Hixson family meets clothing need

photo Josh Yother, left, talks with Jesse Wilkins at Rivermont Elementary School. Yother and his parents run a ministry, Coat of Many Colors, that helps provide clothing for children.

TO GET INVOLVED• Contact the Coat of Many Colors ministry at 877-1427 or ryother7@comcast.net.• For more information, go to www.cmcministries.org.

Eight-year-old Jesse Wilkins had no parents who could take care of him, no stable home and sometimes no clothes, but he had a teacher who wanted to help.

"It's Maslow's hierarchy of needs [a theory in psychology that basic needs such as food must be met before a person can focus on higher needs]," said Josh Yother, who holds a doctorate in education. "His momma left him. He wants to do well in school, but he's hungry. That's the white elephant in the room that we're not talking about."

The Hixson Elementary School teacher is the son of Ronnie and Sandy Yother, who started the Coat of Many Colors ministry to help children in need.

The Yothers depend on teachers or guidance counselors to give them the names of students who lack school uniforms and other clothes. Then the Yothers purchase at least two new outfits for the child, a uniform and casual clothes with matching shoes and socks and coat included, and bring them to the students. No questions asked. No proselytizing, said Sandy Yother.

The goal is to show children God's love instead of preaching it, said Ronnie Yother.

"You can tell people you'll say a prayer, but that doesn't meet their need," he said.

Because Josh Yother works in the school system, he has seen the need of students firsthand, he said.

Some students come with duct tape holding shoes together. Others wear the same uniform with holes every day. Teachers at Rivermont School in Hixson recommended more than 60 students to the Yothers last week.

The Yothers already have purchased hundreds of outfits for children at East Side Elementary, East Lake Elementary, East Lake Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary and Sequoyah High School.

photo Josh Yother, left, and Ronnie Yother, center, talk with Jesse Wilkins Friday at Rivermont Elementary. Ronnie Yother works with the group Coat of Many Colors, and brought clothing to the school for Wilkins and his sisters.

Ronnie Yother said so far money hasn't been a problem. He said he's been working with three businessmen in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tenn., who help finance the effort. Their goal is to get word out to more people that help exists.

Jesse got so frustrated when asked to do work in school that he clawed his face until it bled, said Josh Yother. Teachers at Rivermont School eventually sent him to Yother, who was then the alternative behavior teacher at Hixson Elementary.

"I scratched my face, threw chairs, threw desks. It wasn't good when we first met," Jesse said Friday.

Yother started working with Jesse in September 2010. His home life was unstable, and he and his sisters eventually started living with his grandmother, Yother said.

The teacher bought brand-name tennis shoes for Jesse. He attended to him and told him he was good and able to do the work.

By March 2011, Jesse returned to his school at Rivermont. By the end of the year, Jesse made honor roll and got medals for his academic achievement and for being a role-model student.

The Yothers also gave clothes to Jesse's sisters.

"I didn't understand that there were kids in Chattanooga who weren't happy during Christmas break because they aren't sure if they're going to eat when they're not in school," Sandy Yother said.

They spent more than a decade as missionaries in the Amazon and said they were surprised to see so much need in Chattanooga.

"When the Lord puts a burden and passion in your heart and lets you help meet the need, that's what makes your heart beat," she said.