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Giles wins community service award from TNCO

Giles wins community service award from TNCO
Giles wins community service award from TNCO | Bettye Giles

APPRECIATED – Bettye Giles was honored for her hard work and dedication for years of volunteer hours given to Community Development Services in a secret nomination by Executive Director Cathy Cates.
Some might wonder what pecans, pull tabs and Pat Head Summitt-signed basketballs have in common, but for those who know Bettye Giles, and one of her greatest passions, it makes perfect sense. Whether shelling pecans, collecting aluminum can tabs or auctioning off the famous basketball, Giles has spent much of her free time over the last four decades working to broaden opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Giles’ steadfast commitment to expanding horizons for people with disabilities was formally recognized last month by Tennessee Community Organizations (TNCO), a 65-member network of agencies that work with developmentally disabled adults in Tennessee. Giles attended TNCO’s annual awards luncheon in Nashville to accept her Community Leader of the Year award. Cathy Cate, executive director of Community Developmental Services (CDS) in Martin, a member of TNCO, nominated Giles for the award. “We are so proud that Bettye was chosen to receive this award,” says Cate. “She definitely deserved it. The countless ways in which Bettye has helped CDS throughout the years has made a tremendous impact on many lives.” Giles is perhaps more well-known for her years of service at the University of Tennessee at Martin than she is for her involvement with CDS, a nonprofit, community-based organization caring for adults with developmental disabilities in Weakley, Obion, Henry, Carroll and Lake counties. Nevertheless, Giles has donated incalculable amounts of time, energy, even money, on behalf of the approximately 150 individuals served by CDS. A native of Clarksville, Giles first came to Martin in 1952 to work as a physical education teacher. By the late-1960’s, Giles had become an instrumental leader in establishing women’s collegiate athletics at UT Martin and other universities across the state. In 1971, she was named the university’s first, and only women’s athletic director. What is less widely-known about Giles has been her commitment, since the early 1970’s, to helping individuals with developmental disabilities. At the same time that she was working with young UT Martin student-athletes like Pat Head, Giles was also helping an entirely different category of athletes, coordinating the Special Olympics for the area, including Henry, Lake, Obion and Weakley counties. “What epitomizes Bettye is her genuine excitement over seeing our individuals experience new opportunities in the community,” says Cate. Giles went on to coordinate Special Olympics activities in the area for the next 20-plus years. More recently she has helped to found the Aktion Club, a Kiwanis International sponsored-program that provides community service opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. The Aktion Club of Martin has 14 members, all CDS clients. One of the Aktion Club’s current projects is collecting aluminum can tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis. Over the last two years, the Aktion Club, in partnership with the Montgomery County public schools, has collected more than 1.5 million tabs, which the Ronald McDonald House converts to cash to help operate its facility. Collecting tabs is an all-year-round project for Giles. On any given day, she’s sure to have at least a few tabs jingling around in her pockets. The Henry County Helping Hand fundraiser however, happens just once a year, but Giles’ involvement in it is just as pivotal. Each February during the Helping Hand auction, which benefits CDS, members of the community look forward to bidding on the Pat Summitt-signed basketball that Giles donates. Not only that, but also a football, signed by New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, that Giles has contributed to the auction the last two years. The Giants’ General Manager, Jerry Reese, played football for UT Martin and is another former student of Giles. Giles also contributes less glamorous, but just as well-loved, items to the auction, like fresh pecans that she picks, shells and bags herself, and tomato juice made from her home-grown tomatoes. From small things like shelling pecans or coming into the CDS office once a week to sign checks (Giles has been a member of the CDS board of directors for 13 years), to bigger things like coordinating the Special Olympics and founding the Aktion Club, Giles has been one of CDS’s most ardent volunteers and supporters. Still, Giles says she was not expecting the award she received last month. “Cathy really surprised me,” Giles said. “I really didn’t know what I was going to Nashville for. I expected it might be something just for here in Martin. I didn’t realize it was a statewide thing.” Giles was selected from a pool of 12 nominees, from 65 agencies across the state, to receive the Community Leader of the Year award. “Bettye may have been surprised at her selection,” Cate said. “But we certainly were not. As a volunteer and as a board member, she has helped to involve our individuals in community programs and activities for nearly four decades. That is definitely something worthy of recognition.”

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