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Making a positive impact

Posted on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 1:36 pm

‘Sounds for Hunger’ volunteers work to relieve childhood hunger


Elena Cawley


For the children living at Dossett Homes in Tullahoma, Sundays are special.

On Sundays, Tullahoma’s Paul Mitchell and his friends set up games and fire up the grill, filling the air with happy sounds and tasty aromas.

The fun activities, including kickball, basketball, drawing and face-painting, begin at 2 p.m. Mitchell invites the community to join in showing support and care for the city’s youth.


The beginnings of ‘Sounds for Hunger’

“I have always had a soft spot in my heart for children, for young people that go without,” Mitchell said. “That probably stems from way back, when I was a child and was being taught compassion and empathy.”

Mitchell, now 29, said he was fortunate to grow up in a loving and supportive family.

Volunteer Betty Roepke, 23, of Tullahoma, seated, helps children create handprints. Volunteers with Sounds for Hunger set up games, fun activities and serve lunch at Dossett Homes in Tullahoma every Sunday afternoon.
–Staff Photo by Elena Cawley

“I was blessed because of the love they showed me as a young person,” he said.

As Mitchell was growing up, he noticed that not every child was as lucky as he was, and he wondered if he could help in any way.

“As I started to leave the nest, I noticed there was a culture of people who are extremely positive and energetic,” Mitchell said. “I noticed they had the desire to do good things; but not everybody always knows where to put that energy.”

So he came up with an idea.

“I had the idea that this culture of people having this energy and desire to do good things could potentially end poverty,” Mitchell said. “My mission was to gather those people up and help them remember what it was like to be a child. There is something about the innocence of a child that brings up the good in all of us.”

Working together with friends, Mitchell set up a group called “Sounds for Hunger.” With a passion for music, they wanted to incorporate it in the endeavor.

“We had some T-shirts made,” Mitchell said. “At first, I wanted to combine energy and efforts and to start doing fundraising. I wanted to do that through creating massive fundraising music events similar to Bonnaroo.”

Mitchell started reaching out to people who might be willing to team up with Sounds for Hunger to organize an event.

“I wanted to put up a massive fundraising event to bring the light to impoverished youth,” he said. “I wanted to create an event to raise awareness and funds for the youth. We looked around for different charities to try to put on an event but it didn’t really work out.”

Though a little discouraged, they didn’t give up.


Kickball, basketball, baseball, a grill and 100 hot dogs

“We thought we would do something on our own,” Mitchell said. “So we started going to Dossett Apartments and setting up on Sunday afternoons with kickball, basketball, baseball, a grill and hundreds of hot dogs, with the goal to hang out with the kids.”

Mitchell and friends began going to the public housing complex about a year ago.

“We started going there the second week of August last year,” Mitchell said. “We took a break and went back on Father’s Day in June. We have been going every Sunday since then.”

The group’s intention is to keep growing.

“I hope, by the end of the year, we will be able to apply for the appropriate tax documents to become a fully functioning nonprofit organization, so we can actually do fundraisers,” Mitchell said.

Until then, Mitchell and friends will keep visiting and playing with the children living at Dossett. They invite the community to join them on Sundays to show support for the youth.

“We want to bring awareness to people who are less fortunate, especially children,” Mitchell said.

He said the community has the power to have a positive impact on the youth.

“Spending time with these children, we have learned that anytime any of them are misbehaving, it is because they are not given enough attention,” he said. “We try to do our small part by showing the children that somebody loves them, cares about them, and wants what’s best for them.”

Usually, about 10 volunteers and 30 children gather for the fun activities at Dossett on Sundays.

“The kids are anywhere from 2 years old all the way up through high school,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the children have taught him to be a better person.

“Being out there has been a blessing for me,” he said. “I have learned so much from being out there. You can learn a lot from a kid. They are so innocent. It’s been a really cool thing, not just for the children, but also for us.”

The children come running to meet their new friends every Sunday.

“They come running when they see the van pull up,” Mitchell said. “We take a battery-operated piano, and alternate hot dogs, pizza and hamburgers.”

Kickball has been very popular, said Mitchell.

“Some of them are really into sports,” he said. “We have yellow and red jerseys, and we wear them when we split up into two teams.”

Some of the children really love music, as well.

“There are a couple of them you can’t get away from that keyboard,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes, we do face-painting. We take a big piece of paper and a bunch of crayons for the kids to draw. I would like to organize it better and have stations for the kids, so we can do arts and crafts, and read books.”

The spirit of giving and caring has been contagious.

“Kids try to emulate you,” Mitchell said. “One day, one of the girls – she is 10 – had found a cardboard box full of little jelly packs, like the ones you get at a restaurant. She had about 30 of them in a box, and she was walking around to make sure everybody had a package.”

Caring for the children has made Mitchell more responsible.

“Having these kids look up to you holds you accountable to yourself,” Mitchell said. “It’s exciting to me to be a voice that is encouraging them.”


‘The secret of living is giving’

Mitchell said Anthony Robbins is one of the people inspiring him. Robbins’ words “The secret to living is giving” decorate the back of the shirts Sounds for Hunger volunteers wear.

“Robbins is a motivational speaker,” Mitchell said. “When he was 11, he lived in a government-funded project, much like Dossett. On one Thanksgiving Day, when his family had no food, some folks showed up with a turkey. On that day, Robbins made a decision to be like these folks. He made a decision that, each year, he would do something to feed people.”

Betty Roepke, 23, is one of the volunteers with Sounds for Hunger. On Sunday, she was helping the children create handprints.

“Today, we are doing handprints,” Roepke said. “We will write their names and age underneath their prints. We did that last year, too. Hopefully, we can do that each year.”

Roepke said she goes to Dossett every Sunday.

“It feels good to give back to kids who need it,” Roepke said. “The kids grow on you and become family almost. Usually, they are here waiting for us on Sundays. They are pretty attached. I wish more people would show up to give back.”

Catherine Brennan, 25, also participates every Sunday.

“We are trying to help the kids instill good character,” Brennan said. “We try to help out their parents. Sometimes, we have field days, water balloon fights, face painting.”

And the food served is greatly appreciated, said Brennan.

“A lot of times, that’s the only meal some of the kids get for the day,” Brennan said. “When they are out of school, they don’t have their school food. So on weekends, sometimes, they don’t have food.”

Brennan said volunteers and children have become friends.

“We are all creating relationships and friendships,” she said.

Jim Rock, executive director of Tullahoma Housing Authority, said Sounds for Hunger volunteers coordinate their activities with resident services coordinator Mary Phillips.

“They have to coordinate with her when they are going to be there and what they are going to do,” Rock said.

To learn more, visit the Facebook page Sounds for Hunger.

Elena Cawley may be reached by email at tngenrep@lcs.net.

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