(WBIR - Knoxville) Dozens of volunteers and alumni spent Thursday at Knoxville College to give the struggling school a helping hand.
Help came with huge handout of $50,000 worth of renovations from Home Depot. The national hardware chain named Knoxville College the winner of its "retool your school" contest.
To say times are tough for Knoxville College is an understatement. The historic black college with so many proud and successful alumni now has a campus full of condemned buildings, only a few dozen students, and has been unable to regain the accreditation it lost in 1997.
But for all the tough times, Thursday's turnout built encouragement for those who love the school and still hold onto hope that it can be saved. That includes 1962 graduate Sylvia Upton, who joyfully worked to place masking tape along the borders of door frames while dozens of volunteers rolled and brushed the walls with a fresh coat of paint.
"Even though depressing times are here, we still believe highly in Knoxville College," said Upton. "I came here as an 18-year-old girl full of hopes and was able to succeed as a professional educator. Knoxville College means so much to me and my husband, who is deceased. Right now Knoxville College needs me and also anybody else that can help in any way."
The staff at the school say help from alumni and people in the community is incredibly appreciated. However, to have a national chain like Home Depot also deem the school worthy of assistance is a big morale boost.
"In my mind, to have national figures recognize that Knoxville College is an important entity is very encouraging," said Armelia Reed, a business office manager at Knoxville College.
"They'd like to see the college get back to the state it was in. And that's our goal, to help them get there," said Kim Day, assistant manager at Home Depot on Schaad Road. "We're doing painting, flooring that's going to be installed, new ceiling tiles, and landscaping outside the library. So, basically a total renovation of the library."
Leaders at Knoxville College say they are realistic about the uphill battle the school faces. Alumni admit it is very discouraging to see the state of the campus, but have not given up hope.
"It is depressing to see those buildings that look like a war zone. They're boarded up and there are the signs saying 'do not enter' and 'danger.' We have some graduates who have given and given and it gets discouraging, but I'm staying positive," said Upton. "It doesn't hurt to come out and really give your support because you never know what God has planned. What else is there to do in life but help?"
"We know it will take time, but we are still working on building up a good strong community relationship," said Dr. Evelyn Hallman, president of Knoxville College. "What we are asking is the community to work with us and we promise to keep the community informed in terms of how they can help us, and in turn how we can help them."
Hallman said the enrollment period for this semester is still underway, so there will not be an exact count of the student population until next week. However, she believes there will be more than last semester when there were only around 25 students.