Connections matter! Rotary International’s 2020 theme is “Rotary Connects the World.”
This is a story about Rotary connections. About a 16-year-old Austin East High School sophomore in Brazil — 4,622 miles from home. About a mother in Knoxville who misses her daughter. About this girl connecting with a Rotarian to her mother – Meshan Dobbins – when she needed help.
Konie Warren is living with host families in Sete Lagoas, Brazil (population 236,228) in the southeastern part of the country. Brazilians speak Portuguese. Today, Konie is trilingual, speaking Portuguese and Spanish and her native tongue.
Through a selection process and interviews, last spring she was chosen to receive an $11,000 scholarship from the six Rotary clubs in Knoxville. The scholarship is reserved for a student from an inner-city school to become a Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) student overseas for a year. This is the second year of this unique program.
Bill Nichols, a member of the Rotary Club of Farragut, is the chair of the District 6780 Outbound RYE Committee and he has been the link, working with Konie and her mom, Meshan Dobbins, for a long time, preparing her for the exchange, going to training sessions out of town and state with mother and daughter and introducing her to local Rotarians.
Dobbins was trying to drive a 35-year-old Pontiac that didn’t run half the time. No AC. The windows didn’t work. It fell apart.
She needed wheels to get to her job and do other routine things. From 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. five days a week she cleans two buildings for Kimco Services. She was finally forced to take out a $5,000 loan to buy a used car in Chattanooga. It turned out to be a lemon. After repairs, it was “sorta OK” she says. Then, this past September, the car was parked in front of her home and a drunk driver crashed into it and totaled it. Back to square one.
Now, here are the connections: Konie told Nichols about her mom’s car problem. He mentioned it to Rotary buddy Jim Holleman of the Volunteer Rotary Club. He turned to fellow Rotarian Rob Schutt, a member of the club who also happens to be on the board of directors of “Volunteer Rides,” a non-profit that works to provide cars to those in dire need. Schutt, who also advises the Rotary Interact Club at A-E, went to Jeff Mynatt, the founder of “Volunteer Rides.” Jeff had recently spoken to the Volunteer Club.
The club agreed to sponsor the car – donating approximately $3,500 for paint, parts and some insurance coverage to get the car ready. Courtesy Body Works, at 4707 Old Broadway, is owned by third-generation owners Josh and Micah Reynolds, who donated all of the work to get the 2012 Nissan Altima in tip-top shape.
On Friday, Jan. 10, Nichols managed to bring Dobbins to the Volunteer club’s noon weekly meeting. It was a set-up. After the meeting, they asked her to go outside with the members and guests and she was presented with her new car.
“I was shocked and had no idea,” Dobbins says. “That Bill Nichols tricked me, he tricked me. Kept telling me they wanted to ask me about Rotary Youth Exchange. He tricked me, but I love Bill Nichols and Rotary. There’s no way I can ever repay them and thank them enough. Bill Nichols has taken care of my girl and now he and Rotary are taking care of me.”
It was emotional at the presentation. “It was a wonderful presentation. She cried. I cried. Just about everyone cried,” Nichols said.
If you’re interested in exploring membership in Farragut Rotary, drop me an email at email@example.com We meet at 12:15 p.m. each Wednesday at Fox Den Country Club. You also can call me at 865-659-3562.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California. He started writing for KnoxTNToday in 2017.