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Mark DeWitte and Blaine Jones met in eighth grade and stayed friends through high school and college. The men—both UT Knoxville alumni—have put their friendship and faith into action, starting a nonprofit organization to help the less fortunate in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Over the past ten years, People Loving People (PLP) has helped the residents of Rogersville and Hawkins County by providing Thanksgiving dinners and Fourth of July celebrations and lending a helping hand to local troops, among many other projects.
After the recent tornadoes hit the Greene County area, the organization once again got involved. In May, People Loving People held a benefit concert, barbecue, and silent auction that raised almost $7,000 and collected various items for victims of the tornadoes.
"I've always admired Blaine's ability to convince people to help with a project and usually tell people to not look him directly in the eye or they'll be 'volunteered' for our latest project," DeWitte says.
Jones graduated from UT Knoxville in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in microbiology and in 1983 with an MSN with cardiovascular specialty; DeWitte graduated from UT Knoxville in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in communications.
After a few years in broadcasting, DeWitte joined the nonprofit world. He began working for Junior Achievement, an organization that provides economic education for K–12 students, which motivated him to help those in need.
"Although I saw the value of people helping people at that time, that experience really was the basis for my respect for people loving people," DeWitte says. "I realized that through Christian values and a desire to help your fellow man, so much good can be done."
DeWitte currently works in information technology for a furniture manufacturing company and volunteers with PLP.
Jones, a family physician since 1994, also says the volunteer work puts his Christian beliefs into practice.
"We are commanded to serve one another, and volunteering in community organizations can allow one to do this," he says.
As the main organization for helping folks in the Rogersville area, People Loving People focuses on feeding the homeless and needy a traditional, hot Thanksgiving dinner, assisting people with getting medicines and relocating living situations.
One of the most rewarding projects DeWitte and Jones organize through PLP is the Rogersville Fourth of July Celebration. With a budget ranging from $70,000 to $100,000 each year, the event aims to provide a fun, free day of entertainment and activities for families that may otherwise have no means of a vacation or summer getaway.
"One of our highest priorities is striving to be the best stewards of our contributors' gifts that we can," DeWitte said. "Neither one of us takes a penny from what comes in, so we're proud of the fact that 100 percent of the gifts get passed through to the effort for which they were intended."
Last year, PLP assisted local troops by raising money to help them get home from training camp to be with their families during the winter holidays.