SOUP pot goes to SPARK games

Betsy PickleFeature, South Knox

People affected by disabilities won the pot Tuesday night at the first Knoxville SOUP dinner of 2018. Attendees voted in large numbers to provide funding for the SPARK program at East Tennessee Technology Access Center, one of four worthy projects presented.

Radio personality and SoKno native Kevin Summitt of 94Z WNFZ moderated the micro-funding dinner, which was held at Dara’s Garden on Maryville Pike. Attendees voted after listening to four brief presentations and dining on a delicious meal of soup, salad, bread and cookies provided by Rothchild. Donations at the door totaled $685, all of which went to ETTAC.

ETTAC, a nonprofit whose headquarters is in South Knoxville but serves people throughout East Tennessee, started SPARK six months ago to offer people affected by physical and intellectual disabilities opportunities to socialize and learn life skills. Participants, dubbed SPARKLERS, meet four nights a week at the center.

They work on social skills and team building through games every week on “Tournament Tuesday.” ETTAC employees Sarah Cole and Joel Simmons said the SOUP funds will help purchase sports equipment that can be used outdoors during good weather. Visit

SOUP, launched by the South Knoxville Alliance three years ago, has been held 11 times and has had 12 winners, including one tie. All but three of the winning projects have been from SoKno, but the program is open to all of Knox County.

Probably the best-known group vying for the door donations was Random Acts of Flowers, a 10-year-old nonprofit that was founded in Knoxville and has spread to several other cities. RAF recycles flowers and delivers them to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, providing encouragement and personal interaction along the way. Mandie Beeler, who presented the project, said RAF is launching a fundraising drive to purchase a new van to replace their aging, donated van that has 250,000-plus miles on it.

One of the most novel ideas ever brought to SOUP came from Tim McGrath, an ESL teacher at West View and Pleasant View elementary schools. McGrath wants to start a fly-fishing club at West View to teach students about nature and the environment in addition to giving them skills that could lead to a career or beloved avocation. He needs money to purchase enough rods and reels for 10 fifth-graders. Contact

Previous presenter Kyle Ford of City of Refuge Inc. came to present a project called More Than a Village, which brings artists, makers and musicians together with a family coping with some kind of trauma (foster care, adoption, at-risk) to teach artistic coping skills and provide mentorship. This support system is designed to help families stay together despite the stresses they face. Contact

Before Tuesday’s winner was announced, October 2017 SOUP winners Jennifer Garrett and principal Janice Cook of the Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy described how winning SOUP had affected the students at their school. They used the money to purchase gas gift cards to help students get to the school in Knoxville Center mall, and they were rewarded with touching responses of how the cards had helped families.

Both Garrett, formerly an assistant principal at Dogwood Elementary School and now campus manager at Paul Kelley, and Cook, former principal at the Knoxville Adaptive Education Center, were overcome by emotion as they talked about the impact on students. Cook reminded all that a small kindness can have a big impact on a child.

The next SOUP will be held in July; date and location to be announced. Info: Knoxville SOUP on Facebook and

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