The Darryl Worley Foundation: ‘Bringing the Shoals to Savannah Songwriters Event’

The Darryl Worley Foundation: ‘Bringing the Shoals to Savannah Songwriters Event’

The Darryl Worley Foundation presents ‘Bringing the Shoals to Savannah Songwriters Event’

With Cypress, we get to go to a lot of different things, write stories of places and people. But the stories that mean the most are those that we write about the people who give back to the areas that they grew up in, that come home and make it better than it was before.  Darryl Worley and the people that make up the Darryl Worley Foundation all have that in common. They give their all, from the bottom of their heart.

Cypress was privileged to attend the Songwriter’s Event held in Savannah on May 10th behind Mayor Bob and Mrs. Shutt’s home in a large tent. The event succeeded beyond expectations despite the rain!  Over 300 people were present, “We were worried about the weather, but it didn’t hinder the turnout,” said Bob Gilchrist, Executive Director of the foundation, “It was my first Songwriter’s event in this position, and I certainly couldn’t have done this without Starla Shaw and the committee that worked so hard to put this together.”  Gilchrist was looking for an opportunity in his hometown and looking for something that would allow him to be more involved in community outreach, to give back to his hometown, and the surrounding area when he found this position.

The Songwriter’s Event didn’t start out as a public event.  After the first Tennessee River Run, the Foundation held a banquet at the small dining room at the Pickwick Landing State Park with about fifty people. The next year it grew a little and moved to a bigger room.  The third year, Darryl wasn’t able to make it back and to express his gratitude to the sponsors, he invited some songwriters to come with him to a dinner he held for the sponsors who were wowed, and an idea was born. Worley explained,  “Well, I had seen the writers in the round, they call it GUITAR PULLS at the Bluebird in Nashville and I thought, ‘Man, my people around home would flip out over this and they would absolutely love it. And we've got a lot of people that, you give them a little something special to go to and they will open their wallets and open their hearts and I knew that. And so we thought well heck let's try it. I brought a few writers down and we had a big fish fry at Pickwick and it was a tremendous success.”

The event turned into a public event and grew to the Pickwick Pines.  Several other events were spawned from it at Pier 57, Aqua Yacht, and Bumpus in Jackson, Memphis, and Murfreesboro.  The tenth anniversary arrived, and bigger plans moved it to Savannah and the Shutt’s home. The red carpet was rolled out, people arrived in tuxedos and gowns. They haven’t looked back; it’s grown every year.  Event coordinators Sheri Rinks and Dianne Bellis had no idea that it would grow this large. “We hoped it would, but never did we think it would grow to be what it is now,” Dianne Bellis told us as she filled us in on the history.  “While the events have all been special, the most memorable so far has been the 10th anniversary with Ty Jones as Master of Ceremonies. With the red carpet, the ladies gowns, the gentlemen in their tuxes, it was truly an extravaganza. That year, and the following year, we raised around $70,000 each year.”  Worley added, “Well you'll see it tonight if you stay around. You're going to enjoy it. It's very cool tonight to have all of my buddies from the Shoals area come out. It's got a little bit different vibe with the music and all but, these people are gonna love it because it is different. I don't know what it is about Muscle Shoals, it's just funky and it's got a little bit different groove to it. So it'll be a special night.”

All of the songwriter’s at this year’s event were from the Muscle Shoals area, where Darryl Worley is recording most of this music right now. Along with Worley, Walt Aldridge, Billy Lawson, and James LaBlanc were featured. As part of the fundraiser, a live and silent auction was held.  Auctioneers included Ronald “Bull” Bain and Clark Jones. This year, they also honored one of the recipients of the Foundation, Miss Willie Godwin, a senior in the community who needed a little help getting into her home. The Foundation built a ramp for her, to make her life a little easier.

“This is the third year that I have helped with the Songwriter’s event.” Starla Shaw explained, “When I came on as a board member with the Foundation, it became my responsibility.  We’ve always had great team members, and a lot of help for this event because it’s a lot of fun.” Shaw explained her involvement in the Foundation, “Everything that I hold dear, everything that I believe in, the Darryl Worley Foundation believes in as well, kids, families, seniors, cancer treatment, they help everything that I care about.”  Shaw had always been involved with working to help better her community and area. Because her family had been touched by cancer, as have most families, she decided that “my next cause will be something to help with cancer!” and the Darryl Worley Foundation does that, along with many other things.

The Foundation helps so many people in so many different ways.  It began operations in 2002 to serve the needs of the people of Hardin and McNairy Counties, along with surrounding West Tennessee and North Alabama areas.  It also funds the Darryl Worley Cancer Treatment Center, St. Jude’s, LeBonheur and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Special projects include The Leader in Me program in the Hardin County Schools, coordination with local agencies to help with services for drug and alcohol addicts and their families.  Recently, they also have helped the people affected by the large-scale flooding in the area.

While at the event, we were able to borrow Darryl Worley for a minute to have a conversation about the Foundation.  I wish we could put the whole conversation here, he’s a great person to talk with. He came around the corner of the house where we set up, singing one of his songs.  It’s neat when a person’s music just spills out of them.

Worley started, “We try. You know, it started out just being my attempt to give back to the place that I call home because this place really inspires me. It always has. There are so many folks, talented people, that I looked up to from here. Music runs deep through these old hills out in here.”  Worley stopped for a moment, listening to the music playing in the tent, “I was listening in to those young boys play earlier and I thought, Wow... Coming up you know.” Worley continued about the Foundation, “So we started out. I said let's raise some money and let's try to help folks in this area. A lot have fallen on really hard times and we have poverty here. It's obviously a pretty poor little county, there's not a lot of industry. I just saw a lot of people giving up and I thought, ‘they’ve got no place to turn’. They don't have any insurance. You know, why doesn't somebody take care of those people? Because I believe that's what we're here for, that's how it started out. I can remember some of the very first cases that we said ‘we're going to do that’, just some amazing stuff.”

Raising money can be hard, but Worley hasn’t had that with his Foundation, “Well it grew quickly and we were very successful in our attempts to raise money. You know we've done all this on our own here. We have yet to really go out and hit the big corporations for big bucks and that's coming. We do too good of a work for them to not be aware of us and what we're doing here. And it's starting to have a really long reach. So we're going to need to expand it in that kind of a way.”  Worley continued about the beginnings, “They said we need a project. I said let's build a cancer treatment center. I watched my grandfathers both die of cancer, two of my favorite people in this world. One of them, because of what he experienced early on in the whole chemotherapy process said ‘I'm not doing this’. He said ‘I'm not put myself through this, I'm not driving from Nashville or Memphis and coming home sick as a dog. Whatever time I have left I'm going to just ride it out.’ And he had a very good quality of life up until the last two weeks. My other grandfather, the girls[the daughters] begged and pleaded and he said OK. He did it. He gave the chemo a try. He lived about the same length of time, but he was miserable. And we watched him go all the way to Memphis and back throwing up in a garbage can in the back seat. I told my dad that ‘this is a shame, that our people have to suffer like this and we can't do anything about it. I said if I ever get in a situation or a position where I can, I will.”  Worley continued, “So I said I think it'd be a good project. They said, ‘Well you'll never pull that off!’.” Worley grinned, “You know, it did take a while. I mean, we had to be very persistent with the state to get them to give us the permit to even build it. But we had the tenacity and we stayed after it.

They finally gave in and they also saw what a huge need was here. We have people come in from three states. We're in the middle of nowhere, and so folks don't want to have to take two and a half hours to get those treatments and a lot of these people can’t afford to get a hotel room for two or three days. They feel that they've got to come home and that's how it was for my folks. I just told dad ‘Let's do this’. We got with the foundation and got with the board and we started it. It only took about two and a half years to pay it off. They said we'd never pay it off.  It was over three million dollars per foot to put the facility in and we wound up partnering with West TN HealthCare when we got our equipment, our radiation machine. We can give any kind of cancer treatment out there that anybody can do anywhere in the world. It’s state of the art, we've got the best.” Worley is proud of the facility, but also of the people who work there, “We call the girls the angels and we have some of the best doctors. They're amazing. Everybody who comes out of there says those are the sweetest people in the world.”

After conquering the cancer treatment center, they turned their eyes to other things, Worley continued, “We have a wellness center to help people get off drugs and alcohol and get them back into mainstream society and we're considering building another one, or we may buy because we want one for males and one for females.” The Foundation also looks at other needs in the area, “We just took a big old challenge with this flooding stuff. Those are the kind of things that we do. We see people that are hurting and that have been devastated and we just say it's time for us to step in.”  Worley added, “Because when the insurance companies say, ‘Well we're not gonna pay for any of that, you built a house in a flood zone’, which a lot of them are, where do they turn. People see a cheap piece of dirt and they say oh man I gotta get that, that's a great deal”. Worley paused somberly, “One of my family members was in that situation, we were out in boats in the backwater trying to gather up their belongings and they didn't find much. It's just,... it's just that kind of tragedy that we see and we go there when those people have no place to turn. Well, they can turn to the Darryl Worley foundation because that's what we're here for.”  Worley smiled again, “And see, that's the short of it, I could go on and gush about it forever. I will say this to you, we talk about the music a lot and I love music, I mean I am just so thankful for the success that I've had, but I truly believe that this foundation will be the legacy. It won't be the music. There will be people to carry on this work, when I'm gone... I know there will be. It's too good to let it just die. I tell my wife, I said we're helping people and we're changing lives. And that's about giving back. It’s been very rewarding. I feel unworthy to be honest with you, we have unbelievable people that make a lot of this stuff happen. I couldn't do it all by myself. I stay gone a lot. We've got a board that's passionate about what we're doing. We've got all these people that volunteer. One person can't do it all.”

To join in, or if you want to find out more, see their website for contact information to donate, volunteer or help.  

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