Addressing Generational Poverty in Grundy County, TN

Written by: Emily C. Partin

Living in poverty can impact how your brain develops as a child and create a cascade of effects into adulthood. Research has proven how several adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can set the stage for chronic disease, both physical and emotional, later in life. Most studies revolve around the impact of abuse, neglect, and severe loss, but now, poverty has been added to the list of ACEs. What happens when a community has over 20% of its population living in poverty for at least two generations? The impact can be devastating to the families and to the community itself.

As a mental health professional in rural Grundy County, Tennessee, I consistently work with families living in poverty. To be clear, this is more than not having financial resources. The lack of jobs, food, medical and behavioral health services, transportation options, livable housing, playgrounds, and many other opportunities most take for granted is front and center in Grundy County. Living with scant resources is the norm for most.

I am passionate about bringing more resources to this under-served community. The passion has begun to bear fruit with the recent opening of a one-stop-shop family resource center in an old high school in Tracy City.

The South Cumberland Learning and Development Center (SCLDC) was not created as much for the “convenience” of having services under one roof, but more as a model that recognizes the interconnectedness of life’s domains: health, education, work, art, spirit, etc.  

Looking to promising programs such as EMPath’s Mobility Mentoring for best practice guidance, we address a client’s executive functioning and decision-making skills (skills directly impaired when growing up in poverty) through a structured goal-setting framework. When working with families, we cover these multiple domains, including family stability, well-being, education, financial management, and career development.

No “one magic bullet” will solve generational poverty’s impact on a community. Instead, there will need to be multiple ongoing conversations with each client, each family, each helping agency, each employer, and each community on the mountain if we expect to find a sustainable solution. I might even say it’ll take millions of conversations! 

To our good fortune at this time, Millions of Conversations is here to help navigate this process of listening. A group of engaged citizens is working with Millions’ 3142 program to build upon the success of the SCLDC mission and create a strong foundation of services that address the community’s identified needs. We are hopeful for the future of our community and the healing that will come from our partnership.

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