University of Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer keynotes the 365 Days of Hope event
By Emily Booker
Teamwork, community, and children’s safety were on the minds of everyone attending Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s 365 Days of Hope Luncheon on Nov. 24 at The Press Room in Knoxville.
The annual luncheon offers networking opportunities to business leaders in the Knoxville area and supports Catholic Charities’ programs.
This year’s luncheon featured guest speaker Phillip Fulmer, director of athletics at the University of Tennessee. Stowers Machinery Corp. was the presenting sponsor.
“Today’s networking and fellowship is all to benefit Knoxville’s Children’s Emergency Shelter, where we care for children who are facing unimaginable situations 365 days a year. Simply by joining us today you’re helping to change so many of their lives, and I thank you for that,” said Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.
Mr. Fulmer gave the keynote speech. In addition to being the University of Tennessee’s athletics director since 2017, he served as head coach of the Tennessee football team from 1992-2008. He led the team to a national championship in 1998. He was out of collegiate athletics and working in the business sector from 2009 until he was named to his current post.
“I’m thrilled to be back as our athletic director. It’s been a lot of fun being back around that place, being back around people who compete at the highest level, recruit at the highest level, and kind of help our university in a lot of ways. I like to see teams work well together,” he said.
He reflected on how coaching has taught him the importance of caring for and supporting children.
“Being a coach for 40 years, I have certainly seen what caring for young people, being in their lives, and helping them can do—sometimes when they don’t even know it. In the case here, you probably won’t know the particular individual that you’re making a difference in their life—it’s something that’s real. We deal with it in our community and our businesses or whatever. There’s so many diverse kinds of backgrounds that our children are coming from. Oftentimes we just want to be able to give them a good chance to have success.”
Proceeds from this year’s luncheon benefited Knoxville’s Children’s Emergency Shelter, a safe haven for children removed from the home and awaiting longer-term placement. The Children’s Emergency Shelter assists in keeping children out of the state’s custody and, if possible, places them with appropriate relatives and provides them with needed support services.
Judge Tim Irwin of Knox County Juvenile Court spoke via video about the challenges he sees with children who are suddenly separated from their parents and face being placed in state custody.
Judge Irwin, who played for then-Tennessee assistant football coach Fulmer in 1980, explained how the Children’s Emergency Shelter gives children a safe space to process what is happening while giving the courts time to find the best possible living situation for the children.
“The Children’s Emergency Shelter is truly a transformative beacon of hope in our Knoxville community. Children come to us separated from their parents because of abuse, neglect, and countless other heartbreaking situations that they live through each and every day, situations that are completely outside of their control,” said Christine White, development director for Catholic Charities.
“We serve hundreds of children each year because they don’t all live in stable, healthy, and loving homes. This year alone at Children’s children as young as 4 days old and those just shy of their 18th birthday,” Mrs. White said. “Children in our community need the Children’s Emergency Shelter for every single day, 365 days a year.”
Special guests at the luncheon included Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Judge Charles Susano, Chelsea Ivens, who represented Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and Jane Jolley, who represented Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. Kristin Farley, news anchor at WATE-TV 6, emceed the event.