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Echo Hutchins, instructor Ray Hill, Tony Holquin and Zack Cox, from left, work to repair a washing machine Tuesday in Hill's class at Rhea County High School in Evensville, Tenn. Hill's students helped to fix a washer and dryer for Mae Miller.

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Mae Miller, 57, had taken on just about as much as she could handle.

She was until recently a stay-at-home mother of two adult children with severe developmental disabilities. Daughter Jenny Miller, 34, and son Paul Miller, 38, were both placed in group homes when their care became too much for her.

She didn't just have children to care for -- there was also her husband, who suffers from narcolepsy, memory loss and hearing loss as a result of multiple concussions sustained during his work with heavy machinery.

As for herself, Miller suffers from multiple sclerosis and heart disease, both of which she said can be debilitating and require surgeries.

But the last straw came in February, she said, when her washing machine broke down.

"My washer broke, and I didn't know what to do," she said. "I was praying. I turned it over to God, and I just heard someone say '211.'"

Miller said she doesn't fit into any specific categories for which aid usually is available. She said her husband makes just enough money that they don't qualify for many aid programs.

And that's exactly the type of situation for which Neediest Cases -- special cases chosen through United Way's 211 assistance program -- was created.

The Neediest Cases fund began 100 years ago in 1914 at the Chattanooga Times newspaper, and has continued on with the Times Free Press. Throughout the year, money is collected in the fund to help those in need who don't fit other categories of aid.

In February, Miller called 211 and was chosen as a Neediest Cases candidate. She was then redirected to the United Way of Rhea County.

Cynthia Travis, an administrative assistant there, said when Miller contacted them, they called up a teacher at Rhea County High School -- Ray Hill -- who was known for fixing washers and teaching the skill through a class at the school.

"It was really difficult for her to be able to get out to the washeteria, so they were going to try to repair one up at the high school," Travis said.

Instead, Hill's students used $330 in Neediest Cases contributions to buy a used washer and dryer from the United Way of Greater Chattanooga and installed those in her home. They carted the old units away to fix in their class.

"They were so kind and so nice," Miller said of the students.

Hill said he tries to give his students several opportunities throughout the year to help community members in need.

"Any time [the students] can do that to help, they feel good about it," Hill said. "They feel good about it, they feel good about themselves, plus with the way things are now ... people appreciate that."

Miller said she and her husband are extremely grateful to have their new washer and dryer.

"That was a Godsend, it really was," she said. "I am so proud and so happy and I've never had one better. I really have not."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at or at 423-757-6731.