First Steps Seeks National Accreditation

Last fall, First Steps began the application process to become a nationally accredited childcare center. Once accreditation is achieved, First Steps will be recognized as a program that meets and/or exceeds research-based standards of excellence and consistently provides high-quality education and care. Parents will know that their child attends a school that goes above and beyond state requirements and has a commitment to their child’s success. Accreditation will be through the organization of National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA). The NECPA program is a meticulous process that measures numerous areas of childcare operations. To achieve accreditation, a childcare center must attain a level of excellence in the areas of learning environment; health and safety; program administration and staffing; parent, community, and school relations; and developmental program and teacher interactions. Years of research have shown that high-quality care, especially in early childhood, supports improved language, reading, and math abilities; problem-solving and advanced thinking; and social-emotional competency and resiliency. Additionally, children are more likely to be healthier adults, achieve a college degree, and become higher-wage earners. We hope to complete the accreditation process by the end of the year. First Steps will be the first childcare center in Anderson County to achieve this recognition and will join only a few others in the State of Tennessee with this recognition.

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Summertime and the Living is…Better in Recovery

By Caroline Beidler, M.S.W.

Summer brings with it so many memories and, for some of us, weight. It can be a time when triggers are as plentiful as ice cream cones, fireworks, bonfires, mosquitoes, and mojitos. If you are like me, these triggers may have lessened over time. You may not be moved in the same way to recollections of hazy afternoons when you hear Sublime’s cover of Summertime.

Or perhaps you are feeling summer triggers deeply right now as the sun warms the skin again and the world seems to be coming out of hiding. I’ve been there.

While my musical references may date me (yes, I’m a geriatric millennial and proud of every gray hair that survived both Sublime and The Chronic by Dr. Dre), the truth is that summer does get easier in recovery.

Today, I don’t associate getting high with a sunny day…or rainy day…or any day for that matter. Those nostalgic tunes from bands like Sublime might bring back memories of less sober days even now, but for those of us in recovery, these triggers mark our progress, not our setbacks. Today, sunshine means planting flowers, walks in the woods, swimming pools, and my children’s wiggly smiles after we stop at our favorite local ice cream parlor.

Today, summer is a time to enjoy friends, family, and to make new memories. It’s also a time to be grateful for the old memories, my old life, that led me here.

If you are not past the days of being really triggered by anything that has to do with summer—or any season for that matter—there is good news. There are evidence-based things that we can do that will help us stay on the sober track this summer. There is also power in the community and in the hope that can move us along our paths to healing and wholeness. There are countless pressures and triggers of summertime for those of us in or seeking addiction recovery. It can be tough to navigate all of the fun activities and events, many of which revolve around substance use (or so our minds tell us).

To counter the toughness of the season, here are some healthy and fun ways to summer sober, summer healthy, and summer fun.

Make a Plan: Before attending events or activities with potential risks or triggers, have a plan. Bring a friend. Have an exit strategy. Leave early if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Having a plan ahead of time can help!

Be a Part of a Network of Support: We aren’t alone, even if our minds tell us otherwise. There are countless of us who are mindful that triggers and temptations exist. Connect with other like-minded folks and join together. Invite healthy people to do summer sober together. We are stronger in the community.

Avoid Temptations and Risky Situations: Let’s face it, there are tough things about summer when our recovery might be challenged. Not going to the thing. Leaving early. Avoiding risky situations altogether can ensure that we stay healthy this summer!

Develop Healthy Habits: Replace new, healthy habits with some old, unhealthy ones. Ride a bike, run a race, swim at the city pool, go to the beach, plan a morning walk or devotional reading time. The times when you were doing unhealthy behaviors, switch it up with a new behavior. Habits can be tough to break, it’s true, but when we consistently show up with new and healthier habits, these can stick too!

Know What to do if you have a Recurrence of Use: Have a recurrence of use plan [formerly known as a relapse prevention plan]. No what to do, who to call, where to go. Many of us know through experience (I’m raising my hand here), that we can either stay stuck in our recurrence of use or we can ask for help. There are so many resources out there. Check out this excellent resource list from SAMHSA to learn more about supports in your area.

Use Digital Technology: Apps, apps, and more apps! There are so many ways to connect digitally. My friends at have an amazing app that connects folks in recovery and helps us stay healthy. Substack is one of my favorite ways to connect with folks online. Find what works for you and use it!

Invite Recovery Friends: Ask your friends to join you. Create new memories and share sober, healthy fun together. We don’t have to sit around and feel left out of summer activities, we can create our own.

Get Honest and Dig Deep: It’s really tough to get honest about our struggles. It’s also tough to dig deep in our recovery, if we’ve been maintaining for a while. Check out my free 7-Day Guided Journal that will be sure to help you dig deep in your recovery this summer.

Stay Active: Move your body and stay active this summer. Find new interests and hobbies. Explore the outdoors! There are so many exciting and simple ways to keep active and not let boredom or extra time be the reason we make unhealthy choices.

Celebrate Your Wins and Successes: Recovery birthdays can happen more than just once a year. Plan a night with a couple of close friends and celebrate your recovery! Send me a message and tell me about a SUMMER SOBER win! I’m cheering for you. Can’t wait to keep on this recovery journey together.

Don’t forget that you aren’t alone this summer. There are millions of us focused on having fun and staying the course in recovery. Everything and every time is better sober, even summer.

You can download your free Summer Sober Guide from Caroline Beidler, M.S.W, for more tips on how to stay sober and have fun this summer by texting SUMMER to 888-920-9224. Caroline Beidler, M.S.W is active in First Recovery, an author and recovery advocate who works with state and federal agencies to advance recovery support services. Sign up for her newsletter at “Circle of Chairs” on Substack.

*A portion of this article was first published on Substack in “Circle of Chairs” and Recovery Today Magazine.

Thank you, Pat Summitt Foundation!

Caring for those living with dementia is a lengthy journey filled with uncertainties about the duration and costs of care. According to the 2023 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures report, the total lifetime cost of care for someone with dementia is estimated at $392,874 in 2022 dollars. Seventy percent of this cost is covered by family caregivers through unpaid caregiving and out-of-pocket expenses, which can range from medications to food for the person living with dementia. The report also notes that many costs may be underestimated, as expenses like home modifications and respite service use are not included in these estimates.

For 36 years, Keystone has been dedicated to ensuring that caregivers have access to relief, regardless of their financial situation. When enrolling participants with limited finances, our scholarship program helps cover the costs of adult day programming. Over the past two years, Keystone has received a grant from the Pat Summitt Foundation to enhance our scholarship program. This year, we introduced a new initiative called “The Summer Break Project.”

The Summer Break Project aims to provide a period of dementia care at no cost to current participants, regardless of their financial circumstances. This program gives caregivers the opportunity to allocate resources to other expenses related to dementia care. Keystone has found that caregivers often delay seeking assistance for their loved ones due to financial concerns about the unknown trajectory of the disease.

The Summer Break Project is an extension of Keystone’s scholarship program, recognizing the significant impact that financial and emotional relief can have on caregivers. We commend the Pat Summitt Foundation for recognizing the importance of this grant and the opportunity it provides caregivers to take a brief respite from the financial responsibilities of caring for their loved ones.

Despite Pat Summitt’s success as a Lady Vols basketball coach, she expressed a desire to do more with her life. While this may not have been what she had in mind, we believe she would approve of the Pat Summitt Foundation’s generosity in supporting families who diligently care for their loved ones.

Thank you, Pat Summitt Foundation.

Join the Choir During Summer

If you love to sing but struggle to find time for weekly rehearsals and services, consider joining the Summer Choir. Singers will gather in the choir room 25 minutes before each service from June 9 to July 28 to learn a simple anthem and go through the hymns. This is a relaxed way to share your musical gifts with God in a way that may not be possible throughout the rest of the year. For any inquiries, please contact Josh Sumter at

Fresh Faces at First Steps

By: Julie Martin, Director of First Steps Child Development Center

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of our new Staff Members, Ms. Rachel Franklin!

What sparked your interest and subsequent passion for Early Childhood Education?

My interest was sparked in Early Childhood Education at a very young age. My mother was a preschool teacher and worked at childcare centers for most of my childhood years. As a result, I grew up in this environment. I saw the different ways classrooms can be run, I met wonderful teachers, and realized being an early childhood educator was difficult yet rewarding. The more I learned about the industry the more I loved it.

What aspects of Early Childhood Education are you most passionate about, and why?

I am very passionate about developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood education. I believe that the downward push of academics doesn’t benefit children in the long run. We should be celebrating the way that children learn through play and hands-on activities at this age. I am also very passionate about social-emotional learning. It is so important that children learn to identify their feelings and regulate them. These are skills that are we use daily even as adults. Children are better equipped to learn when they are regulated and feel safe and secure.

Tell me about your experiences teaching in early childhood education in Japan.

Teaching early childhood education in Japan was one of the most impactful periods of my life. I started at an International School in Aichi, Japan in 2018. I was a 2-3 year old teacher and had students from Japan, Thailand, France, Belgium, and China. We used English immersion for the “Kindy” (preschool) and it was amazing to see the way that the toddlers were able to learn English. I was very happy at this school and looked for ways to grow as an educator. Therefore, I took on other opportunities such as tutor elementary school students and leading professional development presentations about subjects like dramatic play and block play.

I came home during the pandemic and stayed in America for a few years after. In early 2023 I decided to move back to Japan and work at a Reggio Emilia-inspired international school right in the heart of Tokyo! In college, my minor was Emergent Inquiry, so I was very happy to use this knowledge and learn even more about the Reggio Emilia approach. At this school, I was a co-lead teacher for a mixed-age class of one to three-year-olds. The children in our care were from all over the world and it was wonderful to learn about different cultures. During the afternoons I would go upstairs and teach the “afterschool” class of three to six-year-olds. With this group of children, I learned the power of creating learning provocations. These provocations were inviting setups of open-ended learning materials that the children could explore. Creating three of these every day was a challenge for me as a teacher but it was an important skill that I will carry with me as a teacher.

Tell me about your book and how it came about, etc!

Last year, while living in Japan, I wrote my first children’s book called Calm Kids: Magical Methods of Mindfulness. My book is meant to be interactive and guide children through breathing exercises and other calming actions combined with whimsical illustrations. I was inspired to write this book by two main things. The first is having an especially emotional and challenging preschool class where I saw a major improvement when I implemented mindfulness activities. The second thing I was inspired by was the way difficult behaviors and big feelings were handled at the school where I was working in Japan. I love to see my former students with my book. I hope that my book is helpful to even one child who feels overwhelmed by what they’re feeling.

You’re fairly new to our staff here at First Steps. Tell me what you like/enjoy most about your experience here so far. Any fun stories or stand-outs?

I’m new to First Steps as a staff member, but I was actually a student at First Steps in late 90s. It has been so interesting to experience the other side of First Steps and educate children in the same spaces I was educated in. I really love how the staff of First Steps is so welcoming and open to answering questions. I also love being around educated and experienced teachers and learning from them.

What do you do in your free time? How about some “little-known facts?”

In my free time, I enjoy creative activities such as baking, photography, drawing, etc. but I also love a good nap!
Some little-known facts:

  • In Japan, as a side job, I did voice-over work for audiobooks and book versions of movies.
  • I’ve touched a Capybara and held a lemur!
  • I saw the band Queen in concert in South Korea and was right in front of the stage.

The Enduring Power of Love

One of the aspects of visiting with the older members of our congregation that I am most grateful for is that I learn a lot. I learn what, as we get closer to the end of our lives, matters to people. And if it matters then perhaps I should be paying more attention to it now.

Recently, I visited Charlene Reynolds in her room at The Courtyards Senior Living. When I asked her to share a memory, she told me how her father, Gordon Houghton Douglass, would go into the rooms of each of his children every single night and give them a kiss good night. What Charlene remembers most about her father is that he was very, very loving.

As Charlene told me about her daddy, how kind and understanding he was, her whole face lit up. I could sense his love for her through the look in her eyes as much as through her words. Here she was, at 94, remembering how she knew, deep in her heart, that her daddy loved her and how much she admired him. She also acknowledged how her deep love for her earthly father made it easy for her to love her heavenly Father as well.

Charlene was fortunate, not only was she loved by her father she felt deeply loved and respected by her husband of over 60 years Bob Reynolds. She described him, like her father, as kind and respectful and we spoke of how nice it is to live with someone we know we can trust and who loves and respects us.

As I was listening to Charlene, I was struck by the positive lasting impact of her father’s love. Here she was, years after her father had died, sharing with me how good, kind, and loving he was, and the way she just felt that love in her heart, not only when she was a child, but to this day. It reminded me of a story that Dianne Wilson used to tell, of the Sunday School teacher she had as a child and how that teacher’s love for Dianne helped her to feel and value God’s love for her.

After 94 years, there is a whole host of thoughts and memories Charlene could have chosen to share. And of a lifetime of memories, she spoke, for over 30 minutes of her father and his deep love for her. It made me think, if we ever get discouraged, and wonder about the worth of our time on earth, may we remember someone we have loved and trust in the value of the gift we have given. Amen.

June’s Marvelous Movie

Join the Adult Ministries Committee in the Fellowship Hall on Monday, June 3, at 1:00 p.m. for a screening of Tom Hanks’ recent film “News of the World”. The movie tells the story of a Civil War veteran who agrees to deliver a girl taken by the Kiowa people years ago to her aunt and uncle against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home. Come enjoy fellowship, snacks, and a great story!

Parents and Grandparents Grief Support Group Available

A grief support group for parents and grandparents who have lost children will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, June 10, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Room 203. The group offers parents and grandparents an opportunity to understand and express their grief in a confidential setting. There is no fee for attendance. All parents and grandparents who have lost children are welcome to attend.

The group meets on the second Monday of each month. Group facilitators are the Rev. Bob Cantrell, a retired United Methodist pastor, and Gielda Reese, a retired school teacher who lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to cancer.

To register your attendance or for more information, please contact Kali Bargiel at 865-483-4357 or

Grief Support Group to Commence

In his book, A Time To Grieve, psychologist and Pastor Kenneth Hauck writes, “When you lose someone you love, you lose part of yourself. And that can hurt – deeply.”

A grief support group for individuals who have lost loved ones will begin on Tuesday, June 4, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Room 203. The group offers a safe, confidential space for individuals to express and understand their grief. It will meet weekly on Tuesdays, June 4, 11, 18, and 25; skip July 2, and resume on Tuesdays, July 9, 16, and 23. Group facilitators are Gielda Reese, a retired teacher who lost her 14-year-old daughter to cancer several years ago, and Rev. Bob Cantrell, a retired United Methodist pastor.

All individuals who have lost loved ones are welcome to attend. There is no fee for participation. Space is limited, so registration is encouraged but not required. For more information or to register, please contact Kali Bargiel at (865) 483-4357 or

Do You Miss Me?

Recently, a staff member stopped by my office and mentioned that, due to my restricted hours, they missed me. It felt good to know that I was missed! On the flip side, have you ever stopped attending an activity or function you used to go to regularly, and no one seemed to notice? That can be hurtful. (Sadly, I have experienced this as well.) This is the situation I hope to avoid.

One of the limitations of my new schedule is that I am no longer able to keep track of who is present on Sundays and who is not (not that I have ever been particularly confident in my ability to do so). This is where you all come in! If you notice that someone who usually sits near you has been absent lately, please inform me! If you realize it has been a while since you last saw someone you often speak with, please let me know. If you are aware of a church member who, due to physical or cognitive issues, is no longer attending Sunday services, please, inform me! If you will be the eyes and ears of Christ, then I will be the hands and feet of Christ, and together we will serve as one body.

Thank you very much for your assistance. You can reach me via email ( or by calling the church office and leaving me a voicemail.

Senior Adults to "Flatwater Tales"

In place of our June gathering, the leadership team of the Senior Adult Luncheon invites everyone to support our local storytelling festival, “Flatwater Tales.” The event will take place on June 7-8 at the Historic Grove Theater and will feature performances by acclaimed storytellers, bringing our community together. For tickets, visit

Gospel According to Pastor Mark

Over the last few months, I have made a concerted effort to thank people. I am very aware that my ministry here at First United Methodist Church, Oak Ridge has only been possible because so many people have supported me. I carry deep and abiding appreciation for all the church leaders and staff who surrounded me over the last seven years. Thank you.

However, there is one person that I especially want to thank, my spouse and best friend, Rev. Annette Flynn. Her support has been unfailing for the entirety of my ministry. It is only because she has been so faithful that I have been able to survive over the years. She has the extraordinary gift of faith; she trusts God. When crises come or my own demons rise up to haunt me, she is the steadying influence in my life.

Few people know all that Annette has sacrificed over the years to keep our family together and my ministry possible. Our two daughters are remarkable human beings and extraordinary mothers, and my ability to celebrate them in that way was made possible because of Annette’s decision to put them ahead of her own career.

I cannot imagine having lasted these years in ministry without having Annette as my partner. She has a huge heart, an excellent theological mind, and a willingness to do whatever it takes for me to be my best as a pastor. Whatever I have achieved, it is only because of having her in my life.

I am very excited that we are both retiring because it means we will have the opportunity to explore the future together.

Blessings and Peace,

The New Voices Campaign is Our June Special Offering

Many in our congregation (and countless others in the region) have been blessed by United Methodist higher education and camp ministries. Emory & Henry College and Tennessee Wesleyan University have made a difference in student lives since 1836. Recently, “Camp in the Community” joined Camp Bays Mountain, Camp Dickenson, Camp Lookout, and Camp Wesley Woods in providing children and youth a way to grow closer to God in nature. The Wesley Foundations at the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee State University, Radford, and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise have served to equip leaders in Holston for generations and will continue to do so for many more generations.

Unlike local churches, these programs do not have congregations from which to draw funds. They rely on the generosity of alumni and special offerings. This year, the congregations in Holston Annual Conference are coming together to support these vital ministries through the New Voices Campaign! For generations these ministries have had a huge impact on countless lives. We have seen a large percentage of our Holston clergy and laity shaped at these places.

The goal of the New Voices Campaign is $1.5 million, which will go to equip the next generation of Holston leaders by supporting our 5 Conference Wesley Foundations, 5 Holston Camps, and 2 Conference Colleges. Our future is bright and beautiful! If all Holston churches gave $13 per member, we would reach this enormous goal!

Our Missions Committee has designated the New Voices Campaign as our congregation’s June Special Offering. Please prayerfully consider investing in the church’s future by generously giving during June. Together we will benefit from these New Voices for generations to come.

Each month, our congregation has a special offering. It is special in the sense that it is used for missions and ministries above and beyond the funds that are allocated from our church budget. Our monthly special offering is an opportunity for a “second-mile gift,” a gift beyond your weekly offering. These offerings are your opportunity to support a ministry that may have been formative for you in your faith journey, or perhaps a ministry that causes you to feel passionate about it. Be on the lookout each month for information detailing that month’s special offering.

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