KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnnie Mae Swagerty was born a stone’s throw away from the building where she currently changes and shapes young lives. Born and raised in Kingsport, she volunteers for numerous organizations in the Model City. But if you ask how she does it, she will tell you her energy, and her heart, is with kids.
Johnnie Mae has committed her entire life to bettering her community. At 63 years young, she says her parents’ life of service inspired her to do the same.
“Well, for my father, Johnny Swagerty, and my mom Pastor Geraldine Swagerty, rest in peace, they always told us, give back,” Swagerty said. “Helping everybody, feed and clothe them, educate them, you know, just let them be a part of our family. You know, and I’m just doing what I do.”
And her family’s rich history of taking care of others led to her own epiphany.
“The Lord gave me a vision and I’m going to do his ministry serving the community,” Swagerty said. “I think it’s important because our elders have done got old and gone on. But to keep it going, to show the new vision, kids, that you can do this, learn from me and just keep it going and keep it moving.”
And as part of that vision, Johnnie Mae co-founded New Vision Youth, a program for students ages four to eighteen. The program provides enrichment activities and encourages engagement in the community.
“We just see the kids weren’t doing anything,” Swagerty said. “They were just, you know, walking the streets and crazy, you know? We grew up having a boys and girls club and doing things and going to church choir and all of it. So we just got it together and got kids from different nationalities, races, no matter the background or income. Everybody is somebody.”
The students volunteer in the community and get to see part of the world they otherwise may not see.
“We go on college tours,” Swagerty said. “We do a lot of clean up in Riverview. They go on educational culture trips to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico. We went to Jamaica and gave some school supplies to a school called Freemont school to some kids there. And then they visit nursing homes. They do Wreaths Across America, we do veterans drive where they we give out breakfast to the veterans.”
Swagerty says some of the students had never been on a tour bus or even out of the city of Kingsport. Through their adventures, organization members teach kids that they matter and that bad decisions don’t have to decide the rest of their lives.
“I want them to learn that they are somebody and some of them have low self-esteem,” Swagerty said. “I just want them to get the education. They let them know, you know, I can do this. I am somebody I can be somebody and just learn different phases of life. You get your bad phase and your good phases, but you can always make it right.”
Swagerty tries to fill in the gaps, especially when kids come from single-parent homes. She could have easily let others run the program, but sitting still is something she does not do well. She would rather help her students become good human beings. All in all, Swagerty says she receives as much as she gives, and it shows whenever she talks about the kids.
“I get my blessings every day. Definitely every day when I give, I receive blessings. I do,” Swagerty said. “But my blessings are them children and youth.”
If Johnnie Mae has one complaint, it’s transportation. She often provides rides for her students, and she has gone through five personal vehicles. Her goal is to raise enough money for a van or bus to transport her students.