Jeff Harris for years has lived a life of service to his community as a way to give back to people who treated him well growing up.
“I’m very content, blessed,” Harris said of his life.
Harris, 59, is a lifelong Loudon resident, and although he grew up in the church, it wasn’t until 1992 he could be found working inside Blairland Baptist Church as an employee.
He began part time in ministry while working full time as a machinist. Since 2008, he has been a full time director of student ministries and worship leader.
The change might never have happened had he not been laid off in 2005.
“God has a purpose and a reason for everything,” Harris said. “At the time I wasn’t sure where that was going to lead to, but I just tried to — if your faith is good enough in the good times it’s going to be good enough in the bad times, too, difficult times. It’s something how you go through something like that and God will bring Scripture back up to your mind, so Jeremiah 29:11 just says, ‘I know the plans I have for you, the plans to prosper, to give you a future,’ and that verse came to my mind that day and I just held onto that. God has a plan and purpose for everything and that led me to be full time here, and there’s no way I could be involved in the community as much as I am now without having a position like this.”
He played a major role in the construction of a gymnasium at the church in 2010, which spurred the community’s only Upward basketball league.
Helping the kids
Harris for about three years has served Loudon County’s Court Appointed Child Advocates, and for two years as board chairman.
He was approached after CASA leadership searched for Loudon County residents who would get involved.
“Once they laid out the program and I saw how it was really geared toward helping kids in need and how ones in Loudon were not getting met at all — I think we only had two or three advocates,” Harris said. “The retention, trying to retain them was really hard to do. So that’s when I agreed to do all I could to help CASA have a presence here.”
He helped turn around the local effort. CASA now has 12 volunteers, obtained a physical location in the city and hired a full-time program coordinator.
What he’s most proud of is the number of children that can be helped.
“More kids are getting served,” Harris said. “More kids’ voices being heard in court, and we’re placing more and more kids in Loudon in safer environments that they can flourish. To me that’s the best benefit and that’s the best thing to be proud of is that there are more kids now being served in the court system through CASA than we’ve ever had before in Loudon.”
Although Mandi Wolfe has only been in the job of program coordinator for five months, she is grateful for Harris.
“When we got our new office he was able to bring chairs over,” Wolfe said. “Just anytime you need Jeff he’ll come and I think that’s awesome. He’s able to really be a great asset to CASA.”
Taking public officeHarris in 2014 decided to get involved in local government, at first serving four years on Loudon City Council before running for mayor and winning in 2018. Harris also boasts two terms in the 1990s on the Loudon County Board of Education.
“I see it as a way to give back,” he said. “These roles of public officials are not really popular roles. I mean it’s not something that a lot of people want to get involved in. It’s definitely — from a financial standpoint it’s not something that’s going to entice people to do. I just really believe that you can get a lot accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit, if you’re just willing to be a part of the process. I think it’s just kind of rewarding when you can see your community grow and prosper and I think change as we’re seeing — that was one of the main reasons I wanted to run for mayor. I thought this four years was going to be critical with Hutch property and the riverfront, everything we had going on, and I just wanted to have a bigger role or be a part of that whole process.”
He plans to run again once his term is up.
Ty Ross, Loudon city manager, described Harris as a civic-minded, “high character individual.”
“Mayor is a part-time job and his full-time job is a minister at Blairland Baptist Church and just bringing that type of background to local government definitely has its advantages because he brings with him a high standard of ethics and morals because he walks the walk and talks the talk every day in his job,” Ross said.
Harris simply wants to help anyway he can.
“I think if I can help someone, whether it’s somebody in need where I can help an individual or the community, that’s just kind of the way I want to be remembered,” Harris said. “Someone that’s served their community, served their fellow man. I’ve had the title, name on the door, name on the desk, name plate and all that.
“I’ve been at the top levels of management before, but at some point — and I finally came to that point in my life where I wanted to leave — it wasn’t so much about living a life of success as it was significance,” he added. “I think everybody kind of reaches that point to where it’s not so much about success anymore but it’s about significance.”