Celebrating independence

‘The Gate’ fundraiser offers sweet treats, community awareness

The individuals gathered at the Maryville High School cafeteria March 7 were there to celebrate independence and a program that helps make their independence grow.

The Gateway to Independence held their Sixth Annual Dessert and Silent Auction fundraiser and Christy Walsh, executive director, shared the themes for the event and the organization.

“Service. Service to the community, service to the people of Blount County and service, especially, to the participants and the students at Gateway to Independence,” Walsh said.

Chartered in 2003, the Gateway to Independence was formed in Maryville five years ago as a place for young adults with significant disabilities to gather, to socialize and to work on vocational skills and to “foster a sense of independence.”

Started by Maryville specialized teachers, Jo Bennet and Liz Crawford and parents Shirley and Frank Hogsed, The Gateway To Independence was a vision produced by a community need. “This is the only minority group that anyone can become a part of,” Walsh said.

The executive director said there has been no place like it in the Blount County community.

Each year the event is held at the Maryville High School Commons Area. This year’s fundraiser included some well-known individuals. Chair of this fundraiser, Kay Overbey, is also the vice president of The Gateway. David Leaverton, Sen. Bob Corker’s field director and 1998 University of Tennessee Vols team captain and starting punter was the keynote speaker. Master fund raiser and Maryville High School educator, Roger Murphy, was the master of ceremonies.

Edward Harper and the Pistol Creek Catch of the Day and The Gatecrashers - participants of Gateway, provided the music.

The Gatecrashers didn’t have to crash the party -- it was in their honor and to help raise funds for an organization near and dear to the hearts of all who came to the Dessert and Silent Auction fundraiser for Gateway to Independence.

Everyone was already having a great time when the Gatecrashers took the stage at Maryville High School Commons. When Amber Harris began to sing, “Catch a Falling Star,” however, she brought the house down.

Boasting a few hundred in attendance, the Sixth Annual Dessert and Silent Auction drew many from all segments of Blount County, including those with a “sweet tooth” or individuals with a penchant for auctions.

Walsh said this is the most successful fundraising event held by The Gateway, and it will be held again next year at the Maryville High School Commons Area, as it continues to grow with the needs of the Blount County Community.

The Gateway To Independence program is held at the Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church. Members meet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day except Wednesdays at the church located at 1830 Clydesdale St., just off West Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville.

With eligibility ages between 22-30 years of age, although the program won’t turn away any involved in the program after 30 years of age, The Gateway is a place for people who cannot live or work independently to come together to make friends.

“We bowl, have pizza and birthday parties, do arts and crafts and participate in Special Olympics,” Walsh said.

With a minimal fee to join and, being a 501C3 non-profit organization, The Gateway depends on community support, donations and grants as well as the work of volunteers from all walks of life.

The program also incorporates special local volunteers such as Maryville High School students as well as Bonner Scholars from Maryville College. “The students have totally changed the dynamics of the program,” said Walsh, a former New York director of Special Education. She has been the executive director of Gateway since April of 2008.

Upcoming fundraising events include the second Annual “Ride for the Gate” at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson on May 23, as well as the third Annual Golf Tournament coming up in June.

Board of directors at The Gate include: Julie Small, president; Kay Overbey, vice president; Cynthia Martin, secretary; Tom Morgan, treasurer; Dawn Borden; John Evans; Erik Garkovich; Donna Hooker; Karen McCoig; Dr. Jerry Morton; Brian Tuggle and honorary board member Russell Hogsed.

Staff at The Gate in addition to Walsh include Trudy White, program director and program assistants Michael Ginsburg, Shirley Lovin and LaTonya Yost.

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