It’s hard for Lisa Cotton to speak about the Scott Christian Care Center without becoming emotional.
After all, Cotton has spent the past decade building the non-profit — pouring herself into it and watching it grow from a simple effort to provide the simple necessities of life to low-income families to a significant free medical and dental care, life skills classes and more — and now sees it facing an uncertain future as it struggles to cope with displacement from its permanent home.
And while Cotton insists that it’s not about her — rather, she says, it’s about the thousands of clients who receive the services provided by the Scott Christian Care Center — the past few months have been trying times.
Tucked away in the former Scott Motel in the middle of Oneida, the center has been steadily growing and adding services over the past 10 years — flying, for the most part, under the radar. The aging stone exterior of the old motel belies the well-manicured facilities that are housed inside. Those facilities first housed a food bank, then a free medical clinic, a teaching kitchen, a library and, most recently, a dental clinic.
At some point in the months ahead, all of that will come down. The 70-year-old structure will be razed to make way for new growth. The staff and volunteers of the Christian Care Center have spent the past few weeks moving out of the former motel, settling into that uncertain future.
The Christian Care Center isn’t the only tenant of the Coffey property in Oneida’s Oak Grove district to be displaced. Andy’s Flower Shoppe moved to Northtown Plaza, Buckeye Home Medical moved to Underpass Drive. The end result will be a significant makeover — in a positive way, it stands to reason — for a section of town that desperately needs a facelift, as the site becomes the new home of First National Bank. But growth seldom comes without growing pains, and Cotton admits that the Christian Care Center’s future is uncertain.
No immediate answer
At issue is the need for significant space to house an organization that operates on a shoestring budget. The Scott Motel’s former owner, Dr. Bruce Coffey, provided space to Cotton’s organization on a low-cost lease basis. Once the property was put up for sale, however, the lease was terminated.
As a result, the operations of the Christian Care Center have been somewhat scattered — and somewhat shuttered. The free medical clinic, which operates one day each week, has moved to the Professional Building at Big South Fork Medical Center. The food bank and household item bank are temporarily operating out of the War Memorial Building next door to the old motel. The dental clinic, along with the classes and other services that were offered by the Christian Care Center, are without a home — at least for now.
“We don’t have an answer right now,” Cotton said. “I wish we did.”
Cotton and her team have been actively searching for a new home. “It feels like we’ve looked at every building in the county,” she said. And, she adds, the task of finding a new permanent location “is daunting. We will put our faith in God. That’s all we can do.”
Cotton doesn’t fault either the property’s former or current owners. She said Coffey has been “amazingly generous; we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without his help all of these years, for which we are so grateful.” Of the bank, she said, “We were the last tenant to leave. They have given us extra time, which we desperately needed. I am really grateful. They are wonderful people.”
Yet she’s keenly aware of the gap in services that might open if the Christian Care Center isn’t able to find a permanent home.
“It is my fear that some people will not have the food and resources that they need (if we’re not here),” she said.
Through the years
The Scott Christian Care Center was founded in 2009. In those days, Cotton — the wife of Scott County General Sessions Judge Jamie Cotton — was a volunteer at the county’s women’s shelter. As she assisted the clientele there, she began to realize that there were Scott Countians who lacked the basic necessities of life.
“I went to my pastor, which was difficult to do,” she said. “I told him, ‘Do you realize there are people in our community who don’t have toilet paper? Who don’t have toothpaste, or shampoo, or diapers for their kids?
“When I worked at the women’s shelter, I would see ladies come in carrying a child and they would tell me, ‘This diaper that he has on is the last diaper that I have.’ I couldn’t imagine that, but it’s real. It was then that I realized there are kids that really are going hungry in our community.”
The food bank and household item bank started at the same time. Today, those efforts serve more than 4,000 people each year — with about 30 percent being children, 15 percent being widows and 5 percent being veterans.
“There are just so many people who depend on our services,” Cotton said. “I’m praying that the Scott Christian Care Center will find a permanent home and that these services that are so needed will continue.”
After the initial start, Cotton said it was just a matter of “walking through doors that God had opened.”
In 2011, Dr. Tom Kim approached Cotton about helping him bring his free medical services to Oneida. Kim, an oncologist who started Free Medical Clinic of America in Knoxville to assist uninsured residents, found a home at the Scott Christian Care Center and has been coming to Oneida one day each week since. Here, he treats those who do not have health care coverage, and the center provides medication — no opioids — for those who need it and do not have a coverage plan.
“It seems so silly now, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was needed,” Cotton said. “I found out real fast that there are people in our community who are uninsured. They’re the working poor. They can’t afford copays, they can’t afford a sliding scale, they can’t afford medicine at all.”
The following year, Grow Appalachia — the gardening program started with funding by John Paul Dejoria, owner of the Paul Mitchell salon brand — approached the center about a partnership to bring that program to Scott County, providing supplies and advice for local residents interested in learning to grow vegetable gardens.
The Christian Care Center’s dental clinic — which operated on the same premise as the free medical clinic, and was open one day each week — started just this year.
“The Scott Christian Care Center has been a place that has impacted so many lives in so many ways,” Cotton said. “It’s more than just a place where people can come and receive the medical care and necessities they need. It’s a place where they have been able to come and feel the love of Christ and be ministered to and prayed with. Our wonderful volunteers have formed so many great relationships with the people in our community.”
Facing the inevitable
Losing its low-cost office space, Cotton acknowledges, was always something that was on the horizon.
“When you don’t own something, it’s always a possibility,” she said. “We were very blessed for a long, long time and we did the absolute best we could with what we had.”
But that doesn’t make the transition any easier.
Things aren’t quite as bleak as they seem, perhaps. The Christian Care Center has been donated a 17-acre tract of property on the north end of Oneida, near the intersection of Alberta Street and Bear Creek Road. A donation of steel for a new building has also been made.
But there are other costs involved — excavation and other site preparations, a driveway and parking lot, along with the costs of finishing and furnishing a new building.
That’s where the community’s help is needed to ensure that the Christian Care Center goes on.
“We just ask that people will join us in prayer,” Cotton said. “Consider helping us financially.”
Donations can be made through the center’s website, scottchristiancarecenter.com, or by mailing payment to PO Box 5373 in Oneida.
So far, though, coming up with the needed funds has been a slow process. In 24 days, a GoFundMe account set up by the center has generated $1,290 towards its goal of $300,000.
While the Christian Care Center does receive some grant funding — funding that could be in jeopardy if a permanent home isn’t realized — it does not qualify for many more grants due to its status as a faith-based organization, Cotton said.
“It is important for Christians to support the work of Christian non-profits,” she said. “We depend on the generosity of people who believe in what we are doing, and more importantly, why we are doing it.”
Cotton is keeping her trust in God, sure that his plan for her organization’s future will be realized.
“I’m trying very hard to just put my faith in God and just be open to what his will and his plans are,” she said. “I have faith that his plans are good. That’s where I’m trying to stay.”
For more information about how you can help, call 423-569-2450.