CLEVELAND, BRADLEY COUNTY (WRCB) - There are two things to keep in mind as you get to know Connie Wright...she's not shy, "Oh, shy is not the word! I'll never be shy," she said. "Humble, but I don't know shy!" The other is that she prays, a lot. It is those two traits that have helped her help people in need.
Last spring was one to be remembered in infamy. On April 27th, storms and tornados battered the Tennessee Valley. In Bradley County, Connie and her husband made it through, but news reports told them their neighbors were hurting. "I stayed up all night long just listening to that and praying," she said, "just for the workers and for the people that were in the middle of the devastation."
Connie is a United Methodist, a semi-retired Christian educator of 30 years and has seen heartache before. After a few days, it was time to act. She knew what to do. Touring the town, she saw a lady burning remnants of her battered home and belongings. "I got out and I went over," remembered Connie," and I started talking to the lady and I said, 'What can I do for you?' And the answer was so beautiful, and this is what I heard from so many people, 'Oh, we're okay. We're gonna be okay.' And there's a point where you have to say to these people, 'No, you're not. You're not gonna be okay. You need help.'"
Laverne Lee was that lady. Her house had taken a hit. Her neighbor's houses were gone and in the next lot over, an infant lost its life. Help, Connie did. "The big thing was, she got people here to help," Laverne said. "And she was here for support, talked to us, prayed for us. She's wonderful with the kids. She my son to talk. He wouldn't talk to anybody!"
What remained had to be demolished, so over the next 4 months, she organized nearly 200 volunteers to get the job done. The Lees are back on their property. They call Connie their angel. "I don't know how she knew to come here," explained Laverne's husband Robert. "We didn't know where to begin to look. We had one family come over to help the day of it and everything and, next thing you know, she's here and everything's turned around."
Connie answered phones, got donors together with the needy and aided survivors at the distribution center. She remembers one woman, in particular. "Within the first week after the tornados had struck," Connie said, "we're waking around and I was helping her choose things that she needed just to exist, for she had lost everything. And she was so selfless, herself. She didn't want to take much. Other people in the community were going to need these things. But, when she began to tell me about her children and her daughter and her little girl; and her little girl had lost her doll house. So, I went and put on Facebook, 'Does anybody have a doll house that they could spare?' And within 24 hours, I had a new doll house for this little girl!"
"That's who Connie is," said Lisa Mantooth. "She goes above and beyond. Nobody asked her to find a doll house for one young lady and a train set for another. No one asked her to buy new bedding for a young lady who had lost everything. Things like that are things that everybody may not think about, may not think that that's a part of the healing process, but Connie identified that."
Lisa works with Connie in the Long Term Recovery Organization and nominated her for the Jefferson Award. "She is just on fire," Lisa added. "She doesn't stop. She has the energy of a 10 year old. She has the resources, if she doesn't have the resources, she prays about it and she finds the resources. She is just an amazing person."
And Connie takes no credit. In the time we spent with her, she praised the efforts of no less than her family, Bradley County EMA, WCLE Radio, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Facebook and hundreds of volunteers from at least 10 different states! "That's exactly what I expected out of her," Lisa said, "because, it's not about her. And those are the types of people that I think should deserve to be recognized for what they do."
Connie says she is humble, she is honored and she is proud to represent the work of all of the volunteers. "I've been trying to think of how many families I have actually walked up to and knocked on their door or gone into their front yard or offered to help," she said. "And you feel a little braggadocious because you're like, 'Oh, yeah! I've helped about a hundred families!' But, at the same point, that's what we're called to do."