Dolly Parton has put her money where her mouth is.
Following deadly wildfires in her native Tennessee that left 14 dead and hundreds displaced from their homes late last year, Parton, 71, launched My People Fund as a part of her Dollywood Foundation to assist fire victims in Sevier County. The organization provided $1,000 a month to each family for up to six months.
“Part of why the people in the Smokies are my people is that when someone needs help, everybody steps up to do their part. And a whole lot more,” she wrote in a CNN essay about the donation. “I got with my great folks at Dollywood and the Dollywood Foundation, and together we came up with what we thought would be the best way to help those nearly a thousand people who had lost everything with ‘a hand up’ and help them get back on their feet.”
On Dec. 13, the songstress hosted a three-hour televised special, which kicked off with a $200,000 donation from Taylor Swift and the Academy of Country Music, and picked up another $100,000 from singer Paul Simon and $144,270 from the Tennessee Titans. Additionally, Kenny Chesney and the Country Music Association contributed $250,000 each towards wildfire relief.
In fact, the oh-so-“overwhelming” response left thousands of dollars extra in the fund, which would be used to surprise the families with extra money on their last check.
“We helped over 900 families each month and we gave the final check — which was for $5,000 — on Friday, for a total of $10,000 given to each family,” she continues.
For all of those who made Parton’s musical “dreams come true” throughout the years with her highly successful career, she felt the least she could do, as a token of her appreciation, was “to put their dreams back on track, too.”
“This is some extra money from the fund. We had six months that I promised I would give you money every month, and we had some extra money as a surprise, so there’s $5,000 for a bonus check,” she says in the PEOPLE Now video, as she hands a check over to a young girl sitting on her father’s lap.
“I got five words for you: I will always love you,” the father says to Parton, as she kisses him on the cheek in awe.
Parton will be using an additional $3 million to start a new fund called Mountain Tough Recovery to continue helping those affected by those wildfires.
“We are partnering with the Mountain Tough Recovery Organization, which leaders of Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville formed to address some of the longer-term needs for residents affected by the fire, like housing, employment, and counseling,” she says about the new foundation, which will focus on long-term recovery. “And we’ll get there, because that’s what us mountain folks do.”