Bulls Gap woman turns grief into action by opening community closet at Rogersville Middle School | News

ROGERSVILLE — A former Rogersville Middle School student decided to open Shea’s Closet in memory of her late son, who loved giving back.

Seven years ago, Tonya Shortt lost her 23-year-old son, Shea Collins, in a tragic accident. Shortt had her son when she was young and raised him as a single mother while working at school.

Shortt said his son was generous even as a child.

“Shea had a generous heart,” Shortt said. “He always gave away his clothes and made me cook lunch for the kids at school. We were involved in an organization in Morristown where we distributed food to the homeless.

Since Collins’ passing, Shortt has been doing something to give back to people in honor of her son on his birthday, Dec. 12. The first three years, she collected toys for the shelter where she volunteered with Collins in Morristown. One year she handed out teddy bears at the children’s hospital and last year she sponsored a family for Christmas.

“Every year I try to do something in his memory,” Shortt said. “I didn’t always announce it because it wasn’t the recognition I wanted; I did it because it feels good to my heart.

This year, Shortt decided to do something different, so she called up her cousin Jason Roach, the principal of Rogersville Middle School, to create a community closet using Collins’ clothes.

“I went to his room and thought about what I could do with his clothes, so I called my cousin Jason Roach to donate clothes to kids who might need them,” Shortt said.

The closet has many different items including shoes, shirts, evening dresses, deodorant, hygiene items, backpacks and more.

According to Roach and Shortt, the closet is not only open to RMS students, but students from other schools are also welcome to get the items they need.

When Shortt started working on creating the closet, she posted on Facebook about it and received an outpouring of support from the community.

“I posted it on Facebook and wasn’t prepared for the influx of people who wanted to contribute,” Shortt said. “It grew a lot more than I expected because I had so many people helping me.”

Shortt said that since opening the closet, she’s learned how much this kind of help is needed.

“I realize now because so many people have let me know how much need there is in this community,” Shortt said.

Shortt said school officials try to promote the closet as a cool place so kids don’t feel bad for needing something.

Roach said that once the stigma is gone, he thinks the closet will benefit many children.

Matt Hixson, superintendent of Hawkins County Schools, said it was remarkable how Shortt was able to turn his pain into action to help others.

“Any time a parent goes through a tragedy like the one the Shortt family experienced and immediately turns that grief into action, it amazes me,” Hixson said. “I am so grateful and proud of Tonya Shortt, her husband, Milburn Shortt, and Douglas Reed for their efforts to convey this vision of student support and for making this vision a reality. In honor of his son, Shae Collins, Shae’s Closet at RMS will meet basic needs and be accessible to countless Hawkins County and Rogersville Middle students well into the future.

Shortt said it was important to her that the first clothes hanging in the closet belonged to Shea.

Roach said Shea would be happy for her clothes to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Shea, at the age of 20, had a child’s heart,” Roach said. “He loved helping and making a difference (in the lives of others). If he knew that the things he once loved could help children who might need a little something, he would be delighted.

Shortt said she believed her son would be proud of her.

“I think Shea would be excited,” Shortt said. “He always told his friends that he was proud of me and my volunteering. He would like that; it was just his nature.

Shortt said every day without her son is difficult, but she tries to make sure Collins’ legacy of giving lives lives on.

“Mothers who lost their children too early feel like people are forgetting about our children, so we do things like that to make sure people don’t forget about them,” Shortt said. “Every day is hard because they’re not there, but we try to find things to make our hearts feel better.”

Shortt said she had a surplus of items to fill the closet once it was empty. She also said she may expand the closet to other schools in the future.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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