Keeping the Connection in Tennessee during COVID-19

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The unprecedented global COVID-19 crisis has been difficult for all of us, but the pandemic’s challenges hit harder for the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. Seniors and others who are confined to their homes were immediately cut off from their support systems and families. For many, these hardships have been compounded by the lack of technology needed to connect with loved ones or access important resources like medical care.

Using the federal CARES Act funding, Tennessee Governor Lee set up the Tennessee Community CARES program for nonprofits. Fahe, a network of organizations working to build the American Dream in Appalachia, received $300,000 to help with the pandemic response in the state. Fahe partnered with six Member organizations in Tennessee to identify individuals with COVID related needs that would put them at greater risk for long-term self-isolation. Fahe purchased the tablets, and the Members were instrumental in finding the community members who would benefit from the tablets.

The six Fahe Members involved in identifying isolated community members included Clinch-Powell RC&D Council, Appalachia Habitat for Humanity, Crossville Housing Authority, Eastern Eight Community Development, HomeSource east tennessee, and Mountain T.O.P.

Clinch-Powell, a community development organization based in Rutledge, was eager to collaborate on the project, later titled Cares Connection, which would deliver tablets to COVID-impacted residents whom the pandemic has isolated. Clinch-Powell Executive Director Lindy Turner explains, “During this pandemic, it is critical for the most vulnerable to be able to connect with doctors, family, and friends while staying safe at home.”

Clinch-Powell has helped Fahe distribute 530 tablets across 19 counties in Tennessee. “Our Appalachia CARES AmeriCorps members made it possible to find those in need and get the tablets deployed in a very short period of time,” Turner says. Clinch-Powell’s Appalachia CARES program places AmeriCorps members in service with more than 40 community based organizations in Tennessee annually.

Even once people have access to the devices, however, it’s important to note that the problem of broadband connectivity still looms large. Broadband is critical for the lives of all Americans in 2021. Broadband helps connect people to vital resources like telehealth, pandemic information, and vaccine signups. People can search for jobs and list open positions at their businesses. With reliable internet, students can attend online class at the same time as a parent participates in an online video conference. Elderly residents and those at high risk can maintain some virtual social and family connections that help to fight isolation and improve mental health. Tablets and similar appliances will be able to go farther if we make the necessary investment in broadband that allows the tablets to be used to their full capability.

The TN CARES Act funding enabled the distribution of over 1000 tablets and tablet cases to COVID-impacted individuals in the communities where the six Fahe Members serve. Fahe is thankful for the assistance of its Member Network with quickly identifying residents who have been affected by the pandemic in their communities and assisting with placing these resources in their hands.

Appalachia CARES AmeriCorps Members Samantha Peach and Beverly Bibbins

Sarah Weintraub
Sarah Weintraub
Sarah Weintraub serves as Fahe's Policy and Communications AmeriCorps Member through the Appalachia CARES program. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Amherst College. In her free time, she can be found reading or exploring the outdoors.

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