Ridgeway selected for THEC service award

Ridgeway selected for THEC service award 

May 2, 2018 

Maryville College senior Molly Ridgeway ’18 is among five college students in Tennessee to be named a recipient of the 2018 Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award sponsored by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).

Created in 1991, the award was named in 1997 for Harold Love, Sr., the late state representative from Nashville who was instrumental in passing legislation for community service recognition programs for higher education and was known for his compassion and good humor. The award, which recognizes outstanding community service at the campus level and carries a $1,000 cash prize, honors a high level of community service, including volunteer work, community organization, public service, charitable service and leadership roles in the above areas.

Ridgeway, a child development and learning with teacher licensure major from Florence, Ala., was nominated for the award by administrators at the College and has been involved in a variety of community service activities since she arrived on campus in 2014.

“In her career at Maryville College, Molly has served as a campus leader and as a faithful volunteer in organizations that strive to help young people affected by disabilities achieve at the highest possible levels and gain both self-acceptance and welcome by others,” said Maryville College President Dr. Tom Bogart in his nomination letter. “Both in her service work and in her daily life of thriving in spite of her own disability, Molly has been an outstanding example of the principles of public service and a role model to others.”

Ridgeway, who has a nonverbal disability and uses American Sign Language and text-to-speech technology to communicate, has been using her passion for helping people with disabilities both in the local community and on the state level. 

Senate Bill 524 and House Bill 462, which advocated for the Tennessee State Board of Education to implement American Sign Language (ASL) textbooks and curriculum and allow this course to satisfy foreign language requirements in Tennessee schools, passed the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously on April 24, 2017, and was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on May 4, 2017. Ridgeway and fiance Josh Anderson '18 actively worked for its passage throughout the spring semester, recruiting bill sponsors, speaking to legislative committees and granting media interviews. She and Anderson wrote the bill during the 2016 session of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL).

The couple then set out to make sure the state’s institutions of higher education would accept ASL as a foreign language credit for the purposes of admission to their undergraduate degree programs. Signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on March 9, Senate Bill 1514 “requires the board of regents, each state university board, and the board of trustees of the University of Tennessee to adopt policies allowing American Sign Language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements for undergraduate degree programs by July 1, 2019.”

Ridgeway also has served as a mentor for Project Search and the East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC) in Knoxville, programs that seek to help young people living with disabilities gain experience in a work environment and achieve increased independence.

“Her steady patience, good humor, intelligence and kindness provide a path for others to feel stronger within themselves, and to build relationships with others,” Bogart said.

During her short time as a volunteer intern at ETTAC, whose mission is “to connect people with disabilities in East Tennessee to the adaptive technology tools and services they need to live with maximum independence and dignity,” Ridgeway has made a big impact, according to her supervisor, Lorrie Crockett. In addition to serving as a reading tutor for ETTAC’s reading lab, she started an after-school program for students and adults with disabilities.

“Molly not only volunteered to be an assistant but within a few sessions asked if she could teach lessons on self-advocacy. She takes initiative, and she leads by example,” Crockett wrote in her nomination letter. “Molly Ridgeway is a world changer, public speaker, teacher and a role model with a heart for helping people do everything to their highest potential. We couldn’t ask for a better volunteer, and I am honored to know her.”

Every year since her freshman year at Maryville College, Ridgeway has traveled to Jamaica to assist the Jamaica School for the Deaf through an organization called Servant’s Heart. She also has worked as a counselor at Empower Me Day Camp in Lebanon, Tenn., where she assisted campers with their specific disability needs.

As a Maryville College student, she serves as an ambassador in the College’s Office of Admissions, and she is a member of the MC cross country team.

After graduation this month, Ridgeway plans to attend graduate school at the University of Tennessee to pursue a master’s degree in special education. One day, she hopes to start an international nonprofit to help people with disabilities around the world.

The award was presented to Ridgeway during a reception at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on April 27. The four other students who received the award are: Cassandra Riedy of Belmont University, Sarah Abbie Saulsbury of Northeast State Community College, Nathan Farnor of East Tennessee State University and Robert Owen of Middle Tennessee State University. Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and Rep. Dr. Harold Love, Jr., son of the late Rep. Harold Love, Sr., presented the awards.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.