We Care started in 1982 as a tiny thrift store designed to help low-income people save money on clothes, toys and household items. No one imagined then that this little shop would become the largest private, non-profit community agency in Rhea County, with a dozen valuable programs that serve more than 10,000 people a year. The mission of We Care is simple: to build long term self-reliance in those who are served.
The Story of We Care
Walter and Ina Carol Ring and a few friends opened a tiny thrift store in Dayton, Tennessee in 1982 as a ministry of their church. Rhea County Commissioner Birch Bridgeman offered a small abandoned storefront on Dayton Mountain Highway for three months rent-free, and We Care was born.
A small food pantry followed in 1984, and the following year Ring left the church pastorate and joined the growing nonprofit community service agency full-time as its director. His philosophy is the same today as it was then. "We help people help themselves," Ring said. "We respect each individual and seek to empower them so that they can make a positive difference in their own lives."
Ring earned a master's degree in psychology in 1987 and soon We Care added a counseling practice to its list of community programs. Now a doctor of psychology, Ring and other trained professionals provide individual, marriage and family counseling services through its Individual and Family Services Center.
In 1987, We Care opened Rhea County’s first and only transitional housing shelter, Haven House, in partnership with the Rhea County Council of Community Services Inc., the Dayton Housing Authority and the City of Dayton. And in 2001, We Care, with support from the Rhea County Council of Community Services Inc. and the Southeast Tennessee Development District, launched Project HOPE (Home Ownership Planning Endeavor) to help working-poor families own their own homes.
With support from individuals, organizations and government agencies, We Care opened Sparrow Village in 2005, a community of 13 apartments and a 3-bedroom home, to provide secure housing for formerly homeless Rhea County residents who are mentally ill yet capable of living independently.
Under the leadership of its staff and a volunteer community board of directors, We Care continues to give hope to Rhea County residents who are facing hard times. What started as a single thrift store inside an abandoned store is now a 23,000 sq. ft. thrift center with its own loading dock—along with a food pantry, Food Club, counseling center, housing assistance programs and a future project that provides respite care for children.
Mission and Philoshophy
The We Care mission is to serve the residents of Rhea County and the surrounding area by enabling people to help themselves. Recognizing that a free handout often confirms the recipient's feelings of worthlessness, the philosophy of We Care is to offer a hand up. We endeavor to foster a sense of self-worth and independence in people who are struggling to become or remain self-sufficient. Our motto is "Building self-reliance for a better community," and our unofficial slogan is "Offering a hand up, not a handout."