385 Magazine Winter 2022

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385 Winter • 2022

Our People Our Stories






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2•385 •Our People • Our Stories



Volume 6 | Issue 2



Jack McNeely jack.mcneely@herald-citizen.com


Lindsay Pride lindsay.pride@herald-citizen.com Graphic Designer Amanda Loshbough Contributors Jim Herrin Megan Reagan Advertising Roger Wells Dusty Smith Stephanie Garrett

Ad Composition Becky Watkins Business Manager Sandy Malin Circulation & Distribution Keith McCormick Ronda Dodson

385 Magazine is a publication of and distributed quarterly by the Herald-Citizen, a division of Cookeville Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or stored for retrieval by any means without written consent from the publisher. 385 Magazine is not responsible for unsolicited materials and the publisher accepts no responsibility for the contents or accuracy of claims in any advertisement in any issue. 385 Magazine is not responsible for errors, omissions or changes in information. The opinions of contributing writers do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the magazine and its publisher. Our mission is to promote the 385 zip code areas of the Upper Cumberland and to showcase their many attributes. We welcome ideas and suggestions for future editions of the magazine. Just send us a brief note via email.

from the


A place to call home. It’s something that many of us take for granted, but without it, simple things like a hot meal or a place to sleep at night aren’t easy to come by. In this issue of 385 magazine, we’ve chosen to focus on the stories of a few individuals who will likely always remember the help they’ve received in trying to achieve a part of the American dream. Recovering addicts Justin and Melissa Veals, founded the new non-profit, Recovery Kitchen, to help feed the homeless without asking them for anything in return. Melissa LoyWells and Christopher Harris are two of about 100 success stories through UCHRA’s Substance Abuse Solutions’ efforts to support people in recovery by obtaining permanent housing, and grocery store clerk Lisa Medley worked with Upper Cumberland Habitat for Humanity to purchase an affordable home for her family. Especially during these cold winter months, we salute the efforts of all individuals, non-profits and businesses to help those who are struggling with the most basic needs of food and shelter. Thanks for reading.

Lindsay Pride, Editor

on the


Lisa Medley discusses the process of building her home with help from Habitat for Humanity.

© 2022 Herald-Citizen 385 Magazine P.O. Box 2729 Cookeville, TN 38502 931.526.9715 Email: 385Magazine@herald-citizen.com

4•385 •Our People•Our Stories

Photo by Jim Herrin

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A homeowner discovers the blessing of owning the home she helped build with Habitat for Humanity.

Rain or shine, Recovery Kitchen prepares and distributes meals to the area's homeless community.

Once homeless, Melissa Loy-Wells and Christopher Harris tell how UCHRA 's Substance Abuse Solutions helped them find housing.


College Town Weekends Tennessee Tech Vice President of Student Affairs Cynthia Polk-Johnson says, "Cookeville is Tennessee's college town."

6•385 •Our People•Our Stories


Why I Love… Highlands Residential Services Executive Director Dow Harris explains what he loves about the Cookeville area.


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•Our 8•385 • Our People•Our People • Our Stories People•

Home Homeowner discovers the blessing of owning the home she helped build Photos and story by: Jim Herrin


our years ago, Lisa Medley was paying $500 a month to rent an apartment north of Tennessee Tech when a friend at work suggested she look into housing options offered by Habitat for Humanity. “I thought about it, I really did, but then I thought I’d never qualify for that,” Medley recalls.”But she kept saying, ‘try, Lisa, try,’ so I did.” She “kept going to the Habitat office and doing the classes and the paperwork.” “I mean, it was more than what you think it is to be qualified and get things going,” she said. “You gotta have some pursuit in your own self. Some gumption about you.” Gumption was something Medley had plenty of. “I’ve been through things in life and, as my sister says, I always come back up on top somehow or another and I do,” she said. “I’m not bragging. I just keep trying.” She went through the budgeting classes Habitat requires and also went to classes “just to learn the history of the Habitat program, who started it, and what was the thought behind it.” “The impact that it has is incredible,” she said. “I mean, you meet people from all walks of life, all over the world, just really amazing people.” She also embraced the “sweat equity” required of Habitat homeowners. “There was a lot of sweat equity, but it was so good. If Habitat was set up somewhere and they were promoting the ministry, Winter•2022•9

you were there and you were helping with that,” she said. Sweat equity also involved physical labor. “I’ve worked in about all of these houses (in the neighborhood), doing things like painting, cleaning, sweeping and clearing the lot,” she said. She also put insulation in walls and laid a subfloor — with the assistance of qualified tradesmen. “They taught me, and I did it,”

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she says with a tinge of pride. “And I used an air gun, and that was really cool. I just kept doing whatever I could to be involved with it.” Much of the activity came after she had worked all day at Spring Street Market. “I didn’t complain because I wanted to do it,” she said. “Sometimes it was long hours, and sometimes it was very hot. But, I mean, this is my home.” There have been some challeng-

es, including the repair of a malfunctioning heat pump just over a year after she moved in. “I was pretty irate about that, but I did get it fixed,” she said. “Of course, it was out of my pocket, but I’m the owner so I had to take care of it.” Still, it did not dim her love of the home she helped build for herself and her family, including daughters Chelsea and Christie and now, grandson, Alex. “I love this house because it belongs to me, and the way it was built, and that I got to have a hand in it,” she said. “That’s incredible.” Four years along, she continues to sing the praises of the organization that made home ownership possible for her. “Habitat is a worthy ministry,” she said. “It is a Godsend, it truly is. It’s a God favor.”




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Lisa Medley stands in front of the pictures of her children and grandchild in her home.

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Recovery Kitchen co-founder Melissa Veals and Paul Grogan hand out hot food and water at a homeless camp on a rainy Sunday. 12•385 •Our People•Our Stories


without expectations Recovery Kitchen offers compassion with no expectations from the homeless Photos and story by: Megan Reagan

You can usually find them on the corners flying a sign, out walking or sitting around their camp,” Recovery Kitchen co-founder Melissa Veals said as she drove around Cookeville delivering meals to the homeless. The Recovery Kitchen, co-founded by husband and wife Melissa and Justin Veals, started as a mission to help the homeless and unsheltered in the community. Melissa and Justin have both experienced homelessness, separately and as a couple, and they also know what it is like to struggle with addiction as they have both been in long-term recovery for nearly five years. “We know what it’s like to need help and have no one willing to give you a chance, or they help but always expect something in return,” Justin said. “There are many programs that say they will help and do, but they say they ‘expect this and that’ before providing any help.” “We were lucky to have gotten the help we needed, and now we feel like we have a debt Winter•2022•13

Recovery Kitchen members Chris Trout and Paul Grogan prepare food to be delivered to homeless encampments. found. As the volunteers approach each to the universe to repay through camp, they approach with empathy “A lot of them aren’t going to be our service to others,” he said. “The and try to listen to each individual. help we provide now and hope to honest about what they’re going A few who said they had already provide in the future comes with no through. A lot of them will lie about strings attached.” their substance use, or a lot of them eaten prior to the time of Melissa’s will lie about the circumstances delivery declined the food, but they They say they’re repaying that accepted dry blankets, or socks, or that keep them there,” Justin said. debt through compassion — someRecovery Kitchen prioritizes hot hands. thing they say was rarely shown to One man walking in the rain into them in their experiences. Through providing water and food, as well an encampment wearing sneakers their own recovery, they realize as some other basic needs, to the homeless so they can begin to form and no socks had never been helped that service to others is supposed relationships with the individual, by the Recovery Kitchen before. to come without expectations of getting something in return. hoping they will speak more canHe appeared skeptical as Melissa approached him offering chili and Their service is coming in the didly about what put them in their cornbread. When he rejected the form of hot meals delivered to situation, their experience and their needs. meal, she offered him socks instead, wherever the unsheltered can be erry

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14•385 •Our People•Our Stories

which he also declined at first. But before she got into her vehicle, he changed his mind and took the socks she offered. Before walking away, he hugged her, and said, “Thank you. You’re good people.” “I have never helped him before,” Melissa said. “This is my first time seeing him. I’m glad I caught him, and I know where he’s staying.” Melissa said it took some time before most began speaking to her and began trusting her, but it was an effort on her part to become someone they can trust. “It took a long time of us doing this for them to build relationships with us to trust us,” she said. “And once that happens, we are better equipped to get them the long-term help they may need.” In their short time of conducting outreach, Melissa says there several people they have been able to help by pointing them in the direction of various other community resources. Justin said they are able to do this every week and maintain the trust of the individuals because there are no expectations. “There is no judgment,” he said. “If you take someone and offer them something they need, and then tell them they have to do certain things to get it, like go to church or whatever … It starts to put them in a mindset that you don’t respect who they are.” Justin, as a peer support specialist for the sober-living program, Independence Again, allows those who are in the program to volunteer as a part of their recovery process. “We just have normal conversations with them,” Justin said. “What we have found is that if you

Two homeless citizens enjoy food delivered to them from the Recovery Kitchen. bring them in and start to give them what they need, they begin to open up and talk about what is really going on. “We do get people who are ready to make a change because they feel like it is their idea.” Justin says there are some issues surrounding the way the homelessness is being addressed among different levels of community leadership, but they are trying to lead by example. “We are trying to be the change that we want to see,” he said. Justin says their eventual goal is to have their own facility where they can harbor a safe space for

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these individuals and offer three hot meals a day, along with shower and washing facilities, stating that alone is what holds so many back. “We want to grow and offer a helping hand to those in need, because if it weren’t for those who helped Melissa and I, we would not be able to do this today,” he said. “We all need help and someone to take a chance on us.” You can contact Justin and Melissa at 931-218-4500 to find out how you can help.


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omeless Melissa Loy-Wells holds up the keys to her new apartment on her balcony.

Two locals share their journeys to finding housing Photos and story by: Lindsay Pride


arly on the morning of Sept. 20, 2020, Melissa Loy-Wells was passed out outside the Waffle House on Willow Avenue in Cookeville. Cookeville Police Officer Conor Sparkman responded, but instead of taking Loy-Wells to jail for public intoxication, he gave her a choice. “He said, ‘Do you want to go to treatment, or go to jail?’” Loy-Wells recalled. That choice was possible because of a partnership between the City of Cookeville and Substance Abuse Solutions at Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency. “It was new at the time,” Sparkman said. “She wasn’t causing any disturbance. She needed help, and she wanted help.” Sparkman called SAS Recovery Coordinator Niki Payne at 2:30 a.m., and Payne met Loy-Wells at that Waffle House. “She was very out of sorts,” Payne said. “I introduced myself, got her some

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“Thank God UCHRA didn’t throw me away like I was used to... When you have one person believing in you, that’s all it takes. God put them in my life, and I’m grateful.” - Melissa Loy-Wells biscuits and gravy and found her a hotel to sleep in.” That was followed by Payne getting Loy-Wells into an inpatient substance abuse treatment program as well as observation at a Crisis Stabilization Unit for mental health issues and weekly “life recovery meetings.” “We did life skills for 12 weeks, life recovery meetings weekly,” Payne said. “When they first start out, I like to see them four times a week.” Those meetings consist of a 12-step program similar to AA. “The questions are more Christ-centered,” Payne said. Loy-Wells was born in West Virginia, where she recalled fond memories of her twin sister and her grandfather, a Baptist preacher. But she said that she and her sister weren’t treated well by their stepfather, which prompted LoyWells to move out and get married at the age of 16. Her sister did the same. She started drinking when she was 15. “My husbands (through several marriages and divorces) would beat on me,” she said. “I was drinking to cope with

the pain.” Then the deaths of the people she loved most made her want to give up. “My Papaw passed away,” she said. “My twin sister died. I was in Anderson County, arrested, and while I was in jail, my mom died. I just quit living after that. I was drinking, going state to state.” She became homeless when her home in Crossville burned in 2019. “I had a real big suitcase,” she said. “I would pull it with me, find a safe place, lay it down and lay on top of it, or I’d stay with anyone who would take me in.” Before she met Sparkman and Payne, Loy-Wells stayed briefly at Genesis House, until she was kicked out for fighting with another resident, she said. Loy-Wells said she weighed about 100 pounds and had a soda bottle full of vodka in her purse when Sparkman encountered her at the Waffle House. Some weren’t sure she could change her life around. “I didn’t think she’d make it,” SAS Peer Recovery Coordinator James GribYour Pets

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18•385 •Our People•Our Stories

ble said. “She was so fragile. It’s been a long journey. She’s had a lot of growth.” “Thank God UCHRA didn’t throw me away like I was used to,” she said. “When you have one person believing in you, that’s all it takes. God put them in my life, and I’m grateful.” Loy-Wells said she previously had a good job at Bradford, and she worked at a dry cleaners while she was staying at Genesis House. However, her health problems have made physical labor more difficult, and she’s applied for disability. Working and being on disability is something National Guard veteran Christopher Harris has also learned to navigate. “I’ve been on disability for eight years,” Harris said. “I used to be a subcontractor. It took me a long time to get back to working like I am.” Harris said he was hit by a car while walking in a ditch to work. “She (driver) said she fell asleep at the wheel,” he said. “It sucks I had to pay the consequence. I cracked some ribs. I’ve technically been through worse.” Harris said he was beaten by some visit us at VCAhospitals.com to sign up for a FREE pet health exam!

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individuals who stole his car while he was still in it. “After getting beaten with a shotgun, I finally said, ‘you can have it,’” he said. Harris said he became homeless because of “mainly me and drugs. I had an extreme amount of trauma ... I allowed myself to take the easy route. It affected relationships. At one point in time, I didn’t believe I deserved to live.” A few months ago, Harris was camping behind the Cook Out restaurant, but said he returned back to his campsite after work one day to discover that all his things had been burned. That’s when he met SAS Housing Program Manager Luke Eldridge. Loy-Wells and Harris are two of about 100 who’ve been placed in permanent housing since Cookeville began a partnership with SAS, according to Eldridge. But it wasn’t a quick process. In addition to the difficulty of finding affordable housing, it can also be a challenge to find landlords who accept the HUD vouchers. For Loy-Wells, that meant finding a place for $552 per month, including electricity. “She finally did find someone to adjust for her,” Eldridge said. Loy-Wells said her next hurdle to overcome is getting a job. “My dream is to work with them one day,” she said of Payne, Eldridge, Gribble and Glen Sayes. “Now I volunteer. Maybe one day I can get paid and be a functioning member of society.” Both Harris and Loy-Wells have struggled with the stigma of homelessness. “The goal is to break that stigma,” Eldridge said. “People can change. She’s made changes. He’s made changes. It’s a process.” As to why and how people become

Christopher Harris, left, and Melissa Loy-Wells, right, are no longer homeless as they hold up the keys to their new apartments after working with UCHRA’s Substance Abuse Solutions. homeless, there are few reasons, according to Eldridge. “One reason is they want to be,” he said. “More are coming in with felonies, misdemeanors, substance abuse. Evictions, we’re starting to see those come through.” Having an eviction or felony on your record makes it harder to find a landlord who will accept you. “A lot of them want seven years after a felony,” Eldridge said. SAS has provided 10,307 nights of housing since July 2020 and 713 trips to places like doctor’s appointments and housing visits. SAS has served 19 veterans, and approximately 100 people have been placed in permanent housing. SAS employees have completed more than 4,000 face-to-face interactions

since 2020. Loy-Wells said she’s still adjusting to having a safe place to go every night. “I’m so grateful,” she said. “I’m unsure of how to act. There’s less drama, no fear of getting kicked out.” Loy-Wells’ progress is also rewarding for CPD Officer Sparkman. “A lot of times, it’s a lengthy process to call SAS and see it and carry it out,” he said. “When they’re under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, they’re usually not happy to see us. In her instance, she genuinely wanted to better herself. I’m glad to help. I’m happy she’s turned her life completely around.” If you are homeless and could benefit from SAS, call 931-528-1127 or 303-7098.


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Weekends W

New initiative encourages student engagement hen Cynthia Polk-Johnson joined the Tennessee Tech University campus community in the summer of 2021 as vice president for student affairs, she knew she was also joining a community in Cookeville that embraces its hometown university. As someone who has dedicated her career to serving students, Polk-Johnson knew Cookeville was a place she and the students she serves at Tech could find their fit. “Both the university and com-

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munity are so supportive of each other,” she said. “It’s a great relationship. We want our students to know that going to college in Cookeville is not just going to class Monday through Friday. We want them to stay in Cookeville on the weekends and have fun and make connections.” Polk-Johnson brings more than 20 years of experience at both large and small public and private universities. She shares a passion for serving students with now-retired Marc Burnett, who served as Tech’s VP for student affairs and spent more than 36 years influenc-

ing students on Tennessee Tech’s campus as an administrator and advocate for diversity. “I have dedicated my life service to serving students in higher education,” Polk-Johnson said. “I do believe in the transformation of lives and even generations as it relates to informing and educating our community.” Polk-Johnson said the campus and community that surrounds Tech stood out to her and is a selling point for students as well. “One of the things that caught my attention right off hand was the students first philosophy,

which is something that resonated with me and has always been a part of my role in terms of student affairs and serving students on many different campuses,” she said. “I see the community engagement, I see how excited the students are on campus, all of those things are very attractive to me. The community has wrapped its arms around the university, and I can see where it is just going to higher heights.” One of Polk-Johnson’s first campus-wide initiatives is an event series called College Town Weekends, which launched in Fall 2021. College Town Weekends is a promotion that combines both on-campus and off-campus events into one list and shares that information with students in various ways, including posters, digital signs, table tents, door hangers and online at tntech.edu/ weekends. “Cookeville is Tennessee’s college town,” she said. “We really want to engage students on the weekends, and not just with on-campus events. Cookeville is full of a variety of events to match all interests. You can go to local festivals, take in a football game or get outdoors at one of our beautiful parks.” Polk-Johnson came to Tech from KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School where she worked as the school’s college persistence advisor. She served as associate dean of students at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville for two years and has worked in student affairs leadership roles at Bethune-Cookman University, The University of Georgia, Rhodes College, Texas State University, and Mississippi State University. She holds a doctorate of philosophy in education from Capella University along with a master’s degree in counselor education and a bachelor’s in psychology from Mississippi State University. “Students come from many different backgrounds. When they come to an institution, they are looking for a home away from home,” Polk-Johnson said. “We know that once students get engaged and start to make those connections, they are more likely to persist, they are more likely to do better academically, and that’s exactly what we want to see happen.” For more information or to submit an event to be featured in the College Town Weekends series, visit www.tntech.edu/weekends.



Tennessee Tech Vice President of student affairs Cynthia Polk-Johnson said she has dedicated her life service to serving students in higher education.

Tennessee Tech Vice President of student affairs Cynthia Polk-Johnson started a new initiative to promote student engagement on and off campus.

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Why I Love… Cookeville

Highlands Residential Services Executive Director

Dow Harris

What do you love about the Cookeville area? “It’s home” is what I love most about the entire Cookeville area. I am a true Cookevillian, born and raised here. Graduate of Cookeville High School and Tennessee Tech University. It’s just a great place to reside and raise your family. I have been blessed to be able to have the career of helping people in my hometown now going on 42 years, 30 with Highlands Residential Services, the Housing Authority, and 12 with the City of Cookeville Water and Sewer department. I love my “hobby” farm, a commercial beef cow/calf operation that averages 90 to 100 head of cattle annually. But, most of all, I love the family atmosphere and my family, consisting of my wife Karen, sons Matthew (and daughterin-law Alyssa), Mark and Luke, and daughter Letisha. My greatest joy are two granddaughters, Emma and Chloe. What do you think makes this area special? Cookeville is still a small town atmosphere! We have good people who still wave while passing by, smile and speak to one another wherever we may be. It has great opportunity for careers, low unemployment, opportunity for small business or growth with existing businesses. We have good schools, home of Tennessee Tech University and specialized medical care. We are all fortunate to have Cookeville Regional Medical Center here with us. The city and state parks, Center Hill and Dale Hollow lakes most convenient and just a superior location along the I-40 corridor makes Cookeville very special. Our diverse climate with all four seasons makes for exceptional nature experiences. We have excellent sporting activities and the overall quality of life differentiate Cookeville and certainly make it special.

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Are there things that you believe need improvement? Being with the Housing Authority, I have seen first hand the need for additional low-income housing. There is just not enough to go around. It has become a precious commodity, and Highlands Residential Services is working toward developing new and much more modern low-income housing. Transitional housing needs to be addressed, and I see the need for emergency housing on a regular basis. All these do contribute to the ever increasing homelessness populations we are now experiencing in our great community. Are there things that you believe need highlighting? Our people, our community and the greatness of Cookeville certainly needs to be highlighted. Lots of local events with street festivals, all Historical West Side events, and even musical festivals are very attractive. Our location is a highlight with all the natural falls such as Burgess Falls, Cummins Falls and Fall Creek Falls all just a short distance away. I love the hiking trails, the hunting and even — when my patience allows — some fishing. However, I personally would like to see more support for public housing and the resident services programs that are making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. I see the need to support our children and elderly persons. I see a desperate need for housekeeping assistance for our elderly and disabled populations. Our low income Head Start program operated through LBJ&C, corporation always needs support. And last but certainly not least the Cookeville Rescue Mission needs everyone’s support.


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