- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Dec. 13

The Knoxville News Sentinel on Dolly Parton:

Dolly Parton’s announcement that her foundation would help support every family displaced by the Gatlinburg wildfire is inspirational.

The Dollywood Foundation will donate $1,000 a month for six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires, the organization announced Wednesday night.

“As you may know by now, there have been terrible wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains, the same mountains where I grew up and where my people call home,” Dolly Parton wrote in a statement.

“I have always believed that charity begins at home, and my home is someplace special. That’s why I’ve asked my Dollywood companies … to help me establish the ‘My People Fund.’ “

While damage still is being assessed, several hundred families currently are without homes - lost to multiple wildfires that ravaged portions of Gatlinburg and Sevier County. At least 10 people died in the inferno, and dozens have been treated for injuries.

Estimates place the number of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed at more than 700 so far - about 300 inside the Gatlinburg city limits and another 400 in neighboring Pigeon Forge and unincorporated communities such as Wears Valley and Cobbly Nob.

“We wanted to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires,” Parton said. “I know it has been a trying time for my people, and this assistance will help them get back on their feet.”

The Dollywood Foundation is accepting donations to contribute to the fund. The foundation is not the only organization providing direct financial assistance to displaced families. The Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation has established the Gatlinburg Relief Fund, which is being managed by East Tennessee-based SmartBank. SmartBank has multiple branches in Sevier County.

The state of Tennessee has deployed mobile job centers to help workers who were burned out of their jobs file unemployment claims.

The response to the plight of the displaced families has brought out the best in East Tennesseans.

The American Red Cross, the nation’s preeminent disaster relief organization, has been overwhelmed by material donations.

Scripps Networks Interactive is making a $100,000 donation to help with relief efforts and is matching employee donations of up to $2,500. Kroger, U.S. Cellular, Publix, Food City and other corporations are pitching in as well.

The News Sentinel and WBIR-TV, Channel 10, are supporting the sale of “Smokies Strong” T-shirts, with the proceeds going to the American Red Cross. Other businesses are offering discounts and other incentives to those who donate.

Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless is working with the American Red Cross to coordinate with nonprofits and government agencies to provide immediate services.

At the same time, East Tennesseans are tending to the chronic needs of their neighbors as Christmas approaches. The United Way of Greater Knoxville, the News Sentinel’s Empty Stocking Fund and other local charities are raising funds to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and ease suffering in the region.

Dolly Parton might be the most famous person giving back to the region in a time of need, but we are blessed to live in an area filled with such angels.

Online:

https://www.knoxnews.com/

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Dec. 11

The Johnson City Press on Congress and the 21st Century Cures Act:

The so-called “do nothing” Congress has done something very special before taking its end-of-the-year holiday break. Both the House and Senate approved the far-reaching 21st Century Cures Act, which includes key funding for Alzheimer’s research, mental health treatment and to battle the scourge of opioid addiction.

Tennessee’s own Lamar Alexander was the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. The legislation received strong bipartisan support, including from the White House where President Barack Obama has promised to sign the measure into law.

“It’s pretty rare that we have legislation that the president of the United States says is an opportunity we just can’t miss,” Alexander told his colleges before the Senate’s vote on the bill last week.

The 1,000-page legislation is not perfect. Opponents to its passage pointed to sections of the bill that they argued would give big pharmaceutical companies an even larger voice in drug pricing and regulatory matters.

Even so, what the bill promises to accomplish in dealing with substance abuse and Alzheimer’s research far outweighs its possible pitfalls.

One example of that is the near $1 billion dollars in federal grants that will be going to states like Tennessee, which is ranked second in the nation for prescription drug abuse, to treat opioid addiction.

Opioid drug abuse is not just a law enforcement issue or public health problem. It is also an economic problem that robs employers of a sober and reliable workforce. Prescription drug addiction costs Tennesseans millions of dollars annually in inflated health care bills and crowded emergency rooms.

Online:

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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Dec. 10

The Cleveland Daily Banner on supporting those affected by deadly wildfires:

In the wake of heartbreaking disasters that brought a handful of East Tennessee communities to their knees within the same week, it is refreshing - just as it is unsurprising - how so many have come to their aid.

While Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville struggled to make sense of the merciless wildfires that took 14 lives and destroyed or damaged 1,700 structures, the unsuspecting residents of Polk and McMinn counties struggled through catastrophes of their own in the form of EF-3 and EF-2 tornadoes.

Two died in Polk County, one a firefighter and the other his wife. The Ocoee community also lost its post office and a firehall, as well as residential structures. In Athens, the destruction was just as terrifying with multiple businesses and residences leveled or badly damaged.

Although local damage was not nearly as severe, Bradley County did not come away unscathed, especially in parts of the Candies Creek community where a church was damaged, as were other buildings, and a home was reportedly destroyed.

Yet, from the ruins left behind by the twisters and from the ashes of the wind-driven wildfires hope has emerged. Such hope has come in the form of people … people with big hearts who believe compassion is more than just a word; it is a way of life whose fabric defines the human spirit.

Frankly, the response has been overwhelming. Locally, United Way of the Ocoee Region has committed to financial support for those impacted by the tornado in Polk County; and just Friday and Saturday night a group of Polk businesses, organizations, musical groups and individuals sponsored a fundraiser whose proceeds will go toward the recovery of the storm’s victims.

Certainly, other groups are weighing in on the Polk and McMinn disasters. Some are providing monetary donations, some are offering services and products; many are providing strong backs and limitless manpower.

At last Monday’s gathering of the Bradley County Commission, county father Tom Crye pointed to the courage of a group of Walker Valley High School students who were bused to Polk County to help with storm recovery. Others may very well have followed suit.

Listing a few of those who have responded, and who are responding, is shortsighted; we understand that. Obviously, our list is not complete nor will it ever be. But it’s importance is this: It points to the strength of the human spirit and to the willingness of so many to reach out when the need for outreach is so critical.

Another way of saying it is this: When people hurt, others will be there to console. When need is great, response will be greater.

Support for the Sevier County wildfire victims has been just as strong - not to mention the timely dispatch of emergency responders from neighboring communities; and in our case, the Cleveland Fire Department, Bradley County Fire-Rescue and Cleveland Utilities, each of whom sent crews to battle the devastating blazes and to help restore lost power.

Two ongoing campaigns to assist wildfire victims - both of which are gaining momentum - are targeted toward making a difference.

One is a GoFundMe drive to assist East Tennessee city workers whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed in the Sevier County wildfires. It is being made possible by the Tennessee Municipal League Risk Management Pool (most commonly known as “The Pool”), the Tennessee City Management Association, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and the Tennessee Professional Firefighters Association.

The Pool’s membership is comprised of 500 municipalities and public entities across Tennessee that employ more than 36,000 staff members.

“Our co-workers across the state, along with friends and family members, have expressed a heartfelt desire to help their fellow employees in East Tennessee,” according to Dawn Crawford, president and CEO of The Pool. “These public servants work tirelessly for their communities, and some of them have lost almost everything but the clothes they had on. Let us remember those who make our lives easier and better through the services they provide.”

Another campaign is by First Tennessee Bank which maintains an operation in Cleveland. Last Monday, First Tennessee launched a campaign in partnership with the nonprofit Operation Hope to assist wildfire victims in East Tennessee. On-site in Sevier County, First Tennessee and HOPE Coalition America are providing services like financial counseling, small business recovery, assistance in obtaining destroyed documents and insurance claims, and home inspection and repair contracts.

First Tennessee branches across the state are accepting public donations to support East Tennessee relief efforts of the American Red Cross, and the First Tennessee Foundation is pledging to match contributions up to $50,000.

The bank is also offering other relief services to wildfire victims, as well as to its own employees who were affected by the blazes.

Again, this is merely a sampling of the types of services being made available to the victims of wildfires in Sevier County, and to the families impacted by the tornado outbreak in our region of Southeast Tennessee.

The Volunteer State - as with so many other regions across America - enjoys a reputation for standing tall in the face of adversity.

We would expect nothing less - and we are seeing nothing less - in the horrifying aftermath of the wildfires and tornadoes whose one-two punch leveled an unsuspecting East Tennessee, but the battle is far from over.

In the end, Tennesseans will fight the good fight, and the residents - as well as the victims - of the devastation facing Sevier, McMinn, Polk, Meigs, Marion and Bradley counties, as well as all others, will prevail.

It won’t be an easy fight.

It won’t be a short fight.

It won’t always be a predictable fight.

But it is a fight whose end will come.

Gatlinburg will rise to her feet, as will “The Friendly City” of Athens, the rural hamlet of Ocoee and all who were affected here in our own Cleveland and Bradley County hometown.

Disaster is a part of life. And sometimes it takes life.

But it doesn’t win, not when confronted by the goodwill, and the courage, of a people who come together.

We find ourselves again reminded of this thought: “Humans are at their best when times are at their worst.”

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