The Jeff Trussell & Courteney Kaliszewski “Be Strong” memorial fund is established to honor the memories of Jeff and Courteney and continue their legacy of service in feeding the hungry of our community.
Please call us at (865)521-000 to make a donation.
A message from Kim Trussell:
“The youth group at Cedar Grove Baptist-Maryville, of which Jeff was a volunteer leader and Courteney was a member, is a small but very determined, mission-minded collection of young men and women that are happiest when they can be together helping other people. Jeff and I always lovingly referred to our body of believers as ‘The Little Church That Could.’ They have proven time and again that wonderful things happen when small things are done with great love and in the name of Jesus for the good of those outside the four walls of the church. After first volunteering in July 2011, Second Harvest quickly became our youth group’s favorite and most requested place to volunteer. While there never fails to be competition between groups labeling canned beans at different pallets (and the adults even get in on the ‘smack talk’), the students also have taken pride in knowing that they are performing a necessary job that will help feed people in their own backyard and throughout East Tennessee in various programs through Second Harvest. When the older women of our congregation remark that they handed out beans from Second Harvest through their own service work at the Chilhowee Association’s Baptist Center, the kids are quick to point out those were most likely cans they themselves labeled at some point. It is a tremendous feeling to know that every minute of your service counts because it is directly correlated to getting hungry people fed! As God has called us to feed the hungry and minister to those in need, serving at Second Harvest has given our youth the opportunity to be the hands and feet of God by simply being available and willing. In this way, the students and adults volunteering are ‘fed’ as well…just in a different way. Jeff and Courteney always loved being a part of the work at Second Harvest.
“As a reward for faithful attendance as Second Harvest volunteers, our youth were treated to a weekend retreat in Gatlinburg last September where Jeff led a study about King David and the kids enjoyed one another’s fellowship and the amenities of the cabin during the free time. On our way back to the church for Sunday morning service on September 16, 2012, the church van, driven as usual by Jeff and holding twelve of the kids that had gone on the retreat that weekend, was struck head-on by an SUV that crossed over the center line, causing the van to flip several times before it came to rest in a roadside ditch where it later caught fire. The wreck took the lives of Jeff and Courteney and injured the eleven other youth on board, some quite seriously. Our lives were changed in a matter of seconds. An event like this isn’t supposed to happen to a little church youth group on their way back from a retreat on a Sunday morning, but it did. Our hearts were broken. Our loss was unfathomable.
“Jeff had just turned 45 years old. Besides volunteering with the youth, he was a deacon at church, a tenor in the choir, and taught Sunday School. He worked at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. He loved the Dallas Cowboys, the Kentucky Derby, and was usually found one of three places: church, work, or home. He loved his family very much, especially his son, Dylan. We had been married almost 21 years. He had a big vocabulary and a fantastic sense of humor. Our youth group, our family, and our church miss him very much.
“Courteney was 16 years old and a junior at Seymour High School. She loved going to Big Creek mission camp in Kentucky and wanted to someday be a counselor there. She especially loved working with the little kids. Her favorite things were penguins, brightly colored socks and bandanas, the Pittsburgh Steelers, her ‘Jesus Freak’ t-shirt, old cars and hot-rod runs, and Coldplay. She had a bright personality and a big smile. She is very much missed by all who loved her, but especially by her parents, Nancy and Joe Kaliszewski.
“In the weeks following the wreck and still now, our church family at Cedar Grove and our individual families have had to learn the truth of the Scripture we had printed on our last youth group t-shirt: ‘But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). In our weakness, the comfort of God’s presence and promises and the prayers of His people, both near and far, have been the only thing that has given us strength and comfort to begin to heal. We have received such an overwhelming response of love and support from the community, and continue to be buoyed by the deeds and words of many across East Tennessee and far-reaching throughout the world that have heard of our story.
“The kids on the van reported that Jeff’s last words were ‘Hold On!’ He often told our choir to ‘Be Strong!’ jokingly referring to a song by the same name that he wasn’t particularly fond of singing because he thought it was so difficult; but nonetheless, he told us that a lot through the years. Both statements have become words of encouragement for us. Courteney spent a lot of her time that weekend of the retreat singing with her beautiful voice. She sang Carrie Underwood’s ‘Temporary Home’ and indeed, she knew in her heart where her forever home would be and is. A daughter of the King is now a princess in His court!
“So while we are not the same as we were before September 16th, we are still God’s people and there is work still to be done. Jeff and Courteney loved going to Second Harvest. We have no doubt in our hearts that the best way to honor the people they were in this life is to continue the legacy of service they were a part of and continue being a part of something that is going to feed those in our community and continue to ‘feed’ us. We live in a hungry world: hungry for food and hungry for God’s love!
“We have been back to serve at Second Harvest since the wreck, some of our kids sporting casts or bandages or in a wheelchair, and we got there in our new bus, funded in part by many gifts from our friends and neighbors all around us. Our youth and adults are still excited to serve, whether we are labeling cans of beans or sorting through tomatoes or doing whatever Greg has for us in the warehouse that particular day. How could we not continue to pay that blessing forward by serving at Second Harvest when they will in turn bless many people in our local community and the surrounding communities of East Tennessee?
“It is my intention by establishing this memorial fund in loving memory of Jeff and Courteney that we will not only shed a light on the blessings they were, but that we will shed light on a way more people can be a blessing themselves by supporting Second Harvest with their financial gifts, no matter how great or small, and perhaps even with their time as a volunteer. In the meantime, our families and Cedar Grove Baptist Church, ‘The Little Church That Could, Can, and Will,’ shall continue to ‘Hold On and Be Strong’ with God’s help and guidance, and it is our prayer that this memorial fund will end up feeding many who hunger for food and that our testimony will point them in the direction of the God we ultimately serve.” – Kim Trussell