Gatlinburg & Sevier County Enter the Next Phase of Recovery



September 24, 2018

The journey to recovery is not yet complete but we believe now is the time to bring the second chapter of that recovery to a close. After 16 months of providing financial assistance to fire survivors, The Mountain Tough Recovery Team will suspend operations to the public for recovery services on December 20, 2018.

The work Mountain Tough completed since the fire has positively affected individuals and families, but it also helped support the community as a whole.  The mission has been to restore the quality of life for residents impacted by the fire, with financial stewardship as the cornerstone of the organization.

“From simple assistance by providing a new computer for a Gatlinburg Pittman student with professional photography aspirations, to enabling a significant life-changing event such as moving a client from virtual homelessness to a stable, permanent home, our dedicated Mountain Tough team is changing lives and helping Gatlinburg and Sevier County recover,” Ellen Wilhoit, Mountain Tough Board Chair said.

Of the more than 600 households who registered with Mountain Tough, 70 percent met the criteria to receive some level of assistance and are on the road to recovery or have been identified as “recovered.”

Case Management:

  • 640 cases have received case management services.
  • 26 percent of expensed funds provided registrants with rent and utility assistance during stability and recovery.
  • 64 percent of expensed funds provided registrants with construction, furniture and household items.
  • 41 families enrolled in rental assistance or subsidy programs.

Property Cleanup:

  • 58 sites have been cleaned up for rebuilding through tree and debris removal.
  • Mountain Tough accepted 65 additional FEMA sites for cleanup and debris removal at the request of Sevier County and Gatlinburg.

Home Rebuild:

  • 12 new homes have been built with Appalachian Service Project.
  • 3 new homes in planning for Tennessee Housing Development Agency grant.
  • 250 plus families assisted with their rebuild and recovery efforts.

Key financial contributors and partners of Mountain Tough include the My People Fund, American Red Cross, City of Gatlinburg, Sevier County, City of Pigeon Forge, City of Sevierville, Citizens National Bank, Volunteer East Tennessee and many local businesses and churches.

Overall, $3,000,000 of financial assistance has been provided since July 1, 2017. Since December of 2016, assistance from the My People Fund and the Mountain Tough Recovery Team totals 12.5 million dollars.

The next chapter of recovery will utilize the remaining My People Fund resources to address the three key needs identified by the Mountain Tough staff:

  • Mental Health Services
  • Basic Needs Assistance
  • A new Community Resource for Gatlinburg

Even after all of the good work Mountain Tough has done to support the survivors of the 2016 wildfires, there are needs that are still not fully met for some of the families most affected by this tragedy.

To address these needs, Dolly believes the community will be best served by providing additional financial support to three, established, non-profit local resources.  “I was always brought up to believe that you must take care of your family and your community.  I am so proud and grateful that the My People Fund continues to find new ways to help our friends and neighbors recover from this terrible event,” Dolly said.  The Dollywood Foundation will use My People Fund resources to support the following organizations:

  • Helen Ross McNabb will receive $100,000 to extend the provision of free counseling and support to fire survivors through June of 2020.
  • Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries will receive $175,000 to provide financial assistance to fire survivors through December of 2020. This assistance will be used primarily to secure and retain housing for fire survivors. The funds will be available on January 1, 2019.
  • The Sevier County Food Ministry will receive $225,000 to support the establishment of 2 new satellite locations in Gatlinburg. These funds will be used by the Food Ministry to procure food to fulfill the projected number of food bags needed through December of 2021, for both the First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg and Roaring Fork Baptist Church locations. These are newly established, all volunteer distribution locations to serve the Gatlinburg community.   The program will be launched in January of 2019.

Any remaining funds will be held in reserve by The Dollywood Foundation to ensure there are additional funds to cover unanticipated needs.  The promise to use all of the funds to help survivors of disasters will be kept until the last dollar is distributed.


Monday, September 24, 2018

There will be media availability from 2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. with David Dotson, CEO of The Dollywood Foundation and Barbara Joines, Executive Director of Mountain Tough Recovery Team.

For interviews, contact: Pete Owens (865) 755-7972 or email

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