Have you ever had to worry about where your next meal would come from or where you would sleep? Most of us take these things for granted, but there are hundreds of people in our own communities facing those issues every day.
Blountville resident Katy Keen, mother of three, found herself broke and homeless eight years ago. Her former husband was a drug addict who used their income to support his habit.
“I had to borrow money just to buy diapers,” Katy said. “I didn’t want anyone to know; I was embarrassed.”
Fortunately for Katy, her situation only lasted several months, and inspired her to take action to help other people who have fallen on hard times. In 2016, Katy founded Seasons of Hope.
A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Seasons of Hope helps families who are in difficult financial situations. Located in Johnson City, Katy and her staff of eight volunteers have an office and storage space donated by The Summit Leadership Foundation.
Providing both financial and emotional assistance, Seasons of Hope helps those who don’t meet the standard guidelines for assistance through other agencies. One such group consists of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
“The grandparents I help are on disability or on a very limited income,” Katy said. “They can barely pay their own bills, much less have enough to raise a child.” Jonesboro resident Sonya Tipton has been a grateful recipient of support from Seasons of Hope. Sonya is raising her two grandchildren, a 5-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl. Through the Secret Santa program, her grandchildren were able to receive gifts at a Christmas party with Santa, as well as a live Christmas tree.
“If it wasn’t for (Seasons of Hope), these kids wouldn’t have had a Christmas. They are fantastic people and I tell everybody about what they have done for us,” Sonya said.
The organization provides aid through several different avenues. The Malachi’s Bundles of Hope program allows families to receive free diapers once every other month, or more often if they become a volunteer. There are no income guidelines and anyone is eligible. The Secret Santa program, which Katy actually started in 2011, provides gifts for children and their families, as well as a party with Santa. Katy asks each family what their Christmas wish is, and does her best to fulfill it. To begin the school year, Operation School Bus provides school supplies and clothing. The Birthday Project is a year-round opportunity to give needy children a birthday bag which includes a special gift and everything needed for a party such as a cake mix, frosting, plates, etc.
Not limited to these specific programs, Katy said she also tries to help people in other situations as well. Katy shared the heartwarming story of Church Hill resident Jess Hill. Jess had applied for the Secret Santa program for her son and, in the process, Katy discovered Jess’ desire for a traditional wedding to her fiancé. Jess had taken a leave of absence from her job to be with her fiancé, Ronnie Hill, who was seriously ill and battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Through the efforts of the staff of Seasons of Hope, along with several local wedding vendors who donated their services, the Hills had a beautiful wedding this past November, complete with bridal gown, flowers and decorations. Sadly, Ronnie passed away on Christmas Eve. But the memory of their beautiful wedding day was made possible because of the kindness of Katy and Seasons of Hope.
“The staff members at Seasons of Hope are like angels on earth, and very special to my heart,” Jess said. “They gave me a storybook wedding. Then they even helped to raise the money for Ronnie’s funeral expenses. I can’t thank them enough,” she explained.
Seasons of Hope has helped over 700 families since its first Secret Santa project in 2011. However, Katy said she hopes to expand their capabilities to help many more people. Her goal is to set up a fund to help families with utility bills, rent, gas, etc.
As of now, they have very little financial backing and no sponsors. In fact, Katy started the organization using a small inheritance that she had received. She is seeking sponsors and volunteers to donate money, birthday bags, diapers, gift cards for clothing and gas cards.
“We need sponsors: individuals, churches or businesses. We would appreciate all of the help we can get!”said Katy. A fundraiser for the organization will be held on March 10 at the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Johnson City. The event will be a Mother/Son and Father/Daughter Dance. Details about the event can be found on the organization's website (listed below).
To make a donation or to learn more about how you can receive assistance from Seasons of Hope, call Katy at (423) 724-7398 or email [email protected] Or visit the website at www.seasonsofhopetn.com.