Add halo to Dolly Parton's many hats

J. H. Osborne • May 6, 2017 at 12:00 PM

PIGEON FORGE — You can add halo to the many different hats worn by superstar Dolly Parton, according to some of the hundreds of wildfire victims helped by the Dollywood Foundation.

She’s a songwriter, singer, actress, businesswoman, and, what she has in the past said is her favorite role, “the reading lady” (for her Imagination Library program that provides books to children).

Those she’s tried to help get back on their feet after wildfires devastated portions of her native Sevier County last fall say above all that she is simply their angel.

Parton, along with Dollywood Foundation President David Dotson, formally announced Friday the organization had completed its pledge to provide wildfire victims with $1,000 per month for six months — with a surprise ending.

The final checks were distributed on Thursday. But rather than the $1,000 wildfire victims had been getting, the checks were for $5,000 each. Recipients weren’t aware of the increase until they arrived to pick up their checks.

Parton was there to help distribute some of the last batch of checks, which went to nearly 900 families each month since the fires.

Dotson said the Dollywood Foundation, as of Thursday’s distribution, had given $9 million to fire victims through the My People Fund.

Parton said the even better news is there’s $3 million left. She and Dotson said the Dollywood Foundation will direct that money, along with still-coming-in donations, to Mountain Tough Recovery Team, an organization that will begin assisting fire victims on June 1.

“The My People Fund has been a great success,” Parton said. “I want to thank my team, the Dollywood Foundation, my friends in the music business and the thousands of people from all over the country who opened both their pocketbooks and their hearts to help us.”

Parton pledged assistance to “my people” as soon as the level of devastation was evident and went on to organize and host a nationally broadcast telethon featuring numerous stars. It raised millions.

“We’re still receiving money, so we aren’t finished yet,” Parton said. “Recovery will take some time, so a new organization — called Mountain Tough — has been created to help our people get back on their feet for the next three years. We’re giving at least $3 million to help this new organization begin the next chapter of our journey.”

Mountain Tough assists individuals and families recovering from the wildfires by providing resources for the unmet needs of low-income families and individuals in Gatlinburg and the surrounding Sevier County area. The team seeks to restore the quality of life and provide for the long-term needs of those affected, according to a press release from the Dollywood Foundation.

“Mountain Tough will help pick up where the My People Fund left off,” Dotson said. “They will be staffed with case managers who will work to identify the immediate needs of residents, and our funds will be used to address those needs. For example, it may help with transportation so someone can continue to be employed, or it may help with medicine for conditions caused by the fire. The case managers will coordinate with county agencies to ensure needed assistance is not duplicated and achieves its maximum impact.”

Anyone who wants to help the Mountain Tough Recovery Team with its efforts should visit www.mountaintough.org for information on how to donate, how to volunteer and much more. The website is the official source for all information regarding the recovery effort.

Parton and Dotson each spoke at a press event at the Dollywood Company’s new Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventure dinner show, which replaces the former Lumberjack’s attraction purchased by the company last year.

Their announcement was accompanied by a short video featuring several of those who received help from the My People Fund. Their comments were filmed a couple of months ago — before Thursday’s surprise $5,000 checks. Among their comments:

— “We got away in time to save our lives. That’s literally what we got away with. It was devastating. There’s no way to explain what it’s like to be homeless.”

— “I just barely got out with my life.”

— “We really thought we were going to die that night.”

— “I don’t think I could thank her enough.”

— “So many gracious people, I could never name them. But the most important one is Dolly, and what she’s done for us.”

— “She’s really helped this county.”

— “She’s our angel here in Sevier County.”

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