Farragut wildfire relief work earns state recognition

Farragut resident Carol Jordan was stunned last November as the Gatlinburg wildfires marched toward her childhood home and toward Ski Mountain, where her parents started a cabin rental company in 1972.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 6, Jordan, other family members, and employees of Mountain Laurel Chalets were honored for their community service at the 2017 Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Hospitality and Tourism. The three-day conference was held at the Gatlinburg Convention Center.

“The award was related to the ways that our company cared for the community after the fires and helped coordinate volunteers and workers to serve the community,” said Jordan, a Village Green resident.

“When we received a frantic call that Ski Mountain was on fire, our hearts grieved,” she said last December. “We watched in disbelief as my hometown faced an inconceivable tragedy.

“In the midst of our loss, we were looking for ways to care for others who also faced losses related to the fires. We’re a property management company and are currently seeking permits to rebuild some of the 42 homes destroyed in the fire,” Jordan added.

But she and others rallied, bringing relief to rescue workers and residents. They set up a food and beverage station at the Mountain Laurel Chalets office on Ski Mountain Road. Volunteers included her immediate family, her siblings Susan Goodwin and Randy Egli and their families, friends from First Baptist Concord, Concord United Methodist Church, Fellowship Church and student volunteers from the University of Tennessee and from colleges in other states.

“The students we coordinated contributed over 4,000 hours of community service specifically related to fire recovery,” she said.

“The categories we were nominated for were the Gold Star PR Award, for community service in our industry, which is lodging. We won the award for the lodging industry, the Gold Star PR Award for community service, said Tom Goodwin, who runs the business.

“In the five or six days the city was first re-opened, Mountain Laurel Chalets owners and staff provided food and drink to returning residents and emergency and utility workers while Gatlinburg was closed to the public,” he added.

“Our office was one of the few things standing at the base of Ski Mountain Road,” Jordan said. “We worked with Concord Baptist Church to provide free drinks and food and we opened our office restroom facilities and so forth as a service to our community in the midst of us assessing what was the future for our company. That continued beyond those initial five or six days. We developed a Gatlinburg relief fund in partnership with Cru that raised over $14,000 that was used to bless those people who had significant loss in the community.

“Also, we just have really tight connections with Cru because of our family involvement with them over the last 30 years,” she added.

“The campus ministry had used our cabins for their retreats, so in the middle of December when students from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia came up for a conference that was already scheduled, they were moved out of Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge, but they came into Gatlinburg and asked, ‘How can we help serve?’”

“That began these opportunities where we mobilized students with Cru to do community service,” Goodwin said. “We had over 400 students in the course of those four months who did painting, food distribution, prayer walks, limb and tree cleanup on properties that were devastated and that continued all the way through the summer.

“We also started a movement called Pray for Gatlinburg that continued through the spring,” he added. “We made T-shirts that said ‘Pray for Gatlinburg’ and our key verse was 2 Chronicles 7:12, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’”

That was the verse that Carol’s mother had painted on rocks and placed in front of the office and in front of her house and her children’s houses.

They created thank-you cards with the verse to hand out to local government officials, pastors and first responders, since for safety reasons they couldn’t send volunteers to demolition areas.

“Our stipulation was, ‘if we said in the good times the Lord has helped us, then we’re going to believe in the hard times that He has helped us as well,’” Goodwin said.