MC community pitches in to help during COVID-19 pandemic

MC community pitches in to help during COVID-19 pandemic

Originally Published April 14, 2020 (Updated May 8, 2020)

Maryville College faculty, staff and students are pitching in to help the College and wider community overcome the various challenges presented by COVID-19. Below are examples of the ways members of the MC community are, in the words of MC founder Dr. Isaac Anderson, “doing good on the largest possible scale.”

Mountain Challenge provides lunch to MC essential employees

On May 7, family and friends of Mountain Challenge provided lunch for Maryville College employees who are still working on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maryville College’s facilities have been closed to the public since March 19, and most employees have been working or teaching from home since then. However, several essential employees remain on campus.

About 50 staff members from various departments, including Residence Life, the MC Post Office and the Physical Plant, enjoyed lunch, which came from local restaurant Subs & Such.

“We know everyone everywhere at this college has been working hard,” said Bruce Guillaume ’76, founder and director of Mountain Challenge. “But, as one of our family and friends said, ‘These folks are the spaces between the notes on a sheet of music.’”

Guillaume said the Mountain Challenge group was also glad to have an opportunity to support a local food business.

“One piece of feedback we received from a Maryville College staff member was that ‘everyone enjoyed the meal but the thought behind the gesture was appreciated even more,’” Guillaume said. 

Cantrell works on the front lines of COVID-19 as CNA at Hospital

Alex Cantrell ’21 is working towards his bachelor of science degree in biology at Maryville College while working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cantrell, who has been a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for more than four years, has been working at Blount Memorial Hospital for the past six months. As a CNA, he works under the direction of – and alongside – a team of nurses. As a team, they communicate patients’ needs to physicians and other areas of the hospital. He takes vital signs, takes notes for nurses and physicians, prepares patients for surgery and comforts them after surgery, and assists patients with activities of daily living, including basic needs like dental care, bathing, basic exercise and eating.

Cantrell, who is from Sparta, Tenn., transferred to Maryville College in fall 2019, and he plans to attend medical school to further his career in medicine.

“This job has been challenging during these past couple of months, but one thing this pandemic has taught me is that I am definitely on the right career path,” Cantrell said. “Though I have to limit my contact with family and friends at this time, it’s heartwarming knowing that I can be in a supportive role for my patients. I do believe this is how I am ‘doing good on the largest possible scale.’”

Stafford makes mats for homeless in Georgia

Jordan Stafford ’20, a writing communications major from Kennesaw, Ga., is making mats for homeless people in her community. The thick, 6-foot-long mats are crocheted using plastic bags, and they are designed to be water resistant, comfortable enough for someone to sleep on, and easy to roll up for transport. She is partnering with a local nonprofit, the Rockmart Homeless Initiative, to distribute the mats to those who need them.

“I know that a lot of homeless people are suffering during this time and that COVID-19 has affected them immensely,” Stafford said. “Soup kitchens and shelters are overwhelmed, and many homeless people in Georgia and Tennessee now have no access to toilets or a place to sleep. Homelessness issues are very important to me because one of my closest friends was homeless for a year, and I know how much of a toll it can take on someone's mental and physical health.”

“I only wish I could help more,” Stafford added. “The problem is huge, but I am hopeful that these mats will still bless people.”

Stafford regularly volunteers with the Atlanta Community Foodbank, which provides food for the homeless, and she is planning to work shifts in the foodbank’s community garden program when it reopens next month.

Stafford said she also is partnering with fellow Maryville College student Claire Willenbrink ’21 in Ohio and knitting hats for Ronald McDonald House.

“If any other MC students have loom knitting equipment and want to send hats to Ronald McDonald House, I would love to support them in that!” Stafford said.

Colter helps organize fundraiser for local immigrant families

Dr. Crystal Colter, MC professor of psychology, serves on the board of Welcoming Immigrant Neighbors Blount County (WIN-BC), along with several members of the community, including MC senior Edna Hernandez ’20 and MC alumna Gigi Prado Santos ’03. The board members have organized a fundraiser for local immigrant families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Undocumented and marginally documented immigrants in Blount County often work in sectors of the economy that have been hardest hit by the pandemic –- such as low-paying restaurant work and housekeeping in the hospitality industry or individual homes,” according to the fundraiser description. “Even though they pay taxes and contribute to our communities in innumerable ways, they are excluded from government safety net programs like unemployment and stimulus checks. This economic vulnerability is compounded by the fact that many do not have health insurance. Language barriers also keep some from being able to access emergency assistance through local non-profits. And for those who are able to seek help, the support falls short of what is needed to meet the need for families who receive no other form of assistance. In short, there is often a huge gap between what these families need to survive and the resources currently available.”

The CABIN Fund (Corona Assistance for Blount Immigrant Neighbors) will supplement existing resources, in partnership with other local organizations. A new referral hotline will make it easier for non-English-speakers to make an appointment with local organizations, such as Good Neighbors. When the family's need exceeds what that organization can offer, the CABIN Fund can provide limited supplemental direct aid to undocumented families who are outside the safety net.

The fundraiser has raised nearly $4,000, in addition to $5,000 in matching funds raised before the fundraiser began. For more information, please email Colter at crystal.colter@maryvillecollege.edu.

Natural Sciences Division Donates PPE to Healthcare Providers

Maryville College’s Division of Natural Sciences has donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to local healthcare providers.

The decision to make the donations was “quick and easy” – and made during a division meeting via Zoom, said Dr. Angelia Gibson, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of chemistry.

“As faculty who provide gateway education for healthcare professionals, we all have a lot of personal connections in the healthcare field – many of our graduates are on the front lines as nurses, nurse practitioners, lab techs, pharmacists, physician assistants and physicians all over the U.S.,” Gibson said. “Most of the time for us, ‘doing good on the largest possible scale’ means making sure our graduates are prepared with scientific skills, knowledge and work ethic for their work in their chosen fields.

“When we heard that local health professionals were in in need of PPE and in some cases, making them out of garbage bags, we all unanimously agreed that preparing their minds was not enough,” Gibson continued. “We knew we had supplies of PPE that weren’t being used this semester that could be of benefit to the frontline-health providers. We worked together to inventory all our PPE, gather the donations and contact the healthcare facilities to arrange for the donation.”

Donations include several hundred disposable lab coats and aprons to both Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Medical Group, as well as 15 pairs of protective eye wear and a box of disposable lab aprons to Brookdale Sandy Springs Assisted Living and Memory Care. (See a "thank you" video message from MC alumna Tawny White '16, who is the business office manager at Brookdale Sandy Springs.)

“Every single person in the division contributed to the effort in some way,” Gibson said.

Teachers Helping Teachers

Several Maryville College student teachers are helping teachers in local schools that have moved to online learning.

Brenna Tipton ’20, a senior English with teacher licensure major from Louisville, Tenn., is assisting her cooperating teacher at Coulter Grove Intermediate School by designing a remote learning novel study for The Outsiders by S.E. Hilton for her 7th grade students. 

Maryville College senior Ryan Lay ’20, a mathematics with teacher licensure major from Maryville, Tenn., returned to his first student teacher placement, Clayton-Bradley Academy, to work with the high school.

“While my primary focus was content delivery and classroom management prior to spring break, I now have the chance to engage with students beyond the traditional classroom,” Lay said. “Since Clayton-Bradley is a one-to-one school, instruction is still occurring through synchronous and asynchronous settings. Classes are held through the Zoom platform, which I also attend, working with my cooperating teacher to help prepare and deliver content as I did before. For asynchronous learning, I created an interactive platform through Google Suite for Education for students to review and practice concepts, including researching and linking to existing instructional material as well as creating materials of my own. I also hold office hours for students to support them with their academic needs. Additionally, I am also tasked to work with the school's student council to promote student engagement, bringing students together and increasing morale during this isolating time.”

Lay said in addition to his studies, his involvement at Maryville College as a resident assistant and member of the Student Government Association has equipped him with the skills needed for this particular task, because of the focus on intentional programming.

“I want my students believing they belong to their school community even when they are not currently together,” Lay said. “Although this semester is nothing that anyone could have imagined, my Maryville College education instilled the ability to adapt and persevere through challenges. I am confident that the skills I am learning in this current format of student teaching are the tools that I need to be an effective teacher in this era of digital learning and differentiated student experiences.” 

Student Creates Volunteer Delivery Program

Maryville College junior Lindsey Lewallen ’21, an exercise science major from Habersham County, Ga., started a volunteer delivery program called “Lean On Me Delivery” to deliver groceries, prescriptions and other needed items to older adults, immunocompromised and other at-risk individuals who are unable to safely shop during the pandemic.

She was inspired while sitting home during her Spring Break, after canceling her original plans to go to the beach. “I was feeling kind of useless,” she said, until she saw a story on Good Morning America about someone in New Jersey that was offering a free home delivery service. Soon after that, she launched her own program. She set up a simple online process, and individuals sign up at https://lean-on-me-delivery.square.site.

Once Lewallen receives the request, she confirms the order, goes to the store and purchases items using her own money. When she delivers the items, individuals reimburse her through cash or Venmo. She wears gloves and a mask, and she drops the items off at the door.

There is no charge for the service; the shopping time and delivery are free. As of April 8, she has made 20 deliveries, with help from two other volunteers in the community. Currently, the free delivery service is only available in Habersham County, Ga., but she hopes to expand the program’s reach.

“We are accepting volunteers from any community who want to help deliver in their area —our website would act as a platform to accept requests and then we would notify the volunteer in that area that they have a delivery to fulfill,” she said, adding that she hopes to find volunteers in Blount County and surrounding East Tennessee counties, so she can make delivery available in more locations. “I also understand that many want to help but cannot deliver, so we are accepting donations to purchase our supplies and help pay for items that individuals cannot afford at this time.” 

Using Creativity to Fill Critical Need

Two Maryville College mathematics faculty members (and MC alumni), Dr. Chase Worley ’11 and Dr. Jesse Smith ’08, are helping fill a critical need during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re using 3D printers to make face shields for local healthcare professionals. As of April 15, about 180 completed face shields had been delivered to Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Medical GroupRead the press release about this project and see the story by WVLT-TV.

Brenda Eingle, administrative assistant for the Natural Sciences and Math & Computer Sciences Divisions at MC, is helping local healthcare professionals by sewing face masks. She got the idea from social media posts that requested help from those who can sew, and she got a pattern for masks from Blount Memorial Hospital. Each mask is made using 100 percent cotton fabric that is double stitched, a metal nose piece and four ties (one at each corner). On March 30, she had made 30 masks to donate to Blount Memorial Hospital. She hopes to complete 30 each week until the crisis is over.

“I will give wherever there is a need,” Eingle said.

Other MC employees who are sewing masks include Michele DiDiego, Natural Sciences lab assistant; Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics; Ramona Ferguson Crawford ’07, administrative assistant for the Division of Education and the Division of Health Sciences & Outdoor Studies; and Dr. Shahla Ray, adjunct instructor of biology

Sweet Treats for Hospital Personnel

Becky Davis, assistant admissions director (communications), is baking every week for healthcare professionals at Blount Memorial Hospital.

“My pastor at my church, Niles Ferry Baptist, delivers the goodies every Tuesday morning,” Davis said. “Our congregation will be doing this for a while. And the hospital personnel is very appreciative of the snacks and goodies we are providing.” 

Outreach with Community Partners

Maryville College is participating in several community outreach efforts as part of its ongoing partnership with New Hope Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center. Students in Dr. Ariane Schratter’s “Child Trauma and Resilience” course created pinwheels in support of New Hope’s initiative, “All Children Deserve a Healthy, Happy Childhood.” Students could create a pinwheel including details about child trauma, prevention, resilience and recovery; personal stories; or decorations by children that illustrate the theme.

Written by Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”