By Richard Rourk
UC FRST, which stands for Unicoi County’s First Responders Support Team, was created following a recent community sponsored event.
“I was inspired by the first responders meet-and-greet event we had in Erwin recently,” UC FRST President Laura Elliott said. “The amazing efforts put forth by the volunteers and businesses was an inspiration. The support and donations were more than we could have asked for. Instead of feeling tired after the event, I felt motivated. I wanted to do more. We shouldn’t celebrate the bravery and sacrifices of these men and women only once a year. We should honor them throughout the year.”
It was after she had time to reflect on the success of the event that Elliott and crew began brainstorming.
“Once I saw the pictures from the event, that sealed the deal,” Elliott said. “Smiling faces were everywhere. Families together, children playing and dressed up like heroes, first responders enjoying a peaceful evening, people conversing and laughing with one another. My husband knew I wasn’t done. He mentioned cooking and serving holiday meals to the first responders on duty during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I immediately called a few of the volunteers who I’ve grown close with and asked if they want to do more. Immediately they said yes. We put our heads together and came up with the name UC FRST.”
According to Elliott, it did not take much convincing to get members of the community to join the cause.
“Our founding members are myself, Sara Tallman (treasurer), Hollie Michelsen (secretary), Linda Carrillo (coordinator), John Banner Sr., Margaret Banner, Randy Higgins, J.J. Williams, Michael Tallman, and Charles Day,” Elliott said. “UC FRST is just a group of local citizens who want to do all we can for our local first responders with the help of our community. Whether it be a small gesture or a larger event. Our main goal, besides honoring our first responders, is to involve the citizens of our county in these events and projects. There are so many things we overlook in this fast-paced world. Supporting our first responders shouldn’t be one of those things. So we created a Facebook page called UC FRST and began brainstorming ideas on how to connect the community to projects supporting first responders.”
For Michelsen, the group hopes to spread community awareness and fellowship while honoring those that serve as first responders.
“We want to make a concerted effort to create a continuously positive community enforced message acknowledging the service and bravery of our community first responders,” Michelsen said. “We understand the importance in recognizing those men and women who work and volunteer around the clock to ensure public safety where we live. This is an environment where we hope to foster this much-deserved recognition every day and not limited to selected days of the year. We hope to lead by example and through educational opportunities the ways and means to continue this showing of respect and appreciation from a community approach.”
Michelsen explained that this organization is focused on honoring first responders but also serves as community outreach.
“Many of us who have family members that are first responders have somehow not had the chance to meet or get to know one another,” Michelsen said. “We are now being introduced to one another, bridging connections and sharing commonalities. This effort also connects business and city leaders with the first responder community and we are meeting new leaders daily that have been more than grateful to show support and contribute generously to events. It also is inclusive to our citizens who do not have family members as first responders and allows them that important opportunity to connect and support our first responders in their own way.”
The group wasted no time in planning events.
“Our first small project was a top notch contest,” Elliott said. “We hoped not only could we have citizens show their love for these men and women, but also to spread the word of our newly-founded group. We rewarded the top three winners with gift cards to Bojangles. We also took Dunkin Donuts to the Erwin Police Department, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office, and Unicoi Police Department to say thanks and have a wonderful day. We were greeted with smiles. We plan on taking tacos to the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department on Monday evening, Aug. 24, and doing Taco Tuesday for Erwin Fire Department and SouthSide Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday, Aug. 25. We are planning something later on for Unicoi County EMS.”
According to Elliott, in order to be successful the organization depends on everyone’s help.
“We need volunteers, donations (items/monetary), assistance and support,” Elliott said. “… We have many plans, such as setting up hydration/resting stations for search and rescue missions, annual first responders dinner, holiday meals, stocking break rooms with snacks and drinks. We have also begun talking with departments about educational projects to involve children, teens, adults too. We hope to host events that will give the opportunity for the community and first responders to gather together and get to know one another. I am a mother of three, and I want my children to grow up knowing the importance of their job and respecting what they do for us.”
For Elliott the need to serve those that serve is important.
“I believe it is important for our first responders to know the people they are protecting appreciate their efforts,” Elliott said. “I think going into a job feeling appreciated boosts the morale of those who bear the weight of stress many of us couldn’t imagine. But it is also crucial that our community becomes involved as well. Not necessarily here, but in other parts of the world respect and compassion is becoming less and less. Our youth should interact in a positive way with these heroes and grow to respect what they put on the line for us. One day the youth will be the leaders, and we need first responders then, now, and in the future.”
The UC FRST bake sale is scheduled for Saturday Aug. 29, in Liberty Lumber’s parking lot, from 1-5 p.m. or until all baked goods are gone.
“We are asking anyone who wants to help to donate home baked goods for the sale,” Elliott said. “The UC FRST bake sale is open to the community. Our sale will be based on citizens donating what they want and taking any baked goods they like. We hope everyone will stop by. Any child who stops by wearing a shirt in support of our first responders will receive a free cookie.”
For more information about the bake sale or how to donate or join the organization, please follow UC FRST on Facebook at facebook.com/ucfrst.