The thousands displaced by fires in Tennessee just found a hero in Dolly Parton.

Residents of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which has been battered by deadly wildfires for days, are getting some much needed help from their most famous neighbor.

Dolly Parton. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

In a video and written statement released this week on her foundation's website, award-winning singer and actor Dolly Parton announced the creation of a fund to help the region rebuild, even as the fires continue to rage.


"I have always believed that charity begins at home," the singer said. "That’s why I’ve asked my Dollywood Companies — including the Dollywood Theme Park, and DreamMore Resort; my dinner theater attractions including Dixie Stampede and Lumberjack Adventure; and my Dollywood Foundation to help me establish the 'My People Fund.'"

The fund aims to provide residents who lost their homes to the fire $1,000 every month for six months, to help them rebuild.

The fires have already claimed seven lives, injured dozens, and damaged hundreds of buildings since they began spreading on Monday.

A birdcage sits among debris burned by the Gatlinburg wildfires. Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images.

Severe drought conditions in the region helped the flames, which appear to have been human caused, sweep into downtown Gatlinburg quickly and without warning.

Several people remain missing, giving families with elderly or less mobile relatives special cause for concern. In some cases, they've already had to confront the worst.

According to a WKRN report, victims of the blazes have included both locals and tourists — many of whom come to the area to visit its ski resorts and Parton's Dollywood amusement park.

Fire officials have yet to determine when displaced residents — that number over 10,000 — will be able to return to their homes.

Meanwhile, many locals have expressed frustration that their plight has been ignored or downplayed by the national press — as Jason Howard, a writer with family ties to the area, expressed in an opinion piece published yesterday in the New York Times.

"For most folks like me, this calamity is less about the lost jobs than about the lost memories of a place of great beauty, in a part of the country that sorely needed it," Howard wrote.

Parton's pledge not only stands to make the rebuilding process bearable for families who lost everything, it brings some much-needed attention to the area's struggle.

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.

Much like her earlier advocacy for LGBT rights, the singer is hoping to leverage her star power to do some good for the people she knows and loves best, calling the region, "the same mountains where I grew up and where my people call home."

Parton plans to release more details on her plan to aid the displaced families soon, according to her statement.

The people of East Tennessee have been asking America to listen for days.

Now, at last, they have a powerful voice on their side.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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