G-P senior is Home Federal Bank’s Hometown Hero

May. 01, 2014 @ 11:18 PM

Making a difference in her community is something Makenzie Thomas has been doing for years.

Wednesday afternoon she earned a little recognition for her efforts.

A volunteer with numerous community organizations who’s donated over 1,110 hours of her busy high school career to help others, Thomas — a Sevierville resident and Gatlinburg-Pittman High School senior — was named Home Federal Bank’s Hometown Hero for 2014.

Thomas already knew she was one of eight regional selections for the award, but being named the overall winner and garnering double-funding for her charity of choice — the Sevier County Veterans’ Emergency Fund — was quite a surprise.

“I was very excited,” Thomas said. “I was really excited about the opportunity to give back to the veterans again. That was really important for me.”

Thomas netted the charity $5,000 with her selection for the award — $2,500 for being chosen a semifinalist out of dozens of community nominations, and then $2,500 more for being tabbed the overall winner.

“We chose eight winners from different areas of our market — we’re headquartered in Knoxville and we’re in Anderson, Blount and Sevier Counties,” Dale Keasling, president of Home Federal, said. “We pick eight, and each person who’s a winner gets to direct $2,500 to their favorite charity. And then we pick, out of that eight, an overall winner. The overall winner can direct $5,000 to their favorite charity.” Thomas picked up her dedication to Sevier County’s veterans through working with another group she started, the Sevier County Teenage Republicans.

“I’m with the Teenage Republicans, and last fall we actually did a yard sale where we raised over $2,000 and decided to donate it to the veterans, so I decided to do that again,” Thomas said. “They’ve sacrificed their lives to provide our freedoms. I know the money is nothing compared to the sacrifices they’ve made for us, but it was important for me.” Her work was important to the veterans’ emergency service fund as well.

“It is tremendous,” Sevier County Veterans Service Officer Paul Whaley, who administers the fund, said. “You can’t say enough about Makenzie or her compassion and concern for veterans. What may not be appreciated is the need that veterans and their dependents can have. If you have a disabled veteran and he passes away, then his benefit ends. And his wife, life as she knows it has ended. She’s got to start another one, without her spouse, and probably 60-80 percent of the income. The bills are basically the same.”

Thomas was selected not just for her work for veterans.

“She’s the valedictorian of her class,” Keasling said. “She’s the co-captain of the soccer team and she’s given over 1,100 volunteer hours while she’s been in high school: She’s done work for the veterans’ association, she’s got together blankets for people who take dialysis, she’s gotten together a program to give backpacks to the children at the childrens’ home here, she put together a garden for veterans to have fresh produce, she’s tutored other students in school, she’s coached a soccer team — I can go on and on.

“It’s just an unbelievable resume of things she’s done. She’s been a really active volunteer and, in addition, a really good student at the same time.” A couple of the other groups Thomas helps that are among her favorites are the birthing unit at LeConte Medical Center and Sevier County Schools’ Trula Lawson Center — which specializes in educating special-needs children.

“That one’s my favorite,” Thomas said. “I’ve done it every summer for the last four summers. I’m basically a teacher’s assistant. We help them with arts and crafts and try to help them with their speech and stuff, based on their needs.”

Between those two volunteer jobs and family circumstances, it was easy for Thomas to decide on a future career path once she finishes high school and starts at the University of Tennessee in the fall.

 “I’m going to major in biology with hopes to become a pediatric oncologist,” Thomas said.

“I knew that I liked being around babies and children. And also my grandmother died from breast cancer before I was born, and people close to me have been impacted by cancer as well.”

Makenzie’s parents are Nina Thomas and Davy Thomas, both of Sevierville.