Written By Eli Rushing
Walking into the Soddy Daisy Community Library feels like stepping into an unexpectedly warm hug. String lights hang from the ceiling, local art rests atop the shelves, and two pudgy cats amble around the 2,880 square feet of space that Curtis Cecil and Kelly Flemings are proud to call their library.
Novellas, cook books, and study guides line the shelves that wind their way around the building. Past the massive circulation desk that Curtis swears brought them legitimacy sits a breach among the numerous bookshelves. Two futons sit parallel across a patch of carpet with a large rectangular table close by.
As Curtis and Kelly recline on a squeaky futon, it’s clear that they feel at home in the space.
Years ago, the men saw a need in their town and sought to meet it. After co-founding a videography company in Soddy-Daisy, they were suffering from a lack of fulfillment. Curtis remembers feeling weary from all things “bad” in the world and struggling with the emotions in his heart. After much reflection, they figured out how to bring a little more light to the world around them: by creating a library.
As the fourth most populous city in Hamilton County, Soddy-Daisy lacks similar resources that its sister cities are allowed; one of those resources is a public library. For a time, many from the town would trek to the library in Hixson to meet their needs. That all changed when a political dispute between city and county officials took away the library privileges of those living outside of the Hixson city limits. Following the dispute, citizens of Soddy-Daisy would be expected to pay a $50 annual fee in order to use the facilities. With just over sixteen percent of the population under the poverty line, this cut off a significant group of people from a wealth of books and services.
This change took many in the community aback. One of those frustrated citizens was Dee Heath. Dee, a patron who frequented the videography office in search of friendship, did her best to distract the two men from their work and spoke her mind at all times.
“Dee came in and she was complaining about the library, so we decided ‘Fine! You’re gonna complain about it, we’ll build a library!’ Kelly said. “We went out, bought four books, sat them on a shelf, and said, ‘let’s make it happen.’”
Despite their lack of experience, the Soddy Daisy Community Library was officially founded in January of 2018. Curtis and Kelly set out to create a space where people could come together and better themselves in a variety of ways. In its early days, they required new members to donate a single book. This built a sense of ownership among patrons who could take pride in the space they were building.
The two men assembled the SDCL alongside their videography workspace in the same building and made room for new donations as the collection grew.
One crucial early donor was Ed Jankowski. The Tennessee transplant was tasked with checking out the local library scene by his girlfriend and stumbled across the startup when they had less than twenty books on the shelves. He bought into the vision that Kelly and Curtis had laid out and personally donated over two hundred books and dvds.
From there, the men used their marketing abilities to get the word out. They created a Facebook page and set up booths at town gatherings to hand out books and fliers. By showing up again and again in different facets of the community, Curtis and Kelly slowly built a reputation for themselves. “Seeing is believing in Soddy-Daisy,” Curtis said.
Their dedication to getting the word out built the library to seven plastic shelves full of literature within six months. Three volunteers also came on board to help with the day to day operations. “We are blessed that we are able to inspire others who saw our mission,” Curtis said. “Our volunteers are our number one asset”.
Four and a half years later, Curtis and Kelly find themselves in the middle of a thriving community center. The SDCL has over twenty-thousand items that reach far beyond books, fulfilling the dream that they had for their town.
Today, that dream lives on, stretching towards something greater. “We’re so thankful to have been able to grow in this building, but we’re almost tapped out,” Curtis said. Even though they are well ahead of schedule, the business partners hope to expand their facilities through the creation of a new building. As a 501C3 nonprofit, the library receives zero federal funding and is completely dependent on the financial contributions of others. They hope to raise the money for twenty to thirty acres of land where they will have room for books and even more innovation.
This process has been full of peaks and valleys for Curtis and Kelly, but it has added to their sense of belonging.
“When you find a place that feels like home, you stick with it,” Curtis Said. It doesn’t mean it’s been easy, but I’ve never felt the need to leave.”
To contribute to their cause visit https://www.facebook.com/TheSDCL/.
Written By Sarah Chesek
“This one little girl came in attached to her mother’s hip,” Flemings said. “She was very shy and very frightened; suddenly, her mom looked down and her daughter was gone. It had scared her mom since her daughter hadn’t left her side in years; we are all looking, it’s not a big library, so there aren’t that many places to hide. We found her curled up under a table with one of the cats.”
For that little girl and many others, the SDCL is more than a place to rent books—it is a center of community for citizens of Soddy-Daisy.
Rainn Jackson, Soddy-Daisy local, states, “it’s the only place in the Soddy Daisy area that you can go to just hangout that’s not a bar where you can meet other community members.”
At their core, the library focuses on education, agriculture and community through their non-profit. They not only lend out books, but also baking utensils, gardening seeds, different exam preparation books, puzzles and DVDs.
They do so much more than any typical library would. They host free workshops and community events to enhance their neighborhood.
Jackson participated in drawing and ukulele classes at the SDCL; he also joined their anime club. He stated he had never played the ukulele, but that as a kid, he was interested in playing the guitar, so he attended the class. He even bought a ukulele that another member at the event had made.
They have also hosted movie nights where popcorn, pizza and a drink are provided. They hope in the future that they can expand to host these nights outdoors.
Jackson claims it feels different than the Chattanooga library. He says that when he goes there, people are just minding their own business, but that the Soddy Daisy Library is more community based.
Their services also expand outside the library itself; they have partnered with different companies to participate in food distribution services and book donations. They have even gone into schools to have storytime with students.
Their 2021 impact statement stated they serviced over 16,000 people throughout six counties.
Flemings stated, “that little girl in three years time has gone from being terrified of being in public to taking dance classes and having sleepovers. She has made so much progress in her life because she curled up with a cat under a table in this library.”
They may have started with four books, but they have expanded to so much more. With the community’s help, they can continue to provide a loving environment for Soddy-Daisy.
Haley Bayer is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is currently majoring in Communication with a Women’s Gender and Sexuality minor. Haley is a storyteller with experience in social media, photography, audio, and design. In the future, Haley looks forward to working in Media Management. She is a hardworking and persevering individual who aspires to use her voice in Rising Rock to share moving stories. To contact her for work, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eli Rushing is a senior studying communications at UTC. He is a jack of all trades thanks to skills in writing, broadcasting, and audio editing. Eli has worked as a Sports Contributor at the Sparta Expositor and is currently covering prep and college football for The Chattanoogan. He hopes to continue in that field after graduation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jules Jackson is a visual storyteller currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in Communication at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He has a passion for film as a way to share important, thought-provoking stories. In addition to his creative work, he also does videography for ArtsBuild, a grantmaking and fundraising organization for artists living in Hamilton County, Tennessee. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Chesek is a writer studying Communication at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She currently holds the title of Head News Editor for The Echo, UTC’s student newspaper. Sarah is a hard working and compassionate individual, who is passionate about civil rights issues and hopes to bring light to them through her writing. To contact her, email email@example.com.
Margarette (Kate) Hixon is an entertainment writer and communication major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Kate loves to immerse herself into pop culture, including everything from music to television to comic conventions. Her passion for writing and sharing what she loves with the world is what inspires her blooming career as a writer. Kate has written for the University Echo and plans to further her career in journalism. To contact her for work email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Cook is a senior at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is currently majoring in Communications with a Business Administration minor. Matthew is a photographer with experience in videography and audio recording. He is also a Staff Photographer for the UTC Echo publication. In the future, Matthew looks forward to working in some facet of the photography industry. To contact him, email email@example.com