Maria Lee encourages kids in community service

Sandra ClarkGet Up & Go

When Bill Lee beat three better known contenders to win the Republican nomination for governor, many of us asked, “Who is Bill Lee?” Even more people must wonder about his wife. Who is Maria Lee?

This week we learned one thing. She gets things done. In May, Lee launched Tennessee Serves, an initiative designed to encourage Tennesseans to volunteer in their communities. As a component of that initiative, Lee introduced the Tennessee Kids Serve Summer Challenge. Rising kindergarten through sixth grade students were tasked with completing a minimum of three to five service projects from eight categories, including serving the elderly, food-insecure and first responders.

Kids from across the state completed 1,400 hours of service during this inaugural challenge. So, Maria and Bill Lee will host a carnival for top participants at the Tennessee Residence on Sept. 14.

“We are humbled and encouraged by the kids that devoted a portion of their summer break to serving others,” Lee was quoted in a press statement. “Our hope is that their love for service continues to grow and becomes a part of their everyday life.”

Maria Lee was a schoolteacher prior to marrying Bill Lee in 2008. His first wife and mother of his four children died accidentally in 2000. In her official biography, Maria Lee talks of her own volunteer work, teaching English to Iraqi refugee women and, through a separate organization, tutoring children with Salama Urban Ministries.

“When you’re able to help someone learn English and you see that light in their eyes and they can say something as simple as a four-word sentence, there is a great reward in that,” Lee said. “Because it’s going to change their life.”

Since moving into the governor’s residence in January, Lee has resumed taking meals to new mothers and the sick at her church. Now she travels with a security detail. She helped build homes this spring for two different organizations. She has volunteered at a food pantry and delivered food to the elderly through Meals on Wheels.

At this rate, Maria Lee could have half the state mobilized to do good deeds by the end of her husband’s first term. Have fun at the carnival, y’all.

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