The Morgan-Scott Project Story

Mission and Organization

Since 1972 the Morgan-Scott Project for Cooperative Christian Concerns (MSP) has formed a base from which the needs of low income families in Scott and Morgan counties in rural Tennessee can be addressed. MSP functions as both a social services agency and as a community development organization.

Activities sponsored directly or indirectly by MSP have included a school for children with learning disabilities, free tutoring programs, healthcare clinics, libraries, a homeless shelter, thrift stores, a home garden program, a Habitat for Humanity chapter, education and job training programs, community centers for children, youth, and the elderly, legal aid services, emergency aid, disaster relief, and home repair.

As an underlying principle, MSP has sought to organize concerned citizens of these two counties into small working groups which serve the elderly and disabled with compassion while providing assistance to those who have lost hope by providing a hand up instead of a handout.  These groups are often “spun-off” to form independent service organizations.

MSP was organized in 1972 by executives of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ, who were concerned with developing spiritual, emotional, and physical resources to meet the needs of an area that had been devastated during the previous twenty years by the loss of human and economic resources.  Their efforts were soon supported by representatives of PresbyterianRoman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, and Episcopal Churches.


Originally, the leadership consisted of a Resource Board of representatives from the supporting denominations, a Project Council composed of local citizens, and an Executive Director who ran the day-to-day operations.  In approximately 1988 the Resource Board was dissolved and MSP was governed by a local Board of Directors. More recently, the board has been composed of both local and outside members in order to provide a broader range of resources and talents.

Eight people have served as Executive Directors since the inception of MSP.  The first Director, Bob Butziger(1972-1979) was an ordained Presbyterian Minister who supplied three Congregational Churches at the same time as he served as Director of MSP.  He was followed by Bob Geyer (1980-1983), a former member of Holy Cross Church in Clarence, NY, who came to MSP via  California where he directed a home for the Developmentally Disabled.

The first local director was a young man from Scott County, Bobby Ellis (1983-1987).  Ralph Pemberton (1987-1988) served as interim director until Meta Potter (1989-1998), a business woman from Fentress County was hired.  Richard Schumpert served from 1998 to 1999, and the Director’s job was vacant from January, 2000 until May, 2002.  Jill Potter (2002-2007) was a trained social worker who had worked at the Department of Human Services and for Families First in Scott County.

Ella Smith (2007 – present) is a retired businesswoman from Sunbright who had been very active in the community, assisting in such worthy projects as the Highland Health Center in Elgin, the Scott County Women’s Shelter, the Children’s Center in Scott County and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children) before joining MSP.

In 1973 Mrs. Ann Smith was hired as secretary of MSP, a position she held until she retired in 2003.  It was Mrs. Smith along with several volunteers who kept MSP running during the 16 months that the directorship was vacant.

The Early Days

Many enduring initiatives marked the tenure of Rev. Bob Butziger.  He organized grass root committees, chaired by local members of the MSP Council, to achieve such goals as economic development, education of youth, full time pastoral leadership in as many local churches as possible, quality medical care, day care for children, home care for adults who needed it, Senior Citizen Centers, and employment for as many as possible.

Butziger also organized a summer volunteer program with volunteers living with local families, and brought in interns from universities to work on projects in the community.

Rev. Butziger was soon joined by Jim Romer, a Roman Catholic layman with a background in theology and research, who worked as a counselor, and who involved MSP in CORA (Commission on Religion in Appalachia).  In 1976 funding from CORA was used to form a Legal Justice Team.

Later supported by the United Presbyterian Church, the Legal Justice Team became known as the Equal Justice Team and employed a paralegal (Millie Walters) and an attorney (Ross Alderman) to counsel people on the benefits available to them and to provide legal services for those who were unable to afford them.

Hundreds of people from both inside and outside Morgan and Scott counties have served on the Board of Directors of MSP or volunteered in one or more of the programs.  Some of the outsiders felt so called by the ministry that they moved to the area.  One such couple, Rick and Eunice Graafsma, retired and moved to the area from Chicago after serving on a mission team.  Rick was a leader in the formation of the Scott-Morgan Community Development Corporation while Eunice was a member of the MSP board and taught at Plateau Home School.

Development and Housing

In 1974 MSP was instrumental in the formation of the Scott-Morgan Community Development Corporation. Their first project was to develop a business plan for a furniture factory.  Though studied at least until 1979, that project never came to fruition.  However, the Corporation joined with Habitat for Humanity in 1976 with RickGraafsma as interim director.  Support from MSP continued until 1982 when Habitat became independent of MSP under Director Mark Frey.

Appalachia Habitat built their first home in 1978 for Johnny and Mary Hawn.  That year the International Board for Habitat for Humanity (72 people) met in Robbins, Tn., and the founder of Habitat, Millard Fuller, spoke at the dedication of the Hawn’s home.  In 1981 Eva and Ada Goad moved into their new home built by Appalachia Habitat.  Since its inception, Appalachia Habitat has completed 158 new homes 11 acquisition rehabs and 300+ repairs.

Education and Literacy

In 1978 the median education level attained was 8-9 years in both counties.  Those who received the most education frequently moved away because there were few jobs locally.  Prior to this the best paying jobs were in surface coal mining and oil drilling.  Timber offered seasonal employment, but at low pay. Recognizing the need, MSP played a significant role in improving education and literacy in Morgan and Scott counties.

In 1973 MSP established the Plateau Home School to help meet the needs of children in Morgan County who, often because of learning disabilities, were behind in school.  This school taught children free of charge, often on an individual basis, until they could be successfully integrated into the public schools.

Plateau served the community until 1983, when this responsibility was assumed by the public schools.  At that point Plateau became a free tutoring program, which was directed by Sisters Rita Bray and Julia Marie Jacomet of St. Ann Parish in Lancing until 2006.  Plateau continues its tutoring program today and is supported by several churches.

In 1978 Plateau Home School gave birth to a counseling and human services agency now known as CHOICE (Changing Human Opportunities in Cooperative Effort) which offered counseling services for individuals and families that reached beyond school problems. In 1981 the Highland Hope School opened in Scott County to provide remedial education for students who were behind in grade.  It was modeled after the Plateau Home School.

In 1983 the Highland Hope School began operating a free tutoring program in Scott County. As schools began requiring students to carry backpacks, MSP initiated a program to distribute backpacks and school supplies to needy children.  In 2008 130 children were served.

In 1973 a Library Board was formed, and libraries were started in Morgan County (Deer Lodge) and in Scott County.  This was followed by libraries in Lancing (1977), Elgin (1981), and Burrville (1982).

In 1978 an adult literacy program was initiated using the Laubach method which was started by volunteers, organized by Mae Story.  Under this system, as students became more proficient in reading they became mentors to newer students.

In 2008, under the direction of Ella Smith, MSP initiated the New Light program for adult education in cooperation with the Tennessee Technology Center in Huntsville and Roane State Community College.  When able-bodied people seek emergency aid they are directed to vocational testing at the Technology Center as a condition of receiving that aid.  There they are counseled, and upon enrolling, may receive aid to cover expenses not covered by grants, Families First, or scholarships.  This may cover tuition or expenses that would otherwise prevent them from continuing their education, such as childcare or travel expenses.

In its first year MSP assisted 33 people with only two dropouts.  Twenty-six have already graduated and moved from public aid to assume productive jobs in the community.  In addition, four high school seniors were able to take dual credit courses and are now enrolled at Roane State Community College.


For seven years prior to July of 1973, with approximately 14,000 residents in each county, there were only five doctors practicing in Scott County and none at all in Morgan County.

MSP has helped bring better healthcare to the region and to make people aware of the services available.  In 1973 National Health Service Corps (NHSC) placed the first healthcare clinic in Wartburg with the help of MSP.  Their first staff consisted of two doctors, Dr. Peter Lucas and Dr. Paul Rogers, and one dentist, Dr. Fred Case.

That same year citizens of Petros, Norma, and Stoney Fork joined forces to provide facilities for medical centers and other support.  Highland Health Clinic was created in October of 1974.  It opened in Elgin with Dr. Suzanne Landis as the resident physician.

MSP opened Deer Lodge Clinic on December 1, 1975 and served 93 patients in its first month of operation. Dr. Chester Castor arrived in 1978 and was instrumental in starting a medical clinic in Coalfield.

These clinics have since been absorbed by the Morgan County Health Department. These clinics were assisted for many years by medical and nursing students from AMSA (American Medical Students Association).

Home Gardening

In 1976 The Good Earth program was established to provide vegetable seeds, tomato and cabbage plants, onion sets, potato seeds and fertilizer for home gardens.  MSP also owned a tractor, a plow, a disk, and tworoto-tillers that could be rented at very reasonable rates or lent in cases of extreme need.  These gardens provided fresh foods in the summer and canned vegetables in the winter.  Many seeds and plants are donated by churches in the area.  This program has been very popular, particularly in poor economic times, serving anywhere from 126 families in 1981 to 387 in 1982, and over 300 in 2008.

Home Repair In 1980 the “To Love is to Serve” program was created to address the emergency home repair needs of low-income residents of Morgan and Scott counties.  Though no longer called by this name, youth and adult volunteers from across the nation come every year from as far away as Michigan and Florida to repair homes and complete other service projects.

In 2008, for example, a record twelve workgroups repaired 26 homes, building wheelchair ramps and porches, installing doors, hot water heaters and gutters, repairing bathrooms, painting houses, and providing electrical service to trailers, as well as completing some much needed work on the MSP facility.

Emergency Aid

From the beginning Morgan-Scott has recognized that emergency aid is sometimes needed for utility payments, medicine, transportation, heating fuel, food, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene products.  It may be provided on a temporary basis and as a means of learning the basic causes of the problems of the poor so that long range solutions to these problems can be formulated and implemented.  The New Light Program for adult education is a case in point.

In addition, since 1986 MSP has provided free bread every Friday to approximately 75 families.  The bread was originally donated by stores in Harriman but is now donated by Kroger and Publix Stores of the Oak Ridge and Knoxville area and brought to Morgan-Scott by members of First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge every Friday morning.The program has grown to include not only bread, but sweets, fruit, vegetables, meat, and a limited amount of dairy products.

Disaster Relief

In the early years house fires were common with 10-15 families burned out each winter due to poor chimneys and faulty wiring.  An MSP task force was formed to help families recover quickly by providing emergency supplies.

When a tornado struck the small town of Mossy Grove in Morgan County in November of 2002, destroying over 30 homes and killing 9 people, MSP Director Jill Potter quickly led a small team of volunteers to help the local disaster relief team by bringing needed supplies, including blankets, food, kerosene heaters, and first aid supplies.  When this inventory was depleted, more than sixty churches and ministries responded with needed relief supplies.  Jill directed these supplies to the Wartburg Civic Center, where they were distributed.

Thrift Stores

By 1982 thrift stores were opened in Burrville, Lancing, Deer Lodge and Elgin.

Today, MSP operates a thrift store in Deer Lodge which is open on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Donated goods such as clothes, toys, household items and linens are sold at very low prices.  Many families clothe their school age children with thrift store bargains.  The proceeds from these sales are used to offset the administrative costs of MSP. The first Christmas Stores were opened in 1976 to provide low income children from Morgan and Scott Counties with Christmas presents.

The first year 75 families were served by one store in Scott County and another store in Morgan County.  Now, in partnership with the Unicorn Fund and the Salvation Army, each child receives two new toys and clothing free of charge.  One of the more popular programs, it has continued to grow, thanks to many generous individuals and groups.  A total of 2,410 children received gifts in 2008.

Community Centers

In the early years much effort was dedicated in setting up community centers for children, youth, and the elderly.

A parent-controlled child care organization was set up, but control was soon taken over by a government agency instead of the non-profit organization that was intended.

In the 70’s summer programs were set up in many communities by outside MSP volunteers, and then turned over to local groups to maintain.  In 1980 a Community Center for children and youth was set up in Deer Lodge.

Scott County Children’s Services proposed a group home for teenagers, and MSP helped raise funds.  In 1977 Scott Youth Services received a Title XX grant for $35,700 for start-up, and a group home, housing four teenage boys, was opened. Senior Citizens of Morgan County was chartered in 1974.

Senior Citizen Centers were started in Coalfield, Wartburg, Sunbright, and Deer Lodge.  Among the services provided were Dial-a-Ride bus service, home delivery meals, nutrition programs for the elderly, legal referral services, and fellowship.

MSP Facilities

The MSP offices were originally located in the Congregational Church in Deer Lodge.  In 1982 they were moved to Sunbright.  In 1983 they were moved to Burrville where they signed a 20 year lease with Morgan County for the old Burrville School (also known as the A. B. Wright School), and the East Tennessee Community Design Center in Knoxville completed an architectural plan for renovating the school building.  In 1984 staff and volunteers began repairing the school.

In 1985 the school building was reassessed by the county and the cost of insurance coverage became prohibitive.

In 1986 the lease was broken and the offices were moved back to Deer Lodge and into a trailer donated by TVA.  The trailer had first housed the Deer Lodge Medical Clinic. In 1987 MSP purchased 6.6 acres in Deer Lodge for a new office building.  In 1988 Paul Bray, a builder who originally worked for the Scott-Morgan Community Development Corporation spearheaded the fundraising and construction of the 3200 ft office building which now houses the MSP offices.  Fairfield Glade Community Church helped with the costs and in October of 1988 offices were moved into the new building.  The Thrift Store was added in 1995 and the upper storage building in 1997.

In 2003 the office building was remodeled by members of Chattanooga’s  Rivermont Presbyterian Church to provide dormitories for the youth and adults who come each summer to work on home repair projects.  At present the building has beds for eighteen people and a kitchen where meals can be prepared.