Amy Graves Stewart '83
I started attending FRA my freshman year of high school. When I graduated, I went to Samford University and then taught for 11 years before deciding to stay at home with my children and work in the youth ministry at my church. I’ve been able to connect my teaching and youth ministry experience as I lead events for families, teaching children how they can connect with God and hear His voice. This is one of my greatest passions.
I met Governor Bill Lee 22 years ago while teaching his children in the first grade. First Lady Maria Lee and I have been friends even longer. When they came into office in 2019, they asked me to manage the Residence. Although I found myself in a career shift, it has been exciting to have a new experience, especially because I still get to work with children in various capacities.
My main role is to manage the staff at the Residence, and make sure the governor and first lady have everything they need when they are here. When outside groups have an event here, our event manager typically oversees that, and I assist with anything she needs.When the first lady hosts an event here, that's whenI step in and make sure her vision comes to life. If we need volunteers for the event, I coordinate and train them.
My job also includes assisting with the Office of the First Lady. I get to be a part of the many things she's involved in, traveling with her and aiding with her Tennessee Serves initiative. We were single, young teachers together, so we have been friends for a long time. It’s been fun to watch her step into this new role and take who she is and what God has put in her heart to help Tennessee and inspire people to serve others.
She has a heart for service and through her initiative, we have found ways to inspire people to give back to their communities by highlighting people across Tennessee who are already serving. Our job is to get the word out and equip other Tennesseans who want to make an impact in their communities. Because my heart is for children, I focus on how we are equipping and inspiring our youth to serve.
One of my favorite days of this job so far happened inSeptember. We went to Clarksville and served with a nonprofit called Roc Solid, whose mission is to build playsets in the backyards of families who have children with cancer. Within two hours, we built a playset in a 5-year-old boy's backyard. Unfortunately, he had to be in the hospital that day, but his mom and brother came for the big reveal. There were lots of laughs, many tears, and much excitement. It was incredible that giving a playset to that sweet boy allowed his family to feel seen and known. We stood in their backyard and visited with them and prayed for their son. About once a week, that’s my day–serving and loving others. It’s amazing.
One way we are equipping Tennesseans to serve is by providing information on the first lady’s website at www.tn.gov/firstlady/tennessee-serves. There you can find how to get involved and what others are doing. I love getting to take the heart of service to children and equip them to serve the people in their world.
The past two summers, we’ve had a kids summer service challenge where we encouraged children to spend a portion of their summer serving others. Of course, this COVID-19 summer looked different than the summer before, but we were still able to provide ways for children to get involved virtually and to serve the first responders who were stepping up to help during COVID-19. Kids across Tennessee sent us pictures and information about what they did. It was encouraging to read what the children had to say about their experiences, how serving impacted their lives, and how they chose to be a helper.
I feel called to help the first lady be successful in what she wants to accomplish and be a support and an encouragement for her. The other part of my purpose here is taking what God has put in my heart—a calling to love and educate children—and finding how I can use those gifts in this role. Those doors are opening more and more as I find ways to encourage children, teachers, and parents.
It was quite a transition to step into this job, as it is completely different than anything I have done before. It was a big jump from ministry and education to politics. And yet I’m finding that ministry happens anywhere you carry God’s presence to the places He leads you.
For instance, I have found I am able to show the heart of God by truly seeing each person who comes through the door of the Residence, not only by their title, but by relating to them asa real person and thinking about how God sees them.
As I've gotten older, and especially because I drive by FRA every day on the way to work, I've had a lot of thoughts about how God placed people in my life through FRA who still have an impact on me today.
Some spoke into my life in the '80s, and others are still a part of my life. I'm so grateful for that. Specifically, when I was a high school student, a kindergarten teacher named MayDrummond gave me the opportunity to read to her class on several occasions and tell Bible stories. That completely ignited something in me where I realized, "I love this." Much of my career can be traced back to that experience.
I found amazing, deep, and lasting friendships at FRA. One thing I loved being a part of was cheerleading. Cheerleading built leadership skills in me that I've used throughout the years in different ways—from public speaking to leading groups of people in various capacities.
As a parent myself, I now understand how much my parents sacrificed financially to send me to FRA. I'm grateful they did that when they could have chosen other ways to spend their limited income. It was a huge sacrifice, and I still express my gratitude to them for the opportunity to go to FRA.
My FRA experience was much more than academic. I did well at Samford, and I credit much of that to FRA, but aspects of my spiritual life, my career, my emotional life, my friendships, and relationships can also be partially traced back to FRA. You can't put a price on that.
Amy currently serves as the residence director at the Tennessee Executive Residence. She attended FRA from 1979-1983 and was a member of the cheerleading squad and upper school service club. She also served as president of the National Honor Society. After graduating, Amy attended Samford University on an academic scholarship.