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Leadership group aims to improve government, citizen interaction

Each class of participants in an annual nonprofit community leadership program called Leadership Wilson completes small-group, service projects.

This year, one of those groups is attempting to bridge the gap between citizens and government by making proposals under consideration more comprehensible.

During a Lebanon City Council work session on Thursday, Kevin Carr sat down with officials to discuss a way of implementing his group’s goal. Carr and his partners outlined an objective, to create and provide educational materials informing citizens wishing to participate in the governmental process how they can better prepare.

The group’s end goal is to create a more informed participating citizenry so that their time before local councils and commissions can be focused on relevant contributions.

As a means of delivering this material to the proper citizen base, Carr’s team is exploring the creation of educational brochures. He suggested handing out the prepared content to people who come to meetings. Currently, the city provides printed copies of the agenda before meetings, although much of the context is absent.

That was one element that Carr said he wished to improve for citizens to have a better understanding of the material, outside of the rigid language of proposed resolutions.

Carr also mentioned that his group has considered curating video content that could be shared through social media, as well as the governing bodies’ websites.

Source of confusion

Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell pointed to one inconsistency across the city’s governing bodies that he’s seen create confusion at times.

“The difference between the planning commission and the city council is that at planning commission meetings, each item is allowed to be addressed each time,” Bell said. “At city council meetings, we just have the public comment section at the very beginning.”

Bell said that he’d had citizens come up to him asking when they could speak about a specific item on the council’s agenda, just to learn that the procedure from the planning commission meeting differed from the council’s.

Another layer requiring clarification, as observed by councilor Chris Crowell, is that some citizens have formed misconceptions of official terms like petition.

“Getting something through the proper channels to an official ballot is one thing,” Crowell said. “Getting signatures from your neighbors opposing a development you heard about is different.”

Crowell added that he does not discount input from citizens and welcomes their comments. He even acknowledged that prior to his election to the city council, he was hardly as abreast of rules and procedures as he is now.

The mayor echoed this thought.

“We’re up here all the time,” Crowell said. “Some of the people who step up to speak, it might be their first time before the board, so they may not be as familiar with the procedure.”

Councilor Camille Burdine explained to Carr that often times is the case that something under the planning phase never actually gets built, citing projects’ demise that she saw as the city’s councilor on the planning committee. Each term, a councilor is selected by the city council to serve on the planning commission. Crowell currently holds the seat.

One example that Burdine offered was the step involving the traffic study that new developments must complete.

“Just because we approve something doesn’t mean it definitely gets built,” Burdine said of projects being derailed by a bad traffic study test result.

Sometimes, there are several procedural steps that a proposal must make that could appear as three different projects, so it can be mistaken as multiple projects, when it’s really just one. Bell highlighted annexation as one case in which this misunderstanding arises.

“Annexation has three items that get voted on — request for annexation, rezoning, application of services,” Bell said.

Leadership Wilson

Approximately 30 participants from Wilson County business, education, civic, religious, and government backgrounds receive a comprehensive leadership training opportunity.

Experiential learning, day-long seminars, group discussions, field trips and retreats create a forum to exchange ideas and discuss areas of interest.

Each class presents the opportunity to understand and analyze segments of the county, ranging from health care and social services, to agriculture and business, or in Carr’s group’s case, government.

All hands on deck

Everyone isn’t willing to spend the night with strangers.

However, an area organization has been doing so for several years now.

Now, during a period in which many hope leads to the post-pandemic era, the Lebanon-based organization Compassionate Hands Center for Hope and Renewal feels that it is better equipped to serve the area than ever.

“We are entirely a Wilson County ministry,” Compassionate Hands Executive Director John Grant said. “The last four or five winters, September, October and November were killers for the leadership. We were scrambling. Last fall was incredibly stressful. There was so much uncertainty. This year is very different.

“We are following the same safety protocols from last winter — hand-washing, daily sanitizing. There’s still massive work, but it’s so different this year.”

Compassionate Hands provides a shelter for area individuals who need a place to stay from Dec. 1 through March 15.

“The volunteers are the ministry,” Grant said. “We say that we are a network of churches. Those 45 churches (who contribute to Compassionate Hands) are the ministry. Our program takes (requires) 25 volunteers every night. Our volunteers are the ones who touch the lives. Friendships make a huge difference in people getting into stable housing. It’s the support system. We would not exist without the volunteers every night. It’s incredible the way they serve and the love they show.”

The overnight ministry began several years ago, started by Cross Style Church.

“For 15 years, they fed people every night,” Grant said. “They would feed people, and they would say, ‘Hey, I don’t have anywhere to spend the night.’ So, they started allowing them to spend the night. That became too much very quickly.”

Cross Style reached out to other area churches, and Grant was a part of the staff of Lebanon’s College Hills Church of Christ at the time.

Shortly thereafter, College Hills was among the eight churches allowed the individuals who needed shelter to stay there one night per week, with men staying at one church each night and women staying at a different church. The participating churches would serve in that capacity one night per week.

A five-person leadership team for the organization was formed by the end of the group’s first winter (by March of 2014). Now, it’s led by a six-member board of directors.

Growing up

Compassionate Hands operated exclusively on volunteer efforts until 2018, when Grant was hired as the executive director.

Another individual was hired approximately a year later, and the growth has continued to accelerate, with the staff now consisting of seven individuals.

“This has grown so fast,” Grant said. “God has been so good.”

After Grant was hired, the organization’s long-term goal was to have a facility to operate out of.

However, Compassionate Hands moved into its current home last November, in the building that formerly housed Lebanon’s Kids World Daycare.

“We found this in September,” Grant said. “It hit the market Nov. 1. We had a contract Nov. 5. We were just desperate.

“It was a long-range play to get a facility in year five. It happened due to COVID in year three. God really provided.”

In slightly more than a year’s time, the building — which is located at 214 North College St. in Lebanon — is more than halfway paid for.

“The churches have been so generous,” Grant said.

A year ago, the women stayed at the Glade Church every night, with different churches alternating to handle the supervision on those nights, while the men stayed at the Compassionate Hands facility.

One of the volunteers, Susan Whitehead, became involved when the church that she was attending (Generations of Grace) partnered with Compassionate Hands.

“When we first started it at our church, we started an overnight program,” Whitehead said. “Then, Generations of Grace (church) started doing this. We decided as a church that we would help with the registration process. Since then, my husband (Greg) volunteers on Monday nights, and I will do Wednesday nights. Being retired, we like to give back. The Lord has blessed us, and we like to bless others.”

Another area church — Generation Changers — is among those that have recently connected with Compassionate Hands.

“There was a lady at our church, and we were just looking for things to do in the community,” Jared Harrison, the Lebanon campus pastor of Generation Changers, said. “We contacted them, and they said they need churches to bring meals.

“There’s a difference between having church and being the church. When you can exercise the faith you have, it’s real.”

Generation Changers Ladies Night Out lifegroup leader Tammy McCormick added, “God gives us the ability to do these things. God gives us different challenges in life. When you get over those (challenges), you see other people going through those things. You want to help.”

The real deal

Generation Changers recently served a Wednesday lunch at Compassionate Hands.

“You can tell that Compassionate Hands is working in their lives,” McCormick said. “You can hear it in their voice. If it wasn’t for Compassionate Hands, you couldn’t tell that they have hope that things are going to get better.”

Lebanon native Chuck Bradley has benefited from the services that Compassionate Hands provides.

“I was living in Nashville and came back here, and someone told me about these people,” the 54-year-old Bradley said. “At first, I was skeptical … but they lifted me up. They lived up to what their name is.

“They speak of God a lot. It’s something I have always believed in. It’s not just one person. It’s everyone who comes through that door. It’s not a bunch of bullcrap. It’s love. You have to have a heart to do this kind of stuff.”

Bradley had lunch at Compassionate Hands on the day that Generation Changers served.

“They give a warm hug, a smile and a warm plate of food,” Bradley said. “Every town should have a place like this. It’s an awesome place and awesome people. It’s real.”

Grant hopes that the organization is better equipped to handle this winter’s challenges after having navigated through the pandemic a year ago.

“Now, we know what we’ll do if somebody has COVID,” Grant said. “The staff has been together. There is greater confidence … and also worries. You never know what you are going to get when you have a transient population with problems. There’s always worries … and God has always taken care of those.”

Sleepovers and more

Jan Cahill was a member of the sanitation team last winter who moved to Lebanon in June of 2020 and began volunteering with Compassionate Hands in May.

“They have a good mission,” Cahill said. “As a Christian, I like to do anything I can do to help my community. I love to help them.”

The regular volunteers quickly build relationships with those they serve.

“I talked with this guy (recently), and I said, ‘When you were in here a couple of weeks ago, you said you were struggling. I’ve been praying for you,’ ” Cahill said. “He said, ‘I’ve still been struggling.’

“Sometimes, that’s all you can do is to pray for them.”

Each week, Compassionate Hands serves Monday dinner and Wednesday lunch, and those who stop by for the meals can also shower, receive basic medical care and do laundry while there.

The organization also assists individuals who need to submit applications for a variety of services, assists individuals in getting identification, helps them to get online access and connects them with professional caregivers.

Compassionate Hands also holds workshops pertaining to faith, life-skills and obtaining housing.

“From the beginning, with just the nighttime stuff, a lot of them came in inebriated,” Whitehead said. “That was ok. They needed to get out of the cold. Now, being here on Wednesday for lunch, seeing them not inebriated, it’s been encouraging getting to know them and seeing them in a better light. It’s been nice to do that.

“They come in and see my face. They’ll smile, and I’ll smile at them. It’s nice watching people that they have been able to hire to help out.”

The volunteers indicate that their efforts have been met with gratitude.

“They always seem appreciative,” Cahill said. “Every week, it seems like there’s a different church (providing meals). (Generation Changers) was great.”

Harrison added, “They’ve been thankful. I’d like to get more people here to hang out and talk with folks … to get to know them.”

Grant indicated that individuals who utilized the overnight stays did so an average of 24 nights last year, with some staying all 105 nights last winter. He also indicated that some individuals have stayed overnight at some point every winter that Compassionate Hands has been providing the overnight stays.

Grant is always hoping that those “regulars” find stability and aren’t in need of shelter any longer, but if they are, the ever-expanding Compassionate Hands ministry plans to be there to assist them.

“God has been so good,” Grant said.

Nothing a fresh coat of paint won't fix

Wilson County’s tourism development team, Visit WilCo, set out a few years ago to beautify the area with murals.

When one of those murals was vandalized in October, the Visit WilCo team decided to let the artists remaster their original concept.

On Wednesday, one of the artists, Fiona Hayward, unveiled the completed work before a crowd gathered to see the recreation.

The mural was first pained in 2016, when Hayward was still in high school. She and Eliza Felos developed the idea together and decided on the location, because Felos would often pass the wall while out running along the Cedar City Trail. The mural is located on North Castle Heights Avenue underneath the overpass, by the bocce ball courts at Don Fox Community Park.

Felos now lives in Thailand, but her brother, Cameron Byrne, along with a couple other friends, helped Hayward complete the latest version.

“This is very similar to the original concept,” Hayward said of the remake. “We just tried to bring it back with a little more vibrancy, and a few sea animals sprinkled in there.

“The design is based on what we felt was right at the time. We did this when we were high-schoolers, just out here trying to spruce things up. We kind of kept that same concept going for this one as well.”

One thing has changed, as Hayward pointed out. In the left portion of the mural, a rope swing dangles from a tree, while one silhouette pushes another. The artist explained that in the previous incarnation of the mural, the person in the swing was a young girl.

“Now that girl has grown up, and someone else is swinging in the swing,” Hayward said.

While Hayward wouldn’t give much away, she mentioned that she worked with Lebanon on a few other projects.

“I’m very excited about it, but I can’t say anymore on that for now,” Hayward said.

Paint WilCoWhat started out as an arts initiative with a goal of creating 10 unique mural projects by the end of 2020 continues to grow. The 13th mural was unveiled in September.

Each mural is themed to fit its space. There is an agriculture mural at the Farm Bureau Expo Center, a train mural in Watertown, and a Charlie Daniels mural at the park in Mt. Juliet. Several others are scattered around the downtown area of Lebanon.

County Commissioner Sue Vanatta chairs the tourism development committee and expressed excitement about some new projects on the horizon.

“We now have 13 murals in our project, with 4 or 5 more on the future outlook,” Vanatta said. “Jason (Johnson, the Visit WilCo director of tourism) and his staff are working on a complete brochure. So, you could pick it up and do a tour of all the murals through Wilson County. For our visitors coming in, it’s a great thing.”

Visit WilCo’s second goal in the plan was to boost tourism by creating shareable, interactive photo opportunities for visitors to the county, as well as Wilson County residents. The organization’s web page cites success that other U.S. cities have experienced from public mural art.

When Visit WilCo first began the process, it’s planners felt that mural art has endless possibilities in genre, theme, composition and medium.

Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell echoed the point on variety at Wednesday’s unveiling.

“We have butterflies, a phoenix and now, we have a manatee,” Bell said.

The mural is being presented in part by a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission and matching funds from Visit WilCo.

The organization prefers to source local artists, supplies and sponsorships in the production process in an effort to highlight the artistic resources available in Wilson County.

Hayward is a prime example of that.

“I grew up here,” Hayward said. “So, it’s been an honor to be able to give back to the community and add a little color and fantasy to it.”

Lebanon K9 unit tracks down tossed backpack

Thanks in large part to a Lebanon Police Department K9 unit, two handguns, including one that was reportedly stolen, were recovered earlier this week.

On Tuesday, LPD was called in to assist Tennessee Highway Patrol with a vehicle pursuit. Around 10 a.m. that morning, the pursued vehicle ran through a yard, at which time the occupants exited and fled on foot, according to the department’s public information officer, Lt. P.J. Hardy.

The occupants of the vehicle were apprehended by troopers after a short flight on foot and were taken into custody.

According to Hardy, through the course of the subsequent investigation, law enforcement reached the suspicion that “one of the occupants may have thrown an object out of the vehicle’s window.”

That’s when the LPD’s trusted K9, Eik, came in handy.

Eik conducted a search of the area, described by Hardy as being on Beckwith Road. The search yielded the discovery of a backpack containing the two handguns. One had been reported as stolen from Nashville.

The other guns had a 30-round magazine.

Additional contents of the backpack included items believed to be illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia, as well as a “sizable amount of cash.”

Information provided in the post about the individuals taken into custody was limited. The Democrat was unable to obtain additional information from the Tennessee Highway Patrol as of press time.

Mt. Juliet’s Evie Johnston (left) and Jakoria Woods battle a Summit player for the ball.