By Danielle Morin
The word of the day for Science Hill’s Boys’ Cross Country Team last Wednesday was “disciple.” That was the word Owen Johnson used to describe the valuable lesson he and his teammates learned while volunteering at the Isaiah 117 House in Elizabethton.
It all started with Coach David Nutter’s desire to start the cross country season off a little differently than they had in previous years, by challenging his runners to ask themselves, “What can this team do for others?”
The service day began with a moving speech by Nutter to the team where he challenged the boys, saying, “Instead of thinking about us a team and individually, let’s start our season off by thinking about others,” and reminding them, “Sometimes when you serve somebody, you’re also the recipient.”
Program Coordinator Corey Payne then explained that the house serves as a refuge for many children in the process of foster home placement with the goal of “easing the transition for both the child and the foster family,” and emphasized that “this isn’t a far away problem,” but that the work the boys were to complete that day could go on to help kids in their own neighborhoods or even classrooms.
No job was too small as the team split up into groups covering odd jobs needed around the home including washing the windows, trimming the shrubs, and adding a fresh coat of paint to the front door. Inside, one group of boys got busy organizing welcome packages for future children who would come to the house while the other group helped arrange and label envelopes for outgoing mail correspondence.
The team even managed to band together to fully lift and transport a shed from one end of the back yard to another – an impressive feat to watch for Jody Hayes, another program coordinator, who said the entire day, “makes my heart sing because it’s kids giving back to kids.”
Aside from the tangible impacts the boys were making through their efforts, cross country runner Mick Stokes said he also hoped to help convey an important lesson in community outreach, saying, “It shows that you can be anyone and do a kind thing for someone else. Because we’re a cross country team, not a missionary team, but we’re still doing stuff in the community for those who are less fortunate than us.”
Many runners were quick to applaud their coach for challenging them to extend beyond their comfort zones and redefine what team-building looks like. One such runner, Cash Nweze, said Coach Nutter was an inspiration to him as, “He is always trying to help out, always looking out for others, and always trying to make us grow and just be better people.”
Nutter said he intends for his team to continue to volunteer at the house on a biannual basis, in hopes the boys will continue to see the results of the seeds they are planting.
The Isaiah 117 House is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2018 by former Milligan University Cheerleading Coach Rhonda Paulson and serves countless children in the foster care system throughout all the Tri-Cities. If you are interested in volunteering, you can contact the Isaiah 117 House Resource Center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 423.518.3760.