Don’t let her size fool you. Connie Wright may have one of the biggest hearts of anyone in this community.
She shows it in everything she does, and most recently, in her volunteer work providing assistance to local survivors of the April 2011 and March 2012 tornadoes.
“I was well-known before that,” Wright said in her wry sense of humor.
For the past 30 years, Wright has been what she calls herself “a Christian educator,” working at First Presbyterian Church, at Wesley United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, and more recently at First United Methodist Church.
“I am semi-retired, kind of taking a break from working,” she said, even though she made sure to mention her and her husband’s involvement with the Antique Automobile Club of America. They have been involved in coordinating local antique car shows through the Cherokee Valley Region chapter of AAC.
If that was all that Wright was involved with, then “semi-retired” might seem an appropriate way of describing her.
“Up to April 2011, I was really not doing anything work-wise, though I was volunteering at the Museum Center at Five Points,” she said. “I have been doing that for about four years.”
That all changed on April 27, 2011.
“I was sick the day of April 27, and when we heard about the tornadoes, we got into our safe place under the stairs listening to the weather radio,” she remembered.
Later that evening, the third round of tornadoes struck, and Wright and her husband were listening to the police radio to see what was occurring within the county.
“I heard an officer say, ‘I’ve been called to come out here to check on houses … there are no houses to check on,’” Wright remembered. “At that point, I knew the massiveness of this.”
Wright spent the next few hours praying while listening to the police scanner. She eventually tried to get some sleep and woke up around 7:30 the next morning to local radio station WCLE informing listeners where help was needed.
“But, one I was still too sick to get out; and, two, I am too small to get out with a chainsaw, and I don’t need to be in the way, so I stayed home listening to the radio,” she said. With power restored in her Charleston-area neighborhood, she got on her computer and went to Facebook, “where people were literally asking where to get things and where to take things. At that moment, I began posting answers from what I was hearing on the radio. Facebook became a wonderful tool, and has continued to be a wonderful tool.”
Wright eventually began volunteering at the Salvation Army, helping people to get assistance. She also worked at the Distribution Center and at other disaster relief sites.
She was instrumental in getting the United Methodist Church involved locally, and has since become the local United Methodist Disaster Relief coordinator for Cleveland and Bradley County.
“I work with the Holston Conference getting volunteers from United Methodist churches to come in and provide assistance,” she said.
As a part of that, she was involved with bringing in a Methodist youth group from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last September.
“The group worked with ROTC at UTC, and were coming to Cleveland on Sept. 10, but I was finding trouble pinning down someone who needed this many volunteers for a work day,” she said. Wright eventually met Dan Wagner, whose mobile home had been heavily destroyed by the April 27 tornadoes.
Wright remembered members of the ROTC walking down the driveway to the remains of Wagner’s trailer. She said she did not know until that time that Wagner was retired from the Army Air Force.
“He said he wished he had a camera,” Wright remembered. “It was such a touching sight.”
She has been involved in other local tornado recovery projects, much of which she has done as a volunteer case manager for the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization.
“I came and talked to Lisa (Mantooth) at the LTRO. I asked what can I do, how can I help?” Wright said. “I came to the case management training and have had several cases since then.”
She has been involved in many projects with the LTRO, and was honored by being named a finalist for the Jefferson Award which goes to a volunteer who makes a difference in his or her community. Ironically, another finalist for the award was Cleveland’s Jon Coppinger.
“I had Jon in preschool at church when he was a child,” she remembered, “and we both said to each other that we hoped [the other] would win.”
She added, “To be nominated, I was honored, and humbled, but I did say that if I were to be selected, it was not an award to me, but to this entire community for the work they have done.”
Mantooth, who serves as LTRO case manager supervisor, was a part of the group that nominated Wright for the award.
“Connie Wright is one of the most selfless people I have had the privilege to know,” Mantooth said. “She is always thinking of others before herself. When a need arises it is not ‘can this be done, but let’s get it done.’ She is an amazing woman, full of resources. She will tell you that everything she does is ‘God driven.’ It is an honor to work beside her to help others.”
Wright said that she learned much about herself following the events of April 27, 2011, things that she probably knew but never thought about.
“I have found a new side of me,” she said. “I have done church work for 30 years. I was the one who set up the mission team, found the place for the teams to go, helped with the fundraisers and waved to the team when it left, but I have never been on a mission trip myself.
“This has been my mission trip,” Wright stated. “And I have found that I have strength that, in many cases we never see until we are put in this type of position. I have a power to get others involved, and I want to use that to get others to volunteer their time to help those in our community in need.”
Those wishing to see Wright in action may get involved in the “Day of Service” on Saturday, April 28, where she and others will work to get as many involved in volunteering their services that day to help clean up in the aftermath of the April 27 and March 2 storms.
“Yes, there are still areas in our community that have trees down and debris from last April, and this is a great time for us all to get together and help the people in our community who still need that help,” she said.
To get involved in the “Day of Service,” either as a volunteer or for those who still need assistance, call 599-0757.