UPPER CUMBERLAND — The Upper Cumberland collaborative aimed at alleviating poverty in the region – Empower Upper Cumberland – has been selected to receive $25 million in TANF Opportunity Act funds to implement its plan. 

Mark Farley, UCHRA Executive Director

The Upper Cumberland is rich in resources and we want all of our families to thrive and prosper,” said Mark Farley, UCHRA Executive Director. “Today, we are crafting a new story for the Upper Cumberland with a proven relationship-based model that supports people through the safety net and onto sustainable career pathways. By working with employers, workforce partners, and the faith-based community, we will equip families with the skills they need to leave poverty behind them.”

In December 2021, the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency (UCHRA) received a $445,000 TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, planning grant to work with state leadership, the Families First Community Advisory Board, the Tennessee Department of Human Services, research partners, and professionals, and collaborations of community partners that see firsthand the challenges that vulnerable Tennesseeans face. 

During the planning phase, the Empower UC collaboration was formed with key community and regional partners including Highlands Economic Partnership (HEP), Upper Cumberland Labor and Workforce Development Board (UCLWDB), Tennessee Tech University (TTU), Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation (CRCF), Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD), WCTE Central TN PBS, as well as community members. 

Interagency coordination is the focus of Empower UC. This means families will have better-aligned services and the staff who administer the program will have a clearer understanding of the system. Universal onboarding will supply new members of the collaborative with information about the resources available, the continuum of care, and the poverty alleviation system.

In addition to focusing on bringing families out of poverty, the initiative works to better connect employers, faith-based communities, and stakeholders to one another. Empower UC has developed a dynamic relationship-based approach designed to move families away from the traditional poverty management model and toward poverty alleviation;  seeking to lift children and their families out of poverty rather than treating the symptoms of poverty in the current poverty management system. 

Led by UCHRA, the designated backbone organization, Empower UC will serve the most vulnerable populations of the 14-county Upper Cumberland region which includes the counties of Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren, and White with a core objective of lifting 1,600 children and their families out of generational poverty by 2025.

Megan Spurgeon, Project Director

The Director of Empower UC, Megan Spurgeon, facilitated the project, along with her team of local staff, core partners and consultants. 

“Our team is exceedingly ready to tackle this project,” Spurgeon said. “This $25 million award will allow us to implement new strategies and plans to better serve families of the region that we have only been able to dream about. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are committed to hiring a passionate team to fully bring these 1,600 children and 800 families out of poverty over the next several years.”

The funding will allow for more than 50 new positions that will support and serve families, businesses, and community partners throughout the region.

Of the 83 initial applicants, Empower UC was one of 17 collaborations competing for funding and was among the seven selected from across the state for the $25 million implementation grant. 

To learn more about Empower UC or to get involved, visit www.empoweruppercumberland.org or email connect@empoweruppercumberland.org to contact a member of the Empower UC team.