The Lifelong Volunteer

Ernie Roberts (right) with volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House.

Hometown Heroes:Why Knoxville teacher Ernie Roberts spends so much time volunteering

Ernie Roberts’s list of community involvement reads like a roster of Knoxville’s nonprofits:

He’s taken Key Club members from Bearden High School to volunteer at the Empty Stocking Fund since the mid-1980s, and he serves as a board member for the project.

He serves as president of the Love Kitchen board and runs errands as needed. “Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner were dear friends,” he says of the founders, “and we’re working hard to keep their legacy going.”

The holiday spirit of giving.

He works at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s Fantasy of Trees each November and enjoys catching up with friends he sees among the visitors who come to enjoy the festivities.

He and his Key Club members run a parking lot at the Ronald McDonald House during UT’s home football games and have raised more than $200,000 for the nonprofit. “We hope to hit the quarter-million mark this season. We’re close,” he says.

He serves as executive producer for WETP’s Scholars Bowl show and used to host Mathline, a call-in show about math, for the channel.

He’s active on the Old North Knoxville Neighborhood Association and helps organize its annual Victorian Holiday Home Tour. He’s a member of the Northside Kiwanis Club, helps with Knoxville Opera, occasionally providing lodging for a visiting artist, and used to be involved with The Word Players. And he serves on the Metro Drug Coalition board.

Oh, and though he retired from Bearden High School in 2009, he still teaches math there part time and is an assistant faculty advisor to the Key Club.

A graduate of Central High School and UT, where he also earned his master’s degree, Roberts sees nothing but upsides to all his efforts in the community. “Everything I get involved with is about people,” he says. “One of the best benefits of volunteering is all the folks you get to meet. I’ve met some really good friends and close acquaintances. And working with the students in Key Club is sort of like being a coach; you get to know a different side of them than in the classroom. It’s a nice feeling.

“And it’s great to introduce others to the idea of community service. Some Key Club members still show up to the Empty Stocking Fund, years after they’ve graduated. It stuck with them.”

“It’s fun,” he says of volunteering. “I enjoy doing it. If people give it a chance, they might really enjoy it, too. It becomes a part of you.”

Do you know someone who is making a positive impact in East TN who deserves a shout-out?

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