Empowering Community through Education

Before this year, the partner organizations and their respective AmeriCorps Members in our VISTA program have been building organizational capacity to provide economic opportunity, training, and resources to populations who experience significant barriers to employment. Other sites have been concentrating on creating healthier futures to our most food insecure and isolated members in the community, including seniors, children, and the homeless.  These efforts proudly continue and are being added to by two new sites, Girls, Inc. and Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, dedicated to combating poverty through one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal: EDUCATION.

In addition to being an organization that truly galvanizes the effort to empower our young girls to be strong, smart and bold, Girls Inc of Tennessee Valley now hosts a CAC AmeriCorps VISTA member ready to create positive and sustainable change. Teresa McKine was selected to serve at Girls Inc after her infectious optimism made her a standout among several applicants. Teresa’s mission is to build programming and opportunities that enrich these young girl’s lives and improve their educational attainment. She has already carved herself a place in the hearts of staff and the girls they serve since beginning her service in early August.

Girls Inc. of The TN Valley is part of a national nonprofit organization that serves girls ages 6-14 through one of its 23 sites in Knox, Anderson, and Blount Counties.  Their research-based programming is delivered by facilitators who focus on the development of the whole girl, supporting, mentoring, and guiding girls in an affirming, pro-girl environment. Girls learn to value their whole selves, discover and develop their inherent strengths, and receive the support they need to navigate the challenges they face. The combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships and research-based programming equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

 Centro Hispano came to us with a mission to find someone who could mobilize and manage their volunteers, increase outreach and engagement, develop organizational systems to make programs effective and efficient, and (maybe most daunting) help create a summer program for students to continue to develop their English proficiency to ensure successful educational attainment into the next school year.  Maria Matney had both the experience and heart to commit a year of service towards this task. Maria has already served an integral role in the organization and is glue that connects all the efforts towards a singular mission: to promote empowerment and civic participation of the multicultural community through education and social services.

Knoxville has a rapidly growing Latino population whose needs often go unseen and unmet, and the mission at Centro is to integrate and empower the Latino community through education, engagement, information and referral services, and community-strengthening initiatives. In a typical week, Centro has an average of 50 regular volunteers and attracts over 100 community members for English classes, language and literacy courses, children’s educational programs, various workshops on health, finances, legal procedures, and more. Centro aspires to be the reference organization for education and social services to improve the quality of life and successful integration of families into the Knoxville community.

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This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.