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Wednesday, 09 November 2011 21:08

Smart phone volunteers lead us into the future

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One of the drawbacks perks of my job is the amazing number of meetings I’m forced fortunate enough to attend.

For instance, earlier today (a Sunday) I spent several hours in Franklin at a Tourism Development Authority retreat. The nice people on that board fed me Bojangle’s fried chicken and politely put up with my drilling down for details on their various tourism projects, funding and so on. The retreat lasted for more than three hours.

I am paid to attend these meetings. I assume the two Town of Franklin employees who sat in were reimbursed for spending their Sunday afternoons there, too. It’s part of our jobs; I worked a Sunday instead of a Friday, no big deal. They probably did something similar.

But not the seven board members — they are volunteers, and attended the retreat after putting in full workweeks of their own at their respective businesses. Hence, I suppose, the very odd day of the week chosen for this gathering.

Frequent readers of this column probably know I’m not given much to general cheerleading. And I’ve certainly never been accused of being a Pollyanna. Though I’m not prepared to render a verdict on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this particular board (this being my first opportunity to watch them in action), what did strike me as I endured enjoyed the retreat is just how fortunate we are to have volunteers such as these.

“We” being those who live in these mountain communities. And who subsequently benefit from this wealth of time and resources given by our neighbors. Countless groups, countless volunteers, countless volunteer hours — what would we do, what would we have in the form of communities, without them?

Matt Bateman is a new member to Franklin’s TDA. This was, I think, his second meeting. Matt admitted to missing the opportunity to watch NFL football on this Sunday afternoon, but said that he had decided to serve on the TDA for a simple reason: “I wanted to know, ‘How is Franklin being positioned as far as tourism goes?’” In other words, instead of standing apart and criticizing the board’s action, Matt asked that he be placed on the TDA board as a member.

I counted, and Matt asked the other board members exactly one-million-and-one questions. He would have made a dandy journalist. And in a sense, that’s something of what Matt’s doing within the vast capabilities of new media. He’s the developer of “playandstayinthesmokies.com,” a website-based business headquartered in Macon County.

Ron Winecoff is also a member of the TDA.

“I’m interested in the future of Franklin – I try to be progressive. But, sometimes Franklin won’t let me,” Ron said when I quizzed him on his volunteering bent. I’ve known Ron, in passing, for decades. He’s served on a variety of boards that I, in turn, have covered for a variety of newspapers.

I wasn’t sure if Ron was joking or not about being hindered in his progressive agenda. But I knew he wasn’t joking when he talked about young professionals such as Matt, at 30, as representing “the hope” of the community.

Winecoff described himself and the other, older-than-Matt volunteers as “pay phone people in a smart phone world” — we need these younger folks to take a seat at the table, he said. I agree. Fifteen years older than Matt, and I, too, feel like a “pay phone” person in a smart phone world. (Though I do have a smart phone of my own — I’m convinced that it is, indeed, considerably smarter than me.)  

Beverly Mason is another perennial volunteer in Macon County. The acronyms for the groups she’s served on roll off her tongue like an odd poetry: TDA, TDC, EDC. Plus, the county planning board, the board of realtors, a bank board, two terms on the chamber of commerce board.

“The community is good to me. I love the community, I love these mountains,” said Beverly, a Buchanan by birth from Sylva.

Like Ron, Beverly is thrilled to see a younger generation in Macon County, the next wave, coming to take their places at gatherings such as the one Sunday. The volunteering, do-good spirit that has sustained this community, that has built and given meaning to all of our communities, lives on. And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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