“An elderly woman lived behind us in Jal, New Mexico,” Terry said. “I helped her unload groceries, put them away on her shelves, wash dishes.”
Her father had asked his youngest daughter to do anything that Miss Sadie needs doing.
“When I look back, I see the things that shaped and molded me,” Terry said.
Even now, Terry’s three older brothers and sisters remember that their youngest sister was always giving to others.
“God has gifted me in that way,” she said.
She was born in Dimmitt, Texas, to Corbet and Bertie Franks. Both were ministers with the Church of God. But her family moved when she was just 6 months old, the youngest of four, and grew up in New Mexico.
“Being a pastor’s child is kind of like being in the military,” she said. “We moved around a lot.”
Terry’s mom died from cancer when she was just 5 years old. Her father raised her and her three siblings all by himself.
“Dad was amazing,” she said, looking off into the distance for a brief moment, picturing her life as it had been back then. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Her dad would take his youngest, Reba, along with him on his pastoral visits.
“That’s where I learned servant leadership firsthand,” Terry said.
Even as a child, Terry knew serving others would be her life’s work.
“I’ve worked in the caring field all my life,” Terry said. “It’s a calling. I can’t not be drawn to it ... I just can’t do anything else.”
She moved to Cleveland 20 years ago.
Reba A. Terry, MSSW, LCSW, is now the executive director of The Caring Place and has been for seven years. As the executive director, Terry largely is responsible for smooth work flow and the proper treatment of clients.
During her years as executive director, The Caring Place has experienced exponential growth. From six churches, 67 churches are now helping to support the organization. The number of people helped has also increased, with an average of 503 every month in 2005 to an average of 1,200 a month this year.
“God’s favor and grace has been remarkable,” Terry said.
Before that, Terry was a psychiatric social worker at Parkridge Valley Hospital in Chattanooga, a social work contractor in Ducktown at LIfe Care at Home, a psychiatric social worker and Bradley assessment team member at Parkridge, a social work case manager at Nancy’s House in Cleveland, a field consultant at the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a renal social worker at the BMA Bradley/Athens Dialysis Clinics and a medical social worker at Columbia Home Care, also in Ducktown. She has a total of 15 years of work experience since she started working in this field in Cleveland.
Terry also got her bachelor’s in psychology from Lee University, graduating summa cum laude.
“God brought me to Lee University,” Terry said. “How I got to Cleveland is a whole other story ... It was God’s direction. That’s the best way to say it.”
She earned her master’s in social work from UT and earned her intergenerational specialist designation from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work for roughly an additional 10 years of education in her field.
Another of her memorable recollections came during her first internship in graduate school at Bradley Memorial Hospital. She remembers being assigned to help an elderly couple and to provide them with whatever help they might need. And Terry remembers being able to do just that.
She felt confident.
She felt at home.
She felt she was where she belonged.
“I know how to do this,” she said she realized at the time. “Hand-in-glove. It fits. I knew this is what I was supposed to do.”
But when she started praying to God to direct her in her path about 10 years ago, she started on a journey that culminated in The Caring Place.
“The spiritual journey I was on during those years was a wonderful experience for me,” Terry said. “But I never thought the answer to my prayers would look like this (at The Caring Place) ... I learned a lot about me, about God, about pain — both physical and emotional ... It put life in perspective for me. Things I thought were problems paled in perspective. I went home thankful for all my blessings — my family and their support and unconditional love, home and security. I certainly never knew so many people who had such pain and still had resilience and determination to live their days in the best way they could ... Powerful, it is, just thinking back ... Those were good days. I’ll always treasure them.”
A member of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work, Terry also is the chairperson of the Bradley County Interagency Council, an elder and council member at Westmore Church of God, and a community advisory board member at the Department of Children’s Services.
Terry is married to Herb Terry and has been for the past 37 years. They have been active in their local church throughout their marriage. The couple has two married children: Heather and Matt Carlson, who made Terry a grandma for the first time with now 5-month-old Nile, and Eric and Kristan Terry, who just gave Terry a second grandchild, 5-week-old Samuel.
More about The Caring Place
According to The Caring Place brochures, it is a Christian, ecumenical, nonprofit organization whose mission is to model the love of Christ by addressing basic physical, spiritual and social needs of the disadvantaged in Bradley County. It has eight employees and more than 130 volunteers. Additionally, it is supported by 67 churches from 12 different denominations, as well as more than 180 local businesses, clubs, schools and corporations. Grants and donations from private sources are needed to continue operating.
The Caring Place helps area folks in need with food, clothing and even distributes free diapers through its DiaperLove program, in addition to help from social workers when necessary.
According to The Caring Place statistics, 24 percent of children in Bradley County are living at the poverty level, but it only takes $20 a month to feed a child. The Sack Pack program at The Caring Place helps do just that, having delivered 2,815 packs of food to elementary school children during the recent school year.
“We’re excited about this,” Terry said. “We’ve had a great response. There is lots of need. We’re just scratching the surface. There are lots of schools that need us.”
Also, The Caring Place helps clients with a variety of needs, such as employment, disability issues, grief and bereavement counseling, drug and/or alcohol issues, housing, education, transportation, childcare, violence and/or abusive situations, spiritual counseling, mental health issues, marriage and family counseling, as well as medical and dental needs.
Last year, according to its records, The Caring Place helped 3,439 families, distributed 172 tons of food, helped 527 people with professional social work services, gave out 15,607 bags of food, and helped 188 homeless people.
The Caring Place is always in need of men’s shoes and clothing — especially work clothing, not business suits. Jeans would be “great” Terry said.
“More good, everyday kinds of work clothes,” Terry said. “And with winter coming on, we need blankets, gloves and scarves for everyone.”
The Caring Place is in particular need of certain types of foods.
“Proteins,” Terry said, such as beans, peanut butter, canned meat. But The Caring Place also has a walk-in freezer, so the organization can take donations of fresh meat as well. “It’s easier on the budget if we have these things donated. But money is always good.”
The Caring Place is located at 130 Wildwood Ave. S.E. The organization is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon, and Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. Its phone number is 472-4414. Its email address is info@the caringplaceonline.org.