The Day of Dreams also includes Jere’s Ride and Gabby’s Walk for Change.
Donovan Walden was a participant for the first five years of Empower Me.
“His big smile, wonderful laugh, teasing nature and love for music is what we will always remember about him,” said Empower Me executive director Michelle Hill.
Live music will begin around 12:30 p.m. by Cedar Creek Boys, Carolina Gold, Janelle Arthur, Buddy Brock and Worley as they celebrate Donovan’s life and others who have died. The event will take place at 200 Carver Lane in Lebanon and is open to the public. Everyone is encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets.
“When Empower Me Day Camp first started 18 years ago, we had eight kids participating each week for an eight-week summer, with some kids with us for very long days,” Hill said. “That first year was a tough one financially. While we were having an awesome summer providing a camp experience for these special needs kids, we as an organization were going severely into debt. As executive director, I was pretty stressed out, to say the least. But one young man with his cast on his leg, his limp as he walked, made each day worth it.
“Dolphin Donovan, as he was called, was with me from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week for eight weeks. In fact, for all the years he was able to attend, he spent each week with us during the summer. That first year, he was always the first one to arrive. He would get out of the car and go to the edge of the building and wait for me to come out of the back office to initiate our morning routine. In a crouched position ready to take off and win a race, he would yell out, ‘on your marks, get set...’ and wait for me to yell ‘go.’
“He would run with the brace on his leg and the limp in his stride the 100-plus feet to tackle me with a big bear hug. I got that hug every morning. And so no matter how stressed out I was over our finances, I knew things would work out because Donovan was who we were here for, and he helped give me the strength to continue on.
“At the end of each summer, we have an awards banquet honoring our campers. Donovan, in previous years, received the best friend award, the best leader award and the most polite award. In 2008, we recognized Donovan with a lifetime achievement award that stated, ‘Thought of more often than you’ll ever know...Included in our prayers...A smile...A hug...A place in our hearts forever...An inspiration to us all. We Love You Donovan.’
Walden was born Jan. 9, 1991 and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and was blind in his left eye. He started with Empower Me at 8 years old in 1999. He spent five years as part of the Empower Me family.
“This was the highlight of his summers,” said Debbie Walden, Donovan’s mother. “He loved all the things at camp. The dream of Empower Me Center would also be a dream of Donovan’s. We hope this dream comes true for everyone.”
In the latter part of 2003, Donovan Walden suffered his first stroke. He would later have more that left him bed bound for 10 years. He died Jan 30, 2014.
“You know, working with these special kids, I have learned a lot of life lessons,” Hill said. “One, you try to do your best to make a positive impact in someone’s life. Well, Donovan definitely did that for me. He taught me to never give up, long before he got sick and was faced with his own challenges. Two, he taught me that everyone, and I mean everyone, whether they are healthy or have a disability such as autism, epilepsy, spina bifida, blindness, deafness or have cerebral palsy and blind in one eye, has a gift to offer this world. And whether these kids will ever know it or not, they do touch the lives of others and empower people to reach out to help other people and make this world a better place. I am grateful to have known such a caring and loving individual who has helped me strive to be a better person. He will always have a very special place in my heart and we are excited to celebrate his life with Donovan’s Jam.”
The Cedar Creek Boys is a local band that plays current and traditional country music and bluegrass. The band was formed in the 1980s by Ray Justice and Preston Walden when they attended Mt. Juliet High School. It was a traditional bluegrass band and enjoyed local popularity doing live shows and television performances. The band was then dormant for many years as Justice and Walden had successful careers outside of music. They each continued to play and to keep music not far out of reach. Recently, the Cedar Creek Boys have reunited as a full country band with focus on instrumentation and vocal harmony. They are looking forward to playing their hometown of Wilson County at Donovan’s Jam.
Carolina Gold is a Southern rock and country band out of Nashville that is becoming a household name quickly. With their new single “Southern Comfort” and the touring schedule sharing the stage with bands like Little Big Town, Brantley Gilbert, Chris Young and more, and with their nine appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, it’s easy to see why. They will take the stage around 1 p.m. Visit carolinagoldmusic.com for more information.
Arthur began singing in the heart of the Smoky Mountains at 8 years old, performing thousands of shows in the area before making the move to Nashville in 2010. She soon began her American Idol journey, and after three years of persistence, made it all the way to the Top 5 out of 120,000 competitors. Arthur not only had exposure on Idol, but also on shows like the Today show, the Kelly and Michael Show and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She’s been the opening act for Craig Morgan, Rascal Flatts and has performed alongside and/or collaborated with the Henningsons, the Band Perry and Vince Gill. She achieved her lifelong dream June 19, 2013 to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage and has many times since.
Brock, originally from Greenwood, S.C., began his career as a staff songwriter in Nashville in April 1990. He lives in Gallatin with his wife, Robyn. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. Brock’s award-winning songs were recorded by such artists as George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Aaron Tippin, Tracy Byrd, Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw, George Jones, Alan Jackson, Gary Allen, Lila McCann, Sammy Kershaw and many more. In Brock’s own words, he feels blessed not only in achieving the level of success he has, but in being able to do what he loves. However, he is most grateful for having a loving and supportive family all of whom he is most proud.
Worley was born in Memphis and then moved to Pyburn, where he was raised. His father was a Methodist preacher, and his mother sang in the church choir. He worked in the chemical industry prior to pursuing country music, and wrote for Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. One of his first cuts as a songwriter was a track on Archer/Park’s 1994 debut album.
Worley has scored nearly 20 hit singles and three chart-topping hits with the self- penned “Awful, Beautiful Life,” as well as “I Miss My Friend,” which came to him via a songwriter friend in Nashville. He also recognizes the importance of giving back every opportunity he can through his annual charities that has funded organization such as the Darryl Worley Cancer Treatment Center in Savannah.
While he takes pride in making the difference in the lives of those around him, Worley also has spent much of his career giving back to the men and women overseas doing their job to keep his family and our country safe. Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, Worley penned the heartfelt “Have You Forgotten,” which spent seven weeks at No. 1 and has become the biggest hit of his career.
Worley recently released a new single, “Rainmaker,” with the proceeds benefiting Cyclone Winston relief efforts. When the cyclone hit, Worley and his wife were on the island where many people lost their lives and millions in damage was done.
“This storm has changed the island of Fiji forever. It also changed our lives forever,” Worley said. “There are defining moments in our lives, and prayerfully we take what we should from them. This experience has reminded me of why we are put here, to do all we can to help those less fortunate than we are and to live every moment like it is a precious gift, because it is. This event brought a whole new meaning to count your blessings.”
“Empower Me is forever grateful to Darryl for sharing the gifts he was given to empower the lives of their special children,” Hill said.
The Day of Dreams festivities begin at 7 a.m. with Jere’s Ride, then followed by a day filled with free family friendly events, including Gabby’s Walk for Change at 10 a.m., followed by Donovan’s Jam.
Visit empowermecenter.com for more information.