this was going to be when my son started. Now he wants to be a band director. This is what he wants to do, and I don’t want to miss the ride,” Denton said.
“I encourage every band parent to volunteer, go to the competitions and be a part of their wins and a part of their maybe disappointments. That’s the magic of it.”
Ali James, Shopper News
It has been a whirlwind two weeks since Melissa Glover emailed families to announce her appointment as the new principal of Gresham Middle School. Glover replaces Donna Parker, who was appointed Secondary Staffing Supervisor in July after serving as the school’s principal for 16 years. 
“Donna Parker has been so gracious,” she said. “She invested her life into this school. I feel like I owe it to her to invest the same to keep it growing. She has been phenomenal.”
The appointment, although quick, is a lucky break for staff and students. Glover has nearly 20 years’ experience working for Knox County Schools.
“I was assistant principal at Hardin Valley Middle and before that Austin-East Magnet and Powell high schools,” said Glover, who has been in administration since 2013.
Glover also has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in education from The University of Tennessee, as well as an education specialist degree in instructional leadership from Tennessee Tech University.
After interning at Farragut High, Glover went on to teach history there for close to a decade.
“I still see myself as a teacher,” she said. “It is my favorite part.”
The mother of two, including a seventh grader, said the middle school schedule meshes well with her family life. “Middle school kids are so full of potential; they are in this great place between figuring out who they are and realizing ‘What can I be?’” said Glover.
“How lucky are we that we get to be a part of shaping lives? A great and effective teacher unlocks that secret potential. That is why I get up at 5 a.m. in the morning and why I have a lot of energy. This is what I signed up for.
“They only have this one middle school experience; we only get one chance to do this right. We have to do it well,” said Glover, who sees Gresham as a place to land for the long haul.
What is now known as Gresham Middle School first opened in 1893 as Holbrook College, a private teacher training college. After going through a few iterations, it became Central High School in September 1906.
Central High moved to its Jacksboro Pike location in 1971, and the old building became Gresham Junior High, then eventually Gresham Middle School.
“I love the building. We have doors with real keys,” said Glover. “The character of the building and the history, this building is so unique. Every classroom is different, it is reflective of who our kids are.”
Glover points to a plaque honoring alumni who served in the “World War.”
“It is symbolic of the history of this building and community,” she said. “That was before there was World War II.”
Glover loves the diverse demographic of Gresham. “The school is the perfect size, not too big and not too small that we can’t offer the programming we need,” she said.
A team of all-new administrators and counselors has been working alongside Glover to revamp not only the students’ master schedule, but also some procedures such as school arrival and dismissal.
“We have had some opportunities to bring in collaborative new faces,” she said. “We are phasing out advisory, integrating those life skills into longer instructional and related arts periods.
“There will be three lunch periods – one for each grade level. There are no assigned seats; they can eat wherever they want to eat.
“The last three years have been stressful. Middle school is a really stressful time. We think it is important to do what we can to provide support and alleviate the stress and anxiety. They will know at least one person when they walk into the cafeteria.”
There will be a fresh approach to how the spacious campus is used. “We have the gardens that the school foundation has supported, and there is such an opportunity to utilize the track as a great place for students’ activities,” said Glover. “Kids have to move; I have to move.”
The school’s foundation is close to purchasing an electronic sign, and over the summer the front office and vestibule areas have been renovated to create a more welcoming entrance.
Glover’s brother, Curtis Glover, has designed a mural for the principal’s office. Curtis is a prolific local artist whose work has been featured around downtown on the new Marriott, in the Old City, at Loco Burro and on the side of Jerry’s Artarama.
Do not try to call Glover in her office; more than likely she will be on the go spending time with the students and staff. Just try to keep up via her Twitter account @GladiatorGlover.
Ali James, Shopper News
Kim Longmire-Carter opened Birdie’s Boutique, selling fashion and accessories, in November 2020, and the business has been growing ever since. 
Stephanie Bayne, a partner in the business, purchases the extended size clothing and has expanded the children’s boutique to offer clothes and accessories for girls as well as boys for newborns through size 5.
“We expanded into new homewares in August 2021,” said Longmire-Carter. “The dry cleaner had moved out and the building next door had sat empty for a year.”
Opening up a doorway between the boutique and the new home décor shop essentially doubled the space at 3000 Tazewell Pike. The two women say that purchasing home décor for the store and displaying it is the fun part of their business.
“We are starting to learn what sells and what doesn’t sell, and we are getting into more gifting,” said Longmire-Carter. “The girls here really enjoy coordinating gifts for our customers.”
Along with shopping in person at wholesale apparel and home decor markets two to three times a year, the duo regularly shop online to find unique items their customers will not find in the big box stores.
“We seem to sell more home décor year-round,” said Longmire-Carter. “Often they come in to buy a dress and walk out with home décor.”
“It is going really well,” said Bayne of the new expanded children’s section. “We sell a lot of the infant (merchandise). People are always looking for gifts for showers, and honestly a lot of the toddler’s sizes go really well too.”
The Jellycat loveys and Bella Tunno silicone bibs, teethers, sippy cups, suction bowls and plates and spoons are also hot sellers.
“We have expanded with more jewelry, shoes, candles, lotions, lip balms, more gifts items,” said Bayne. “And of course we added the whole décor side.”
Fall and winter are the busiest at the store as people prepare to decorate their homes for holiday entertaining.
“A lot of people are moving into the area,” said Bayne. “They see us when they are passing by while they are remodeling. They seem to like the homey atmosphere when they come in.”
“I already have some of our fall and winter here to put out and the rest ordered,” said Longmire-Carter.
A big learning curve for the pair has been planning so far in advance. “It’s hard to order for Christmas in June and July, but it is something we have had to get used to,” said Bayne.
Last week Longmire-Carter said they launched “Everybody needs a website; we want to get more than local business,” she said.
“People who don’t live in Knoxville come in and shop and say they wish they had a store like this where they live and they want to buy more. We have a lot to offer and we want everybody to see it. They love our brands.”
The inventory is so vast at Birdie’s Boutique that they could not put everything on the website, but Longmire-Carter is confident that they have a good amount to browse online.
Longmire-Carter also owns and operates The Bird’s Nest at 6600 Maynardville Pike, selling her restored antiques and vintage home décor and accommodating four other antiques vendors. She also owned Once Again Interiors in Fountain City but was forced to merge the two businesses in Halls when that building was sold and demolished several years ago.
Then not long ago the owner of the building announced he was selling the Maynardville Pike building.
“I am excited to have everything under one roof again in Fountain City,” said Longmire-Carter. “We are currently liquidating, and we will move out at the end of this month.”
While there is no room at Birdie’s Boutique on Tazewell Pike for her four vendors, Longmire-Carter is converting a space at the rear of the boutique to sell her Bird’s Nest furniture. She’ll continue shopping at flea markets and auctions to discover one-of-a-kind vintage pieces she can breathe new life into.
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John Shearer, Shopper News
The Carousel Theatre on the University of Tennessee campus is getting ready for the ultimate set redesign.
After about seven decades in its current form, the theater is scheduled to be replaced. 
“Much of what we have done over the last 25 years in my tenure mostly were to extend the life of the theater, but now it has pretty much gotten beyond where routine maintenance will keep it operational,” said Tom Cervone, managing director of the nearby Clarence Brown Theatre, in explaining the motivation. 
The Carousel, while unique, looks like a more temporary building compared to the large brick and concrete university buildings surrounding it.
With a $5 million lead gift from UT President and longtime local entrepreneur Randy Boyd and his wife, Jenny, and contributions by some other donors, a more state-of-the-art and accessible theater called the Jenny Boyd Carousel Theatre will replace it. Jenny had visited the theater as a child and took part in theatre department shows as a student dancer, according to UT officials.
While excited about the new theater, Cervone said officials did not decide to replace the current Carousel facility without much thought.
“We’ve spent the last 3½ to 4 years working with university authorities and architects,” he said. “All of us have come to learn that trying to renovate would not be cost effective.”
However, he said he and others realized the theater’s historical significance, and that was also considered.
“We are very mindful that taking the Carousel to a new theater is not uncomplicated because so many people in this community have such great memories and such a love for this theater. So, we’re trying to do this as sensitively as possible. We’ve gotten the blessing of (historic preservation group) Knox Heritage. They understand.”
He said a trademark feature of the current theater has been the collection of connected and exposed wooden beams and columns in the building’s interior. He hopes maybe those or examples of them can be preserved and displayed decoratively perhaps in the lobby in some way.
Sanders Pace Architecture is designing the structure, and while the finalized look, cost and construction timeline are still being figured, Liz Stowers of the campaign committee said the fundraising is going well.
“The community is behind it,” she said. “We have been in a very successful silent phase of the campaign. We are planning to launch a big public campaign this fall to finish up the funding needed for the project.”  
While these next acts in the theater’s history are being written, Cervone also reflectively focused on the opening acts as he recently sat inside this facility that is hexagonal on the outside but rounder with a circle stage on the interior.
“It’s actually very unique,” he said. “There are very few theaters in the round in existence today that date back as far as this one.”
He said Dr. Paul Soper from the UT English department had decided the university needed a theater, so a tent facility was constructed in the early 1950s, with a more permanent structure approved in late 1951.
“He had been able to muster support from the Junior League and the local patrons and the university itself, and they enclosed the theater. And over the years we have added to it to make it a little more patron friendly,” Cervone said.
Despite its slowly upgraded heating and air systems over the years, its role as a host for those getting to participate in theater might overall be considered critically acclaimed, to use a theatrical term.
“Most of us would probably agree that it is so functional and so adaptable, particularly during the ‘90s when we were using it a lot,” said Cervone, whose picture, along with Hollywood star David Keith, graces the outside walls for a 1990 production in which he participated.
“We had a pretty strong international program and most, if not all, of the directors who came from Europe loved this space because it gave them the opportunity to really think beyond the proscenium arch picture frame, if you will. It is so adaptable, and the audience is really a part of the story because you are so doggone close to the play.”
He added that actors have also had to realize they are being seen from the back by the audience, and that causes even further thought.
As far as looking ahead, Cervone said he is excited at how a new Carousel Theatre will complement the larger Clarence Brown Theatre built in 1970. He also believes it will continue to help the various theatre programs that enjoyed high rankings under former department head Calvin MacLean and will now be led by new head Ken Martin.
“It is bringing the art and culture business to this part of campus,” he said.  
Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News
With a chosen focus on food security, the United Way of Greater Knoxville was looking for big new ideas. And what better way to harness the energy and vision of local movers and shakers than with a contest?
Thus the “Unite for Change Food Security Social Hackathon” was born.
“We’ve heard of Hackathons that tech groups have done to solve tech issues or create new solutions,” says Anna Moseley, senior marketing specialist with UWGK.
“What we’re doing is a social hackathon — bringing groups together to bring innovative ideas for social services.”
“Hunger is limiting, affecting development and overall health, and impairing the ability to learn, work and enjoy a comfortable life,” says Matt Ryerson, president and CEO of UWGK. “Those experiencing continued hunger often face other issues around housing, childcare, healthcare, transportation and mental health.
“Because food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum, ending hunger means looking at much more than getting enough food to feed those in need. It requires having a holistic system in place that includes a variety of services across the community and ensures access and equity, regardless of circumstances.”
In August, UWGK put out the call, and interested individuals have been signing up in teams of up to 10, each with a Lead Nonprofit Agency at the helm.
After attending an orientation session on July 27, they’re hard at work developing ideas and solutions. They’ll submit their ideas for an initial review, and the top teams will pitch their ideas on Sept. 27 to a panel of judges. The winning team will receive a $20,000 UWGK grant to take the next steps toward implementing their concept with the help of their Lead Nonprofit Agency. 
The UWGK celebrates its 100th birthday this year.
Begun in 1922 as the Community Chest of Greater Knoxville, in 1972 the organization renamed itself in alignment with the national United Way organization, and the official logo and current symbol was adopted in 2004.
With its focus and strategy evolving over a century, the UWGK has worked tirelessly to meet community needs by granting money to programs that align with predetermined goals.
Moseley says the organization has three impact focus areas: food security, sometimes referred to as food insecurity; early childhood care and education; and housing systems.
“In the nonprofit community, a lot of times agencies are applying for grants and those grants are often pretty traditional — they focus on work and services that we’ve always done. We wanted to have a funding opportunity that not only allows for innovation in services but also encourages it.”
So far in their centennial year, UWGK has also presented the Big Tomato Project, giving away 4,000 tomato plants along with growing tips, and the UpWard Summit, which brought together agencies from across East Tennessee.
“Through the rest of this year we’re going to have more events and initiatives,” says Moseley.
“This is a really big, busy year, kicking off the next century of innovation and service for our organization in Knoxville, but we’re not going to stop Dec. 31. We’re going to continue having opportunities for collaboration and really big ideas, and rethinking how we service our community and our neighbors in need.”
Leslie Snow, Shopper News
I woke up with a start one morning and it all became clear. I have to save my mother. I have to save her from herself, from my dad, from the weight of caring for someone with severe dementia.
I told her I was implementing “Operation Save Nity” and insisted she participate. She laughed but was otherwise noncommittal. I would not be deterred.
I offered to bring her over to my house more often so she could get a break when their caregiver, Rena, was with my dad.
I promised I would take my father out for ice cream and a long drive on the days she was with him by herself.
And I instituted “Toast and TV” on Tuesdays featuring brunch and a few episodes of “Ted Lasso.”
“You’ll love it,” I promised. “The show will make you forget your troubles and keep you laughing.”
I insisted she come even when she overslept one Tuesday. I insisted she come even when my dad had a dermatologist appointment. “You need to take care of yourself, Mom. Dad will be fine with Rena. It’s you I’m worried about.”
I worry because my mom puts everyone’s needs ahead of her own. She can’t sleep because she’s up with my father. She can’t relax because she’s too busy worrying about everybody. She can’t get a moment of peace in the house because my father can’t bear to have her out of his sight. Even when he can’t remember anything else, he remembers that he’s lost without my mother.
It’s taking its toll. And it’s convinced me that my job isn’t to take care of my father, it’s to take care of my mother instead.
So I come up with new schedules and new activities that give her more time for herself. I institute fun days and make her participate. It feels like the right thing to do. It feels like something I have to do.
But last Tuesday during our third episode of “Ted Lasso,” I caught a glimpse of my mother’s face. Her brow was furrowed, her lips were pursed, her hands were clenched together tightly. She kept her eyes on her watch and checked her phone for any messages she might have missed.
I scoot closer to her and whisper softly, “Do you need to go home now, Nity?”
“I think I do,” she whispers back.
A few minutes later we walk into her house together. My father is asleep in the new lift chair we rented. He doesn’t wake up when we say hello. He doesn’t stir even when I drop my keys on the counter and turn on the TV.
My mom takes his hand. “It’s me, Ronny,” she says. “I’m back.”
He looks confused for a minute. He searches the room with his eyes and barely makes eye contact with me. He doesn’t know me, at least not today. Then he sees my mother and his face softens. “Where were you?” he asks. And then, “I missed you.”
I see my mom stroking the back of his head and I have another moment of clarity.
It doesn’t matter what new schedule I devise. It doesn’t matter what fun activity I plan. Operation Save Nity may not save anyone at all.
Because my mom hates to leave my father even when she needs to. She’s afraid to leave his side because she doesn’t know what will happen when she’s gone.  
And when I see his blank stare and his frail body, I understand. Even when I don’t want to.
Leslie Snow may be reached at snow
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