Empower Me is a local nonprofit organization for individuals with disabilities.
Six choirs from local churches and schools sang Christmas carols at the event, and the audience voted on a winner. There were also two guest performances from the Bert Coble Singers and Centerstage Theatre Co.
During intermission, program director Beth Goolesby invited audience members to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies and bid in the silent auction. Young children in the audience also had photos taken with Santa.
At the end of all the performances, audience members cast their ballot, and the Mt. Juliet High School Vocal Ensemble won for its performance of “Jingle Bells.”
“I'm going to give you guys a poinsettia, and you can trade it for the trophy, which will have your name on it,” said program director Beth Goolesby. “Actually, you don’t have to give it back. You can keep the poinsettia and the trophy if you want.”
After the performances, Empower Me executive director Michelle Hill spoke about the organization’s past and its upcoming plans.
The Empower Me began as a day camp for children with disabilities in 1999 at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center. The organization soon found some of the families needed more help than just during the summer.
“Many of these families cannot just pick up the phone and call a babysitter down the street to watch their child,” said Hill. “These families needed us to expand our programs to provide respite care. So we did.”
As the needs of the Empower Me’s families changed, the nonprofit organization adapted and changed its services. In October, the organization bought 25.45 acres of land on South Hartmann Drive, where it will build a community recreational building, a recreational sports complex and independent and supervised living cottages all geared to meet the unique needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities.
Having a home of its own in Wilson County will allow the group to work toward meeting the current, as well as future, needs of its families. For example, last year it turned away 150 families who wanted to take part in the summer camp program due to a lack of space.
Hill said the building will allow Empower Me to increase its enrollment four-fold during the summer; have year-round recreational programs for adults; offer continuing education classes and courses to health care and education professionals, as well as individuals in the community; and more.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time to get everything going,” said Hill. “Nothing will be happening out there quite yet. Our goal is to be able to offer our fall sports festival on site next year.”