Knoxville native, Joy Bright credits the Knox County non-profit  Hand UP for Women for helping her go from being a drain on the tax system to a tax-paying citizen contributing to the greater good.

Bright was on disability for eight years after a serious car accident that altered her life forever. She was injured so badly that therapy was required so she could learn to walk again. She fully recovered in two years, but still has lingering effects like not being able to walk or sit for long periods. “I should not have lived,” Bright said. But miraculously she did.

Navigating Disability

When she was released from the hospital she could not return to nursing; her career for 20 years because she was a convicted drug felon. Joy had no plans to pursue another career path or re-enter the workforce. As a tax-taker living on the “system,” she remained on disability for nine years. At first, she felt comfortable, but toward the end of that time, she began feeling useless.

In 2016 she decided to get help. “I was tired. I was sick of living the way that I was living,” Bright said. When she ended up in jail there were no programs offered to help her get on her feet. Instead, she ended up at Buffalo Valley Inc., a rehabilitation facility in Nashville. Bright was there just over a month, then transferred to a sober living home in Knoxville. She relapsed after being drug-free for nine months and was scared and unsure of her future.

Photo provided by WRJZ

A New Beginning with Hand UP for Women

By the time she arrived at Hand UP, her recovery journey was underway. The staff provided her with education in computer skills, faith-based counseling and character development. “It’s a stigma to be a felon. You can’t get an apartment, get a decent job, or do much of anything,” Bright said.

Social Security Disability offers a program that allowed Joy to continue receiving disability income for one year while earning a salary working at the pool company. She continues to work there as a scheduler. During that time, she saved the extra money to try to get ahead. She started to feel “terrific” once more.

“I make twice as much as I did on disability,” Bright shared, “It feels great to be a contributing member of society.”

Joy’s experience at Hand UP for Women left such an impression on her that she now volunteers and teaches the finances class to current participants. Bright said she loves giving back to the organization that gave her so much. Teaching finance is something she never thought she would do. It is very rewarding for her to be fully employed, own her own home and be debt free. Additionally, she raised her credit score from 300 to 780.  “I clawed my way out. I worked hard at that credit score. It took several years to get it that way,” she said. Teaching the finance class allows her to be an inspiration for participants since she has walked in their shoes and knows how to simplify information. She’s too humble to call herself a role model, but she inspires other women to keep the faith and continue the program.

A Bright Future

Joy Bright lives with her 87-year-old father and takes care of him when she is not working full-time. Eventually,  she hopes to travel to small towns across the southeast.  She will celebrate seven years of sobriety on July 2, 2023.

Inspiring Others to Give Back

When asked about why people need to give back to an organization that means so much to Bright, she said everyone should give with their heart. Whether it’s volunteering or donating financially, Hand UP for Women transforms lives. “If only they could see the faces of these participants when the lightbulb comes on. It’s tremendous when they start realizing their life is worth something and know they can live better and do better.”

If you’re interested in helping transform the lives of women, consider a tax-deductible donation. You can contribute to this worthy cause here.