Group leaders began trickling in Monday, May 27, while the bulk of the students arrived over this past weekend. Student training began Sunday, June 2, and will continue throughout this week, with the group staying through June 8.
FWKCC President/CEO Julie Blaylock said the CDF reached out to the Chamber about a year ago, seeking accommodations for its group, which is holding its national training conference on the Roane State Community College campus in Harriman and the CDF Haley Farm in Anderson County.
The students hail from 28 states and represent more than 180 CDF Freedom Schools sites, where they will lead children ages kindergartkn through 12th grade through six-week literacy and cultural enrichment programs later in the summer, according to organizers.
In previous years, Freedom School trainees had stayed in dorms on the University of Tennessee campus, but as the CDF is a drug/alcohol-free organization, it was looking for a more family-friendly after-hours environment for its trainees, Blaylock said.
“When they were looking at Roane State for the training site, they Googled what was within 30 minutes to Roane State and Harriman, and they found (our Chamber),” she said. “They will have college students who are 19-25 years old who will want to go shopping or to the movies or out to dinner when their day is over. I told them Farragut and Turkey Creek was just where they needed to be.”
With nine hotels in Farragut alone, along with numerous FWKCC hotelier members just outside of Town, Blaylock said she told them accommodations could “absolutely” be made.
She and Town of Farragut Tourism coordinator Karen Tindal began working with the CDF Freedom School organizers, helping them every step along the way, including putting together 1,500 “goodie bags” filled with restaurant coupons and menus, maps, favors and treats.
It also included a warm message from Mayor Ron Williams.
They were joined by Farragut Vice Mayor Louise Povlin, Tourism Committee chairman Michael Bellamy and his daughter, Landry, and several other volunteers in Town Hall Friday, May 24, in stuffing the bags that were later delivered by Town of Farragut employees to each location.
“We wanted all the students to get bags because we’d like for all of them to feel good about Farragut and spend money here,” Tindal said.
With a third of the students staying in Farragut alone, Tindal is excited about what it means for the Town, as it is the first large group to stay in Farragut since the Town’s tourism program started in 2018.
“It shows that this is a desirable location for housing conference participants,” Tindal said. “It has the safety and amenities that groups are looking for.”
Blaylock encouraged Chamber members to welcome the visitors via her weekly Chamber email announcements, and provided a sign, designed by FWKCC member Postal Annex using the CDF logo, which could be posted in business windows or on countertops.
Jill Thompson of the Greater Knoxville Hospitability Association had suggested the idea during the Town’s Tourism Advisory Committee meeting earlier this month, noting it “would really help them feel welcome,” Blaylock recalled.
Both Tindal and Blaylock noted the assistance of Steve Krempasky of Shop Farragut.
Tindal said she was excited “this was the first time that Visit Farragut, the FWKCC and Shop Farragut have worked together to welcome a large group,” and Blaylock credited Krempasky with spreading the word to Farragut businesses about the event, and bringing in so many of the coupons that were shared.
“Hopefully they will have a good experience here,” she added. “We would love to have them back next year.”