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The White House Rural Council and other federal agency officials met recently at Eastern Kentucky University’s South Region Campus in Corbin with the Partners for Education at Berea College Rural IMPACT team to learn about its process and progress with local two-generation efforts to end childhood poverty in Knox County.

The Partners for Education at Berea College Rural Integration Models for Parents and Children to Thrive (IMPACT) team hosted the gathering of both state and federal officials whose mission is to elevate the economic, health and educational status of families. The group included agencies such as USDA Rural Development, the Appalachian Reginal Commission and the White House Rural Council.

Partners for Education at Berea College Rural IMPACT team is one of only 10 sites across the United States chosen to re-align support services for teen and adult single parents and families to attack childhood poverty with a two-generation approach.

Since the designation was granted last year, the Rural IMPACT team has collaborated with member support service providers and other active team members to create a plan that will include the sharing of information among agencies and create a model that will determine the process families must go through to obtain services. In order to create a successful two-generation approach to childhood success, the team is looking to find the gaps and overlaps in education, transportation, childcare, social services, financial counseling and family counseling services. 

The alignment approach provides parents with high school equivalency and post-secondary education, job-driven workforce development services, high quality financial education and income support to enable parents to achieve financial stability. This stability ensures children’s access to high-quality early childhood development and enriching elementary school experiences. The alignment approach also includes strong parent-engagement strategies, including parent education and social-emotional supports, to help parents meet the health and development needs of their children at home and in the community. 

The local Rural IMPACT team, which initially focuses on youth parents and their children in Knox County, will soon begin testing and refining its strategies and approaches to meet the targeted goal of better serving families in ways that will ultimately help reduce rural poverty.

Numerous barriers keep rural Americans trapped in cycles of poverty, including lack of transportation, inadequate or non-existent childcare, lack of access to nearby education and technical training and limited access to basic existence needs as families attempt to journey toward success and independence. While visiting the local area, federal officials toured the area to see the barriers to success in Knox County, and were then presented with the Rural IMPACT team’s plans to remove those obstacles.

The Rural IMPACT team has created an action plan and the initial framework for aligning services and is now entering the implementation phase. The ultimate goal of the Knox County Rural IMPACT project is to give young parents, ages 14-24, the support they need to complete high school and post-secondary training that leads to a high-wage career. Additionally, the group seeks to provide supports to the children of youth parents in the form of high-quality childcare, early childhood education and health and wellness services.

The Rural IMPACT will gather information by talking with single parents, child-care providers, teachers, professors, doctors, social workers, community officials and business leaders from small and large businesses to create a comprehensive needs-assessment.

Currently, the local Rural IMPACT team is hosting two AmeriCorps VISTAs, both from London. Ashley Van Hook has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from EKU, and Seth Wilder has a master’s of library and information science from the University of Kentucky. Both VISTAs started their journey with Rural IMPACT in May.       

Van Hook and Wilder are working to create a website, a community service database, and a strong social media presence. The goal is to collect information from surrounding businesses and organizations about the services they provide, so that all information will be available in one accessible website location.

The Rural IMPACT demonstration project is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with support from the Community Action Partnership and the American Academy of Pediatrics and implemented in collaboration with Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC); the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Labor; the Delta Regional Authority; and the Corporation for National and Community Service.