Not In Our Town Oak Ridge founder Valerie Hughes with Patty Peden Walden, owner of Painting With a Twist and sponsor of an upcoming NIOT event.
After her child was assaulted in a classroom, Valerie Hughes stepped forward to bring her community together to address bullying and ensure that Oak Ridge, Tennessee is safe and welcoming for people of all backgrounds. Just three months old, the Not In Our Town group in Oak Ridge is planning activities for the year and garnering community support.
Tell us about your community:
Oak Ridge is a city in the eastern part of Tennessee, about 25 miles west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge, population of nearly 30,000 residents, has several nicknames including the Atomic City, the Secret City, the Ridge, and the City Behind the Fence.
Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project—the massive US, UK and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb. Scientific development still plays a crucial role in the city's economy and culture in general.
What kind of work do you do in your community?
I support our Ladies Shelter. As a small business owner, I gather items that my clients no longer need, and donate them to the shelter on behalf of my clients. I am also a talent booking agent who handles the entertainment and speaking engagement needs for my clients at A to Z Entertainment, Inc.
When did you become involved in anti-bullying work and why?
My child was assaulted while seated in a classroom. I had no idea what to do. There were no resources, and no one knew how to help.
That is when I realized that there is a void in our community, and that I couldn’t be the only one who wouldn’t know what to do in a situation such as this. I’m not.
What work are you most proud of?
I am most proud of our Not In Our Town group and their dedication to our community. I formed the group using the Not In Our Town Quick Start Guide, and took it literally. I did not think small. Our mission is to bring about effective and positive change, to create a safe, inclusive community for everyone.
Our group includes a teacher, a city official, a security expert, a recent graduate and former employee of The Boys and Girls Club. We have created an alliance with several local media outlets. We have secured a not-for-profit fiscal sponsor.
We have accomplished designing programming and content for a year’s worth of activities. We have created a Facebook Page
and a website
. We have set a date for our first NIOT event, which is called "Paint Over Pain," and have already secured our first two in-kind sponsors, and have exciting activities planned.
We intend to document it all, whether with still photos or video. I am thrilled about our growth in just three short months, even though there was a lot to work through to get to where we are today.
What do you see as the challenges to anti-bullying work in your town?
Our challenges are fear of change and gaining the acceptance from leaders and business as a new group stepping up to help support these important concerns within the community.
What gives you hope?
Our hope lies in the possibilities and a stronger future for the children of our community. We are inspired by the stories that we have been told about bullying within our community, and the level of frustration, as people don’t know what to do to get action or relief. This work can prevent a life going unnecessarily awry.
What advice would you give to other community leaders who want to address bullying and intolerance in their town?
Allow your community to support the movement. No person, agency, government or school can do this all alone. It will take an inclusive, community effort.