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Mother's volunteer work strives to improve lives of other people

Photo compliments of Steve Beavers

Melanie Rowland shows some items in the silent auction for the "Dolly and Me Spa Day" set for 1-4 p.m. on Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Selmer, Tenn. All proceeds benefit the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

By Rebecca Lewis For the Daily Corinthian

Every community has dedicated people who give their time and money to improve the lives of others.

The reasons for their service vary. Some give without thought because they have been blessed and want to share those blessings, but others like Melanie Rowland give because they have lived through unspeakable hurts and are driven to protect others from sharing the same fate.

Melanie Rowland is one of five known siblings, and each was born in a different state. She was actually born in Canada, to parents who worked for a carnival. Her father handled the finances for the travelling amusements, and she remembers sleeping on a mattress full of money was a common occurrence.

Unfortunately, the life of amusements was only a façade, and as a child, Melanie suffered abuse at the hands of her father. She acknowledged that the mind is a complex thing, and she was able to black out many of the episodes as a form of self-protection.

When she was about 10-yeas-old, the abuse from her father ended because her parents divorced. However, things did not get much easier for Melanie. She exchanged one kind of hurt for another.

"I don't think my mom had the capacity to love, and because of her neglect, us kids basically raised ourselves," she said.

She recalled the Department of Human Services often visited her house, but they never did anything about the situation.

Her grandmother realized that of the five siblings, Melanie had paid the biggest price when it came to abuse and neglect, so the older woman would often let her granddaughter visit to escape the overwhelming conditions.

Her mother remarried, but the situation did not improve. Her stepfather did not like to work, so at 10, the neglected girl began to do what she could to help bring in money for the family. Picking squash and hauling hay were just two of the jobs, she recalled.

Because the adults in her household did not make work a priority, the young laborer shared, "I remember we often ran from rent, so we moved around a lot. We lived in filth and I slept on the floor."

At 14, Melanie decided leaving was the answer, and her mother did not argue with her. There was a Mennonite community nearby, so she went there. She tended to the children and in return was fed and clothed. She even moved to Pennsylvania with a larger group before leaving to come back to Tennessee.

The former Mennonite found herself homeless from 18- to 21-years-old, and she would often curse God for her situation. Despite those curses, she received a blessing in the form of a counselor who helped the hopeless girl get into a program for misplaced youth.

Before entering the program, the depressed teen was sent to a mental health center for three months. She rebelled against the idea of leaving when her time was complete. "I didn't want to leave because people were being sweet to me. I had food, I was warm and I had clean clothes," she explained.

Once again, she found herself without a place to stay, so the displaced young lady began sleeping on couches of people she had met at the facility. Martha, the counselor who had come to her aid, helped her find a job, but she also took Melanie on shopping expeditions, for nice meals and to her home for visits.

The tumultuous experiences had an impact on Melanie's relationships, which she realized after she married an abuser. She had two daughters and became determined that she would not let them suffer the same fate she had, so she sought divorce.

When her daughters entered elementary school, the young mother began working in the school system. While there, she began to see children who reminded her of herself at that age. She wanted to tell the teachers to check on them, but didn't want to overstep.

"I remember wanting my teacher to see my dirty clothes and lack of hygiene as a red flag that something was terribly wrong, but that never happened," she said.

Knowing that she was privy to the fact that kids are silently hurting, the overcomer decided to find a way to reach out to them.

That vow was put into action in the form of The Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse whose mission is to protect abused youth. "I can't be the person who finds these kids, but I can raise money to provide services for them," said Melanie.

Since becoming a member, she has worked tirelessly to help the children who share her same background of neglect and abuse.

"Even if I only help one child, it is worth my time," she shared.

After supporting the center for several years, the volunteer became a member of the advisory board for the McNairy County center a little over a year ago. She works the telethon and helps organize a variety of fundraisers to raise money that will directly impact the McNairy County center. "Pledge money is necessary to help run the center. Not everyone works for free."

The determined community volunteer has a new fundraiser, "Dolly and Me Spa Day" that will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, at First United Methodist Church in Selmer, Tenn.

"This will be a fun time of pampering for a child and her doll of any kind, and because of the generosity of other supporters of the center, we will have some very nice "swag" bags for each child to take home." There will also be a lounge provided for the parents.

The cost for the spa day tickets is $50, and all proceeds will benefit the Carl Perkins Center. Several people who do not have a child to take to this special event have pledged to sponsor a less fortunate child so she can enjoy the fruits of Melanie's labor. Additional information about the event can be obtained by calling 731-453-6718.

Longtime friend Cathy Burnett has no difficulty praising Melanie and her efforts at the center.

"She is an excellent promoter of anything she supports," said Burnett. "I am not sure how many years Melanie has been at the center, but I know this year from decorating for the Dancing with the Stars event to setting up a webpage to auction merchandise in support of Dolly and Me Spa Day, she has made a huge impact."

Life has not always been easy for this woman who has a heart for abused children, but she has found joy despite it all.

She originally met husband Chet Rowland when she was 18, but they reconnected in 2009 and married in 2013. He is helping her rear her two daughters, Alexis and Samantha, and he also supports her busy efforts to give back to their community.

Melanie has managed to turn tragedy to triumph and makes it her mission to help other children do the same.

(Rebecca Lewis is a retired English teacher from Alcorn Central High School. She is now a freelance writer for the Daily Corinthian.)