As you may be aware, recent wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have devastated the park lands and surrounding areas, including Sevier County, Tennessee, home to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and the Dollywood Theme Park. However, recovery efforts are underway, the area is still open for business with much to see and do, and Dolly Parton and friends are ready to raise funds for the “My People Fund” which will help support the families who have been affected by this tragedy.
Yes, much has been lost, including homes, businesses, and most devastating of all, lives. However, people in this region and beyond have come together to help one another, offer comfort, and to get busy in the recovery efforts that have already been strong and are ongoing.
The community, state, and many around the nation have rallied around this beautiful place, and assistance has been pouring in, in the form of volunteers, donations of food and goods, and money. In fact, the Red Cross received so many donations of food and goods so quickly that they had to “ask for a pause” in accepting them due to an inability to store and distribute it all. This does not mean that the community is not accepting donations at this point – they are. Monetary donations are always acceptable, of course, and there are many organizations who are working diligently to sort, store, and distribute everything that is still being donated.
The needs are great, as over 1,000 shelters/homes/buildings have been destroyed. If you have donations, monetary or otherwise, please search online for opportunities and places to deliver them, such as the Dollywood Foundation’s My People Fund (read on for more info), local churches, civic, and community organizations, as well as local volunteer fire departments, which have donated so many of their own resources to the effort. All donations will be gratefully received.
This is a community that is faithful, full of hope, and no stranger to kindness and neighbors reaching out to help neighbors. Is it any wonder that Tennessee is known as “The Volunteer State”?
This region is also home to one of America’s most beloved celebrities, Dolly Parton. Immediately upon hearing about this disaster, she announced the creation of the Dollywood Foundation My People Fund, established by Parton herself, The Dollywood Company, Parton’s dinner theaters and The Dollywood Foundation. The purpose of this fund is to provide $1000 each month to Sevier County families whose homes are uninhabitable or were completely destroyed in the recent Smoky Mountain wildfires. In less than 36 hours, the fund raised more than $1 million, but the need is much greater.
When asked about her personal sense of responsibility to act during this time in a video interview, Dolly Parton said,
“Well, it’s my personal responsibility because I’m in a position to help. I think any time that you’re in a position to help you should, and these are my people, this is my home, and this is where I make a living. Dollywood has been so good to me, so I’m not one of those kind of artists that just thinks its all about gettin’, I want to give back. And we always try to do that through the Dollywood Foundation. And so this, when this came up with these wildfires…we ran to really get a chance to try to help everybody that we could. But it is my personal responsibility because it’s home, it’s family.”
Any family who lost their primary residence (renters and homeowners) due to the wildfires in Sevier County will be eligible. A pre-application for those affected is available at dollywoodfoundation.org. Completion of the pre-application is not required but is encouraged to expedite the distribution process.
The first funds will be distributed Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 19-20 from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the CARE MORE Assistance Center at the LeConte Events Center in Pigeon Forge. One check per household per month will be issued. All recipients must show a photo I.D. Families can receive aid for up to six months. Anyone needing assistance in the application process should call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.
“We are proud to assist Dolly in the creation of the My People Fund,” said Craig Ross, President of The Dollywood Company. “We hope this serves as the first step to rebuilding for the families of the Sevier County community. We send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to everyone affected.”
In addition, Dolly Parton announced that she will be hosting the Smoky Mountains Rise telethon tonight, December 13th.
Nearly $500,000 of donations already have been committed before the Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund telethon has even started. The telethon, which will be broadcast on GAC, AXS-TV, RFD and The Heartland Network tonight at 8 p.m. (EST), already has received pledges from Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and both the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and the Country Music Association (CMA).
The ACM donated $100,000 to the fund, with Taylor Swift matching the amount, while the CMA donated $125,000 accompanied by a matching donation by East Tennessean Kenny Chesney. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam will make a special appearance during the telethon, which has grown to include a star-studded lineup of performers and phone bank operators. All of the celebrities are donating their time to help the effort.
“The donations that are already coming in are so special to me,” Dolly Parton explained.
“It means there are a lot of people behind us and ready to help us. There is still so much need to support the people of the Smoky Mountains, but thanks to Taylor and Kenny and both the ACM and CMA for gettin’ us started with such huge donations.”
While the telethon is off to a good start, the need for funds is much greater. More than 1300 families have been displaced due to the wildfires which spread across Parton’s home area of Sevier County, Tennessee in late November. The entertainment icon established the Dollywood Foundation My People Fund to provide $1000 each month for six months to every family who lost their primary residence. Currently, the monthly pledge is in excess of $1.3 million each month.
Artists donating their performances to the effort include: Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr., Chris Stapleton, Reba McEntire, Alison Krauss, Michael W. Smith, Chris Janson, Big & Rich, LOCASH, Chris Young, Montgomery Gentry, Jamey Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Don McLean, Amy Grant, Alabama, Aaron Lewis and Rhonda Vincent.
Although Dolly will be hosting the overall telethon, friends HLN’s Robin Meade, GAC’s Suzanne Alexander and Nan Kelly, The Bobby Bones Show’s Bobby Bones, SiriusXM’s Storme Warren, Crook & Chase hosts Lorriane Crook and Charlie Chase, Nash Night LIVE’s Shaun Parr and Elaina D. Smith, and TuneIn Country Roads’ Kelly Sutton will share hosting duties throughout the three-hour broadcast.
Celebrities donating their time to answer phones include: Paula Deen and her sons Bobby and Jamie, Chrisley Knows Best cast members Todd, Julie and Savannah, Moonshiners’ cast members Mark and Digger, Nashville’s Charles Esten, cast members of Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors, country hit-makers Chris & Mogane Stapleton, Terri Clark, Mark Wills, Lee Greenwood, Larry Gatlin, TG Sheppard, John Conlee, Ronnie McDowell, Kristian Bush, Tim Rushlow, T. Graham Brown, Dolly’s nieces Rebecca Seaver and Danielle Parton, bluegrass hitmakers Lorraine Jordan and Darrin Vincent, comedian Henry Cho, KC of KC & The Sunshine Band, hot new country artists Brett Young, Cassadee Pope, RaeLynn, Danielle Bradbury, Lucas Hoge, Denny Strickland, songwriter Becky Hobbs, and members of the Tennessee Titans.
Several other celebrities are sharing special video messages during the telethon including: Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Larry King, Steve Harvey, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, and Today Show’s Willie Geist.
Smoky Mountains Rise also will be simulcast across multiple radio chains, including iHeart Media’s digital and select on-air platforms, Cumulus Media’s NASH Nights LIVE, TuneIn’s Country Roads channel, RURAL Radio on SiriusXM plus cross-promotion on The Highway, Prime Country, Y2Kountry and The Garth Channel, CBS Radio, ABC Radio Networks, and several other platforms which are set to be announced shortly. All of the artists are donating their performances to help the effort. USAToday.com and USA Today National Networks will live stream the telethon on their affiliate newspaper websites, including all Tennessee newspaper sites Tennessean.com, Knoxnews.com, commercialappeal.com, jacksonsun.com, theleafchronicle.com, dnj.com, and others.
During the telethon, viewers will be asked to call 1-866-CARE MORE to donate to the My People Fund.
Anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the My People Fund may visit dollywoodfoundation.org. For those wishing to send donations via mail, those contributions should be sent to: My People Fund, c/o Dollywood Foundation, 111 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.
Please help the Dollywood Foundation share the word about this effort by using the hashtags #MyPeopleFund and #someplacespecial.
Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville are open to the public now, and the good folks there are so happy to have everyone coming back to visit now during the holidays and in the future. Rebuilding is already beginning, and those involved in the recovery efforts are promising it will be even more wonderful than it was before. In the meantime, there are still plenty of amazing things to see and do during the holidays (see my post on TravelingMom.com by clicking this link) and beyond! and I just know that the Smokies will rise out of the ashes to be even more beautiful, more glorious, than it ever was!
(Stations needing broadcast coordinates for the telethon should contact Jeremy Westby by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone ((615)-496-4954).)