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Swoner

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, raised and where you live now? What’s your current career position?

“I was born and raised about seven miles from my current home in Hermitage and fortunate to have the flexibility to pursue interests I could not earlier in life.”

Family? Married? Children?

“My husband and I have been blessed with a blended family of four beautiful children and five grandchildren.”

Where did you graduate high school? College? Degree?

“I attended Donelson High School for five years then graduated in the first class at McGavock High School. During high school, I began working as a dental assistant and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Going into elementary schools and teaching dental hygiene was a highlight of the program. Later, I completed a dental hygiene degree at Clayton State University in Georgia and until COVID-19, I was finishing a degree in integrated Studies at Middle Tennessee State University.

 Career highlights and biggest career accomplishments? How did you get to this position?

“A friend told me about an opening at a start up company that was expanding. Working in an expanding company of 50 employees gave me the opportunity to take on responsibilities in different departments. I became an integral part of the international sales and logistics arm of the company, which allowed me to travel and coordinate the logistics of marketing booths both domestically and internationally. Coordinating booths through customs was challenging, the travel was both exhausting and fun but the most rewarding part was working and making friends with people from all around the world.”

You ran for the District 4 Metro school board seat. How was that experience?

“Running for school board during a presidential cycle is something that will go into the family Bible. My 6-year-old grandson called all excited to inform me I would be on the ballot with the president. The experience was a positive one. Getting involved in your community is the only way to make changes. It also helped me understand District 4 better by having the chance to meet so many people who live here. Our district is growing and changing. I’m happy I ran.”

I understand you are the beautification commissioner for District 12. Is this a regular commission seat or something different? Please explain. Is this an appointment? How long?

“Yes, the beautification commissioner appointment is for three years and designed so each district has a representative to coordinate their neighborhoods with Metro Nashville Public Works. Commissioners of each district meet monthly to share ideas on how to address issues. Organizing neighborhoods to pick up litter, sharing volunteer opportunities, educational meetings on recycle-reuse-composting, brush pick-up dates and much more.”

What are some of the projects you’ve been involved in?

“I’ve participated in community litter pick-ups, tree plantings, recycle and composting education and send out community updates.”

Tell us about your Junior Camp program.

“Junior Camp is my passion. Education using an outdoor classroom inspires lifelong learners like no other method of teaching because we are making mental impressions using the senses. Each day, we focus on a different topic with hands-on projects that compliment the subject. My program is designed with participatory teaching methods not passive methods, which means my students are retaining twice as much information. You can see more detail at mgofdc.org under programs and Junior Camp. Once COVID-19 is behind us, I plan to continue my plan to take the projects into schools and community festivals. Kidsville at Centennial Park was a huge success last summer, and I already had teachers asking for a visit.”

You wish classrooms could be outdoors? Explain please. Would this work in winter months?

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites ventilation, distancing and wearing masks as main factors to stop the spread of COVID-19. Setting up large tents with spaced-out tables, chairs or mats and space heaters would help with both ventilation and distancing. The situation might not be feasible for all subjects, but if put into a rotation, would allow classrooms time to refresh their air and give students and teachers some fresh air and a more relaxed and safer learning environment. If the money spent on testing was redirected and a rotation plan put into place for the younger students who struggle with virtual learning, it might solve some of the issues concerning teachers.” 

You are a member of the Davidson County Master Gardeners program. Tell me about the facet related to food security and youth education. Please explain.

“I enjoy growing healthy food and sharing with family and friends. It is getting harder for people to have gardens because of the density of building in Nashville, and without that experience, people don’t understand the complexity of seed to table. Food does not magically appear at the grocery store. There is a lot of hard work, beginning with respect and care for the soil involved. Youth today do not know where their food comes from. When a 10 year old tells you potatoes come from Kroger or French fries, you realize we are failing our children. Educating our families to cook and grow healthy food is a place to start, but protected spaces must be set aside in our cities for this to be possible.”

Do you belong to any other organizations?

“I belong to the Donelson Hermitage Neighborhood Association as recording secretary, Tennessee Environmental Education Association and Tennessee Valley Chapter of Wild Ones.”

Why are you so devoted to public service?

“Honestly, when I’m working on a project, I receive more than I give.”

Who is your mentor? Why? Are you a mentee to anyone?

“Yes, my mentor is our Davidson County Extension agent David Cook. David sponsors the Master Gardeners program and is a key part of the organization. He listens to my ideas on youth development projects and sees the value and big picture. I guess you could say he helps glue the bits and pieces of my ideas together to complete my vision. I mentor the interns from Junior Camp.”

If you could spend an evening with anyone, past or present, who and why? What would you ask them?

“Dolly Parton – she has set a great example for all ages her whole life. She has overcome poverty with hard, honest work. Dolly is a spiritual person and continues to bless others with her generosity every day. I’d like to spend time with her and hope some of her awesomeness would rub off on me.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or given?

“From my grandmother – be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.”

Hobbies?

“I enjoy gardening and reading.”

What would surprise us about you?

“I have my motorcycle license, owned and rode a 1200 Harley, am certified scuba diver and flew an airplane.”

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“I want to be director of a City Kids in the Woods program where children could climb a tree, walk in a clean creek, build a lean-to, find a turtle and balance on a fallen tree – a real place where children can enjoy and connect to the natural world and enjoy a place of peace, health and inspiration.”

Pets?

“Yes, I have a rescue dog named Jovie. She was named from a character in the Christmas movie, ‘Elf.’”

Do you like to travel? If so, where’s a favorite place you’ve visited and somewhere you’d love to visit when it’s safe?

“Yes, I like to travel. Germany and Japan top the list for international countries. I love the Grand Canyon. Diving at the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Petra and hiking to Machu Picchu are on my bucket list.”

Do you have any Christmas plans?

“I will be staying close to home, decorating with lots of lights and making cookies.”

Some answers were edited.

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