Adventurous friends take on Dragon Boat Festival to help KARM

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, West Knox

Each month, Tiffany Ballard and a group of friends team up for an adventure. They’ve done everything from trapeze arts to poetry slams to a hike to Mt. LeConte.

But this Saturday’s outing is more than a good time for the “12 for 12” team, as they call themselves. They will be helping out Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) by racing in the 16th annual Dragon Boat Festival. The races start at 8 a.m., June 23, at The Cove at Concord Park at 11808 S. Northshore Drive. The day concludes with an awards presentation at 3:30 p.m.


Dragon Boat racing is a sport that’s increasingly popular for festivals and fundraising events. Teams of up to 24 people (21 on the boat and three alternates) paddle in a 40-foot-vessel. Team-building experts say it’s a great exercise, as the boat won’t go anywhere unless everyone works together.

The group held its first trial run on the water earlier this week.

“None of us have ever done this,” Ballard says. In fact, one of their team is terrified of water and is overcoming that fear specifically to compete.

“Love her!” Ballard says. Of the group’s activities, she says, “We always say if you think it’s not for you then you should be the first to sign up!”

Ballard started the group in January 2015 with three women. There are now 24 members, ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s.

“We’re just a group of friends that have a great time together,” she says.

The group agreed to participate in the Dragon Boat Festival in February, committing to raising the $1,200 entry fee. Now the members have raised $3,500, including the proceeds from a successful chili cook-off.

“As we learned more about KARM, we got much more invested,” Ballard says. “My only knowledge of KARM was meals and beds for the homeless. I had absolutely no idea of the in-depth programs that they offered to people who were willing to make the changes and hard choices that it would take to get their lives back on track.”

KARM’s goal for the fundraiser is $260,000. That’s a figure that could provide about 139,000 meals for the men, women and children that KARM serves. In addition to emergency services, KARM provides longer-term programs to break the cycle of homelessness, including a 12-to-18-month residential program for up to 33 women and children.

Ballard says she was particularly touched by the women’s programs at KARM.

“To think about going to a (job) interview without having slept well, or showered, or carrying all your possessions in your backpack with you or holding your child’s hand while talking to a potential employer,” Ballard says. “That would be the reality if KARM did not provide.”

No matter the outcome of the race, Ballard says this is one adventure her group is eager to repeat next year, next time with earlier and more diversified fundraising.

“We’ve all been so touched by the great works that KARM does,” Ballard says. “We can’t wait for Saturday’s race.”

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