December 7, 2016

Realtors step up, lean into relief efforts for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge wildfire victims


The news headlines were surreal for many Northeast Tennessee residents because Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are second homes for many of us. We've vacationed there, entertained the kids and grandchildren at Dollywood, shopped at the outlet malls, visited the aquarium and attended conventions there.


To hear that the town was being evacuated and see video of wild fires raging through one of our state's tourist icons was beyond what most had never imagined. Yet, there it was with all the shock, heartbreak and loss of lives disasters deliver.

The shock was still raw when local individuals and groups began marshaling relief efforts. Among the first were local Realtors®.  Several locals took to social media to set up collection points and offered their services to get the ball rolling.
This is typical, when the worst happens Tennesseans lean into it. It's fitting for those who live in Volunteer state.

In the early hours of those relief efforts Tennessee Association of Realtors® 2017 President Brian Copeland sent a blast email to the tens of thousands of Realtors® through the state to focus and coordinate the response.

In cooperation with Terri Williams, President of the Great Smoky Mountains Association of Realtors®, Brian wrote, "if you would like to help immediately in the relief of those affected, we request that you make a donation to the Realtors® Relief Foundation.

"GSMAR will coordinate efforts to identify specific needs for consideration of Foundation assistance. Should you be among those affected, or if you are aware of anyone who is, please contact"

The reasoning behind the request was to get the most efficient use of relief efforts to those who needed it most. It came at almost the same time that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster set up call centers for those who wanted to donate goods and volunteers to help survivors. It was also suggested that individuals and groups not come to the area unless there were part of the organized relief efforts.

That's why Brian and Terri suggested that Realtors® focus their efforts through the Realtors® Relief Foundation. The Foundation has a mission and history of maximizing its efforts with a simple strategy.  It has maintained a commitment to spend no money on administrative costs, a pledge that has encouraged Realtors® to think of the foundation when they see a major disaster unfolding and ask themselves, "What can I do to help?"

The foundation distributed 100% of all funds collected to disaster relief causes on an "as-needed" basis by the Fund's directions. It doesn't guarantee donors that donations made in response to a particular disaster will be used for that specific disaster, but it does guarantee all donors that 100% of their donations will be used for an appropriate disaster relief efforts.

The Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge wild  fires are the most recent examples.
Details about the efforts and generosity of Realtors® from across Tennessee, and the nation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge victims are still be compiled, and the effort is not over yet. Rest assured it was focused on where the most need existed.

“Many people think we just sell property,” Richard Mendenhall says. “In actuality, we help people find the place they will call home, the place they will call their business. We help people find quality of life. And when we see others lose their quality of life though tragedy, we take action. The work of the foundation is an extension of who Realtors® are. It cannot be measured except by the heart." Mendenhall is a former National Association of Realtors® President and worked to establish the Realtors® Housing Relief Fund in the wake of the 9/11 attack. That effort collected over $8.5 million to help fund the mortgages and rents of 9/11 victims.

I want to personally thank our members for their efforts and support for the relief efforts of our neighbors in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Online donations can be made at

Marsha Stowell is the 2016 president of the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors. The real estate education and trade group is the voice for real estate in the Tri-Cities and has over 1,100 local Realtor® members and almost 60 affiliates