Frontline Gardens aims to help veterans with PTSD heal
Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News
This Fourth of July week many Americans are honoring, thanking and celebrating the veterans in their families.
East Tennessee is privileged to have many veterans’ support organizations. One of the newest is Frontline Gardens, begun by Stephanie Trost as a way to help vets suffering from PTSD.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit builds raised-bed gardens for veterans to tend. “We promote gardening as a therapeutic method of combating Post-Traumatic Stress,” says the website. “In doing so, we utilize therapy through gardening in a positive manner and cooperate with other organizations to provide our members with the needed resources to successfully begin rehabilitation.”
And it all began with … a veteran.
Stephanie’s husband, Capt. Michael Trost, served the U.S. Army for 32 years. In 2012, during one of his two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he was seriously injured in combat — shot five times with a PK machine gun.
Over a year at Walter Reed Hospital, he received 35 surgeries. The couple returned home in 2013. But severe sciatic nerve pain was destroying his life. In 2016, his deteriorating leg was amputated, relieving the extreme pain; he was also able to have his injured hand rebuilt.
“At this point,” says Stephanie, “he felt like he had his life back. Then he came to me out of the blue and told me he wanted a farm!”
Stephanie had spent her professional life in banking. “We’re not farmers, and he wanted a farm. We ended up coming to Monroe County. We started with 25 acres; now we have 50. We started planting. I could see the transformation that started. It wasn’t just dirt; I could see that he had a purpose.”
Stephanie says she witnessed her husband’s emotional, physical and spiritual healing. And she wanted to offer that to other vets.
“I started working with UT about horticulture. They helped me put a plan together to help our brothers and sisters. We launched the first couple of gardens in 2020; 2021 was our first full year. And U.S. Bank came onboard this year; if their employees do community service for a nonprofit they will pay them for a day of work.”
A recent build was for a veteran on Brooks Avenue in East Knoxville. At 21 gardens and counting, Frontline Gardens builds growing spaces throughout the year.
“There are three growing seasons in Tennessee — spring, summer, fall,” says Stephanie. Existing summer gardens can be transitioned into fall gardens for growing into November. “There’s so much you can do.”
How does Frontline find the people who need them? “The VA has referred most of the people to us. We work very closely with them. A couple of people have found us because they have just been researching it. Others are ‘somebody who knows somebody.’”
Stephanie says she never gets tired of watching people “bloom” alongside their gardens, and she’s always discovering and connecting with other vets who are cultivating new lives the same way, like the Facebook page Veteran Homesteaders.
“I always say these things are God things. I had posted on that site, and this guy started calling me and asking questions.”
If you’d like to ask questions, find out more and apply for your own garden, visit frontlinegardens.org.
More: Famously named Vols made their own fireworks at Tennessee | Mike Strange
Former PHS swimmer gives lessons at Broadacres Pool
Al Lesar, Shopper News
When Shelby Stover walked away from competitive swimming before her senior year at Powell High School, it was just in time for her to maintain a positive attitude toward the activity for the rest of her life.
“After three years, I was burned out,” said the 2017 graduate. “School, swim, homework, that’s all it was. After a while, it got to me.”
Stover had been a team captain and probably could have made some waves on the state level in the freestyle sprints and breaststroke, but in her heart, she knew it was time.
“I still have great memories of my teammates and the fun we had together,” Stover said.
“Had I stayed, I don’t think my senior year would have been that much fun. Having a negative experience would have changed that.”
That’s why now, as a sixth-grade teacher at Gresham Middle School in Fountain City, Stover can walk into any pool and not dread the experience.
While growing up in Powell, Stover got her first taste of chlorine in the Broadacres Pool. She will have come full circle this summer as she teaches swim lessons there.
While attending the University of Tennessee and then Lincoln Memorial University, Stover was used to having her summers filled with academic pursuits. Now, for the first time in five years, she’s tasting freedom.
“I kept trying to figure out what I would do to keep busy,” Stover said. “I thought I’d call around to some pools to see if anyone was interested in lessons.”
Shelby’s mother, Kathy, taught swim lessons when she was in high school. Shelby had been a lifeguard for several summers at her church camp and one summer at Karns Pool.
Her first call was to Broadacres and was immediately snatched up. She said pool officials had been trying to line up a swim lesson instructor for the past two summers, but came up empty.
Stover started June 1, teaching children 2 years old and older. She didn’t feel comfortable working with babies.
Lessons run 8-10 a.m. through the week. They are set up in 30-minute blocks, meaning she will teach four sessions each day. Each 30-minute block costs $20/child.
There are discounts for multiple children per family. She will even teach adults.
“The first time it was posted (on Facebook), I was super overwhelmed by the interest,” Stover said. “There were probably 20 people responding right away. I didn’t expect that.”
Anyone can learn
Stover has a simple plan in place to get the lessons started.
“My main objective is to make everyone comfortable in the water,” she said. “I want them to have fun. I want them to play games: Blow bubbles; kick – green light (go), red light (stop). I’ve got Hula Hoops for them to swim through.
“Drowning deaths are preventable. This will be a skill they can use for the rest of their life. Anyone can learn how to swim. It just takes patience and the ability to be comfortable in the water.”
Stover said she was not sure how far into the summer she would continue teaching. For more information, she can be reached at: [email protected].
East Knox potter Michael Robison draws on Celtic heritage
Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News
Like so many of the creative folks who run successful small businesses in Knoxville, Michael Robison of Michael Robison Pottery came to his craft in a roundabout way.
While working on a mechanical engineering degree at UT, circumstances arose that required a move to Johnson City. He decided to transfer to ETSU, and while filling out his prerequisites, he stumbled upon a pottery class. “I fell in love with clay,” he says.
He became so besotted with the art of throwing and building pottery that he took every opportunity to advance, and that didn’t necessarily include finishing a degree. “That was the spring semester,” Robison remembers. “I had negotiated access to the studio all summer. I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to be a potter.” Jonesborough potter Gary Gerhardt took him on as an apprentice, and Robison stayed for 2½ years.
“I’ve always had my hand in clay, but I always had to have other jobs. I wasn’t trying to make a living from being a potter. I had some rented space for a while, and I taught classes in art centers just to stay in it. Then I lucked into an artist-in-residency situation at William King Regional Art Center in Abingdon (Virginia).
“I bored my way in and they couldn’t get rid of me! For about five years, I had my own studio space but also taught there — in-house art classes for kids during the school year and an outreach program.”
Robison’s setup was ideal. But a building remodel-in-progress had a drastic effect on the ability to maintain his studio, so he accepted a job teaching at Virginia Intermont College, where he was eventually offered an artist-in-residence position as well. “That was a great experience.”
More life changes found Robison coming back home to Knoxville, though not to Fountain City, where he spent his childhood. He taught, worked and helped run the shop at Mighty Mud in Happy Holler, eventually settling off of Ruggles Ferry Road with his wife, Lynnette Mills, who runs her own concierge business.
The couple love their home, where Robison has a studio. “We’re nine miles from the center of town, and our neighborhood is incredibly quiet.”
His specialty is Celtic design, and he comes by it honestly. “We’re definitely English — the pastiest, whitest people you’ve ever met! I was the first non-redheaded child born in a long line of redheaded children.” Robison’s lineage includes Scotland and Ireland as well.
He favors Celtic design because of the patterns. Robison points out that in many cultures, “what people do really, really well is geometry — breaking up spaces with patterns and geometrical figures.”
During his years as a student, he says, many of his teachers and fellow potters were cultivating an Asian sensibility, and he tried that for a while. “That was before people were throwing around the words ‘cultural appropriation.’ I was appropriating someone else’s culture. I’m a little Catholic kid from Knoxville, Tennessee!”
Robison is now secure in the fact that his designs reflect his actual heritage, and he sells on multiple sites and galleries.
And he’s doing well. “I can’t keep up — I usually end up unloading a kiln an hour before I load up. I’m behind on pots all the time. I’m making pots to sell.”
Visit him at michaelrobisonpottery.com.
Krypto Comics guy highlights Knoxville creators on YouTube
Al Lesar, Shopper News
Interviews don’t get any more grassroots than what Alex Bullock and John Davis do Sunday mornings in downtown Knoxville.
Bullock, who handles social media for Krypto Comics (Powell Shopping Center), moonlights as a producer for a two-man interview show that’s filmed Sunday mornings in the artist alley behind Market Square.
The low-budget production, which posts interviews to YouTube Sundays at 8 p.m., is geared toward shining a light on small business owners, artists and musicians in the Knoxville area.
“This is a passion project for me,” Bullock said. “It turns into a fun way for me to connect with other passionate people.”
Whether it’s talking to Travis Christian, the front man for the “Weeping Cosmonauts” band; Jack Laird, with the “Teenage Millionaires”; or the owner of French Fried Vintage antique store, from the Netflix show “Swap Shop,” Bullock is committed to telling stories.
“If we can get any kind of audience at all for these shows it means the world for a passionate creator,” Bullock said. “This is the content we want to produce.”
Not many big-time Hollywood producers will be seen on Sunday mornings on top of the Market Square parking garage riding an electric skateboard down the ramp loaded with two cameras, three tripods, a GoPro Hero7 and two stools.
“I get some looks,” Bullock said. “But, we’ve gotta get the gear down somehow.”
Setup, which includes some professional-grade microphones, doesn’t take long in the alley that’s decorated with artist murals. The alley remains open to the public throughout the taping.
“We encourage people to walk through, to maintain the city feel,” Bullock said. “We just try to stay out of the way for the most part.
“It’s a challenge if we have a band do a performance. The alley is a wind tunnel. We got some equipment that will help with overhead (microphones) to help us with the sound.”
Scratching the itch
About four years ago, Bullock studied graphic arts at Pellissippi State Community College. While taking some photography classes, he realized his passion.
“They were using Google and YouTube to teach us,” Bullock said. “I figured, I could use them and teach myself.”
He said he became a devoted follower of Peter McKinnon, an unknown at the time, who has developed into a YouTube sensation when it come to anything in photography or filming.
Shortly thereafter, Bullock opened Pilot Films, which dealt mainly with promotional and advertising videos.
One of his first videos, an ad for SL America Corp. in Clinton, never found its way to public viewing.
“They had me film different parts of the factory,” he said of the auto parts manufacturer.
“They noticed I filmed a chip that their competition had never seen. They wouldn’t let the film be released, but I still got paid.”
Bullock’s Sunday gig won’t pay the rent, but it will scratch the itch.
“I get to tell a story in my own way,” he said of the 10-to-15-minute shows. “It’s something I love, just to be able to create.”
More: Gina Oster, Republican candidate for Knox County Commission, needs to focus on local issues | Ashe
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Shopper News brings you the latest happenings in your community