Lewis County Herald - Serving Hohenwald, Lewis County Tennessee Since 1898

Meet Lewis County's Best Man and Woman of 2022

Tonya Woodward and Kevin Baker

 

April 14, 2022

Year after year Lewis County citizens get to vote for their favorite businesses and people in the community for our Readers Choice contest. Often times those who were named Best Man and Best Woman were the result of hard work behind the scenes, and this year that is especially true.

If you don't recognize the names Tonya Woodward or Kevin Baker, that would be because they rarely point the spotlight in their direction and instead shine the attention on their shared passion: Hope Hohenwald.

The same remained true for our interview. Getting the pair to talk about themselves was nearly impossible, but mentioning Hope Hohenwald opened the flood gates. Woodward and Baker made sure that the focus was on God, Hope Hohenwald and the volunteers that make Hope Hohenwald possible. "We're just the face of Hope Hohenwald," said Woodward, "But there are tons of people working behind the scenes that make our crazy ideas and plans work. We do strategic planning and they'll actually bring it to life."

Hope Hohenwald Inc., is a faith-based, non-profit organization whose mission is to "improve the quality of life in our community by providing opportunities for children, youth and families to break the cycle of hopelessness, poverty, crime, hunger and destructive lifestyles," by hosting numerous events like the up-coming Eggstravaganza, an after-school program, a summer day camp and much, much more.

Woodward was originally from a small town in West Tennessee. "My parents felt led to move to Hohenwald and pastor the Dwelling Place. My husband and I said we were never moving at the time because we were involved with a Hope in Jackson and we were very happy," said Woodward, "Our kids were in the private school of our church, we were very involved, I was a stay at home mom. So we just said, 'Y'all go on to Hohenwald and we'll just stay here unless the Lord speaks... And then the Lord spoke."

The Woodwards then moved to Lewis County in May of 2008, and shortly after started their first summer camp.

Baker, on the other hand, has lived his whole life in Lewis County. At one point he owned 412 Building Supply before selling out of the company, and began ministry work after that. "Once I started ministry work I knew I was doing what I was supposed to," said Baker. He started working for churches then moved onto helping The Bridge in Nashville. "Around Christmastime they had extra [food] and so I brought that to Hohenwald and did a giveaway."

That first giveaway was in front of the Dwelling Place, where Hope Hohenwald is located as well, forming their now well-cemented partnership. Since then, Baker has now started driving for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in order to start a food drive that is currently held every other Thursday out of the Kanson Electronics building.

"Last year we gave out 1.5 million pounds of food... and we probably serve 350 families on average," said Baker. "Sometimes it will be 250 and others it'll be about 500." The 1.5 million pounds of food given out does not include the 13 truckloads of food Baker also took to Perry County last year.

A huge boost in numbers for both the food drive and Hope Hohenwald's programs first came when Covid hit in 2020. "We didn't stop and we didn't take a day off [when Covid hit]," said Woodward. "We opened up a remote learning center and eventually got a grant to purchase Chromebooks and a Wifi extender for the kids who didn't have access... It was a crazy time but we got to build phenomenal relationships between our workers and the kids. And the kids loved it."

But this year marks a record year for Hope Hohenwald's enrollment.

"We have 92 kids in our after-school program and we currently have 21 kids on a waiting list," said Woodward. "And [having kids on a waiting list] bothers me."

Woodward and Baker were happy to announce that there is a new building plan underway that would allow for Hope Hohenwald to grow. Right now the nonprofit is at the stage of securing property and fundraising as the building plans are complete.

"I will go on record as saying that there will be a building built somewhere by next summer because we can't turn these kids away," said Woodward. "Sometimes a lack of a safe place determines their future and we cannot have that."

After talking with Baker and Woodward, it became clear that their passion for Hope Hohenwald was not just to fulfill a job description but it was a lifestyle. Woodward said that sometimes she'll be on her phone at 2:00 in the morning, and Baker often stays up past 10:30 and gets up at 4:00 the next morning.

When asked what their motivation was when they got up, feeling tired in the morning to keep going, Woodward's response was, "I don't really have those mornings. You know the Bible verse that says 'Your mercies are renewed every morning'? I'm telling you, I'm almost always completely tired, barely making it to my bed at night. But when I wake up in the morning, I never regret and I never dread.. I don't need motivation to do what God has called me to do."

"I don't either," said Baker, "Now on Friday mornings [after the food drive], I might be a little slower but to go is not a problem.. I get up and go every day and don't even think about it. It's just what you do."

After their dedication to their ministries, one thing stood firmly throughout their interview; their love for our community and their dedication to serve.

"We have a lot of community support and I absolutely love it here," said Woodward. "[There are a lot of volunteer groups designed to help people in Lewis County] and the different groups don't work like little islands. We all work together.

"I will never forget my daughter used to take dance lessons and there was this little girl in our program who couldn't afford to take the lessons [and wanted to]. I talked to this lady to tell her we were going to sponsor the young girl so she could go. And the woman told me, 'Tonya, you just buy her outfits and let me take care of the tuition,' and I was stunned. I told her thank you so much and she said, 'No, thank you for the opportunity to serve,'" Woodward said.

"There are so many people in this community who want to serve and they just don't have an opportunity or don't know what to do. And I think we're really good at providing that opportunity for people to get started serving," said Woodward.

 

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