CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — One day last week, I was determined to find, and report some good news.
I had heard of an inner-city program that keeps boys busy during the summer by teaching them to work with their hands. When I arrived to do the story, I learned there had been a miscommunication, and the kids were on a field trip out of town.
I told my news photographer to hang on: I had a Plan B. A nearby middle school was holding a summer learning camp, mixing classroom time with hands-on activities like painting lockers. I contacted the school and was told, “Not today. Our computers are down, and the paint hasn’t been delivered yet. We’re just watching movies.”
I thought to myself, “Gee, there’s no good news, even when I go out looking for it!”
God must have been reading my mind, or tapping into some Russian spy-cam hidden in my dashboard. He does work in mysterious ways, right?
My phone rang. Chattanooga City Councilman Chip Henderson was on the other end. “Do you need a story?”
“Only if it’s good news,” I replied. “I’ve been looking for something to balance out all the bad stuff, but I’m striking out so far.”
He gave me a street address, and assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed. About 10 minutes later, I arrived to find a couple dozen teenagers working their tails off in the hot summer sun. Two or three adults, including Chip, were hovering, making sure they were using hammers, scrapers and paintbrushes correctly.
To put it kindly, this house had seen better days. On the porch was an elderly lady with breathing tubes in her nostrils, a huge smile on her face and a hearty laugh. Her name was Viola Price, and she told me had been a nurse in the military “a long, long time ago.”
She said she had lived in the home since 1998. It was all she could afford with her money from Veterans Affairs. She said proudly, “This place was a hole in the wall when I got it.” I couldn’t bring myself to say it, but I was thinking, “Oh my. It was worse than it is now?”
She quickly added, “I know it don’t look like much, but when I got here I fell through the floor a couple of times. The floor was the first thing I had to fix, but I never could afford much else.”
Chip then told me that Chattanooga was hosting some 35 extreme home makeovers, all happening during a one-week blitz. Teens from around the United States, working under the banner of “Group Mission Trips,” converged on the city, helping needy residents with much-needed repairs. That may not sound like the ideal summer vacation, but no one was complaining. Despite the hot weather and hard work, everyone was smiling, while learning some lifelong skills.
“Miss Viola,” as the kids called her, said she had never had this much company. High school students from Michigan and Illinois were inside and outside her home, scrubbing and scraping away. Her prayers, she said, had been answered.
“I love ’em,” she said. “They are angels from heaven. I trust ’em, I can go to sleep, and they just work around me. I don’t have to worry about nothing.”
Justin Ostrem, a tall, athletic 18-year-old from Wheaton, Illinois, came down from a ladder to tell me, “I truly believe she too is an angel. She may not know it yet, but she’s the one who’s making an impact. Seeing someone like her who is so grateful can change our lives.”
From scraping, to priming, to painting, to all sorts of repairs and cleaning, Miss Viola’s home deficiencies were being addressed from every angle. Observing the laughter and camaraderie among kids from various states, who had only met three days earlier, was a sight to behold.
The teens raised money in their hometowns to be a part of the mission. Many were missing out on swimming pools, football camps, and cheerleading tryouts. For these young people, seven hundred miles from home, summer is about making new friends, lifelong memories, and a difference in the life of someone they may never see again. Someone who is far less fortunate than themselves, who is thankful for the little things, like a floor that won’t collapse when they take a step.
Justin summed it up nicely. “This is a thrill that can’t be matched by video games, driving fast, or any other stereotype you have about teenagers. Every time we see a smile on Miss Viola’s face, it’s worth every ounce of sweat, every minute of work we put in.”
Miss Viola said, “Some people pray to God for money. Money didn’t do this for me. People did this for me. Let’s pray for the people.”
Yes, there’s good news out there. I’m glad it found me.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. His website is ChattanoogaRadioTV.com, and you may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or email@example.com. Twitter: @davidcarroll3.