Just two hours north of the University of Tennessee campus lies Clay County, Kentucky, where nearly four out of 10 residents live below the poverty line. Much of the county is prone to devastating flooding. Disability rates are nine times the national average. And nearly two-thirds of the people there use contaminated water sources.
UT nursing students have for many years had practicum experiences in the county, providing needed services while gaining invaluable experience. But it wasn’t enough. The county’s needs were greater than any one program could address.
Thus was born the Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project, which brought together faculty and staff from nursing, engineering, and architecture and design, as well as staff from the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, to work with Clay County officials and social organizations to better address the complex problems facing the area.
In 2013, UT won a three-year $1.5 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to fund the initiative. UT’s efforts ranged from providing immediate solutions to conducting long-range policy and strategic work.
To address the immediate need for clean drinking water, UT students designed and built a kiosk where hundreds of families can now acquire clean drinking water. UT’s development office even raised funds to provide water containers for residents who could not afford them.
To help create a more permanent solution, engineering students examined the county’s existing dam and developed a preliminary design and cost estimate for a new water reservoir system. Country officials will use the team’s report when meeting with federal representatives to seek funding for the project.
Other work included disaster planning and training with first responders, providing carbon monoxide detectors, and designing flood-resistant structures.
“This is a much more holistic approach to solving community issues when dealing with water, sanitation, housing, disaster preparedness, and communication,” says Tracy Nolan, a registered nurse and director of community outreach at Red Bird Mission, one of the project’s partners and an agency that has been ministering in that region of Appalachia since 1921. “Having architects, nurses, law enforcement personnel, and civil and environmental engineers at the table opens up new opportunities to solve problems in ways never before explored.”
Working together to solve problems. That’s just one of the ways that Volunteers make a difference.
This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.