Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Regional leaders unite to foster community well-being at second Strong ACC symposium; 2023 Resilience Award winners recognized

More than 250 regional partners attend symposium, furthering efforts to build stronger future for region

Hundreds of community leaders and organizations came together for the second Strong ACC Regional Symposium, showing a display of unity that will lead to a brighter future for Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

This year’s symposium, titled Resilient Rhythms: Collaborating for Thriving Families and Communities, put a spotlight on early childhood development, educational success and workforce development through a series of activities, collaborative breakout sessions and keynote presenters. The half-day event, hosted by the region’s Strong Accountable Care Community (Strong ACC), drew more than 250 representatives from hundreds of local organizations across a 23-county, bi-state region.

“I’m so proud of the work being done by the Strong ACC and our nearly 400 partner organizations,” said Dr. Dennis Carter, chair of the Strong ACC Leadership Council. “Each year, we are building the foundation and strengthening conditions for the next generation to prosper and thrive. Our Regional Symposium gives us an opportunity to re-affirm the importance of this work, shine a spotlight on successful programs and initiatives and celebrate the unique resilience of individuals and organizations that are making our region a great place to live, work and play.”

The yearly event gives participants the opportunity to envision and help build strong educational and community support for regional families. Symposium offerings include a glimpse at regional data, including graduation rates, labor force participation and poverty rates, as well as panels on best practices to build early literacy, better workplaces and demonstrations of new technology and its place in the classroom.

“This event continues to grow every year, and we’re excited to carry that momentum forward to enact lasting change in our community,” said Mark Cruise, director of Strong ACC. “An important dimension of STRONG ACC meetings is the cross-state networking and learning that occurs among partners from our respective regions of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. I am grateful for all who have come together – our Leadership Council, partners, sponsors and team members – to make this a can’t-miss annual event.”

This year, Strong ACC welcomed Dan Brillman, co-founder and chief executive officer of Unite Us, as the symposium’s keynote speaker. Founded in 2013, Unite Us is a leading national technology platform that connects community organizations and helps build a coordinated care network.

With support from Ballad Health, Strong ACC welcomed Unite Us as a partner in 2021, giving participating organizations access to the platform and improving the continuum of care and services for families throughout the region. The Unite Us platform enables Strong ACC members to refer clients to each other and expand its No Wrong Door initiative, wherein organizations can connect individuals to resources no matter where they initially turn for help.

“It’s an honor to work with the Strong ACC, and we’re thrilled to continue fostering our relationship,” Brillman said. “Our greatest strength at Unite Us lies in our ability to collaborate and create lasting, meaningful partnerships that improve the health and well-being of communities throughout the U.S. Unite Us is proud to be working with the Strong ACC and hundreds of local partner organizations to build a coordinated system of care in this region.”

Strong ACC was launched five years ago as an inter-sector collective impact coalition with a goal of creating a stronger future for families and communities. By harnessing the charitable work piloted by hundreds of organizations across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Strong ACC aims to address root causes of critical issues and build a strong foundation for the next generation to prosper.

Governed by a 24-member leadership council representing Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Strong ACC is one of the largest accountable care communities in the nation, and it is the only one that serves two states. Ballad Health and United Way of Southwest Virginia serve as backbone organizations of Strong ACC to plan, manage and facilitate its ongoing work.

“From the beginning, Ballad Health has been a proud backbone organization of the Strong ACC, and investing in our region’s future is always a top priority,” said Dr. Paula Masters, Ballad Health’s vice president of health programs. “The Regional Symposium is a great opportunity for us to connect with some of our community partners and ensure we’re taking the best steps forward for our region. We’re grateful for the shared knowledge and expertise that these events offer to us and our other partners.”

2023 Resilience Award winners recognized for community excellence

Additionally, Strong ACC highlighted three organizations and three individuals as recipients of its 2023 Resilience Awards. The honors were given to people and organizations that demonstrate perseverance in overcoming adversity and making a difference in lives of others.

Individual winners

Amy Barker Phillips 
In her 26-year tenure at Girls Inc. of Bristol, Amy Barker Phillips’ resilience and unwavering dedication have left an enduring mark on the organization, fostering a climate of growth and success. Her quick thinking, adaptability and ability to transform challenges into opportunities have made her a driving force behind the organization's expansion and its mission to serve the community's children.

Elizabeth Gooslin 
Elizabeth Gooslin is a beacon of resilience and strength who, despite navigating personal challenges, pursued a degree in social work while working and raising her children as a single parent. Her remarkable journey, from social work intern to a full-time position serving low-income families, demonstrates her unwavering commitment to empowering individuals and families, making her a shining example of the values and dedication central to the field of social work.

Heather Watson
Heather Watson's remarkable resilience and steadfast leadership as interim CEO of the Hands On! Discovery Center stand out, where she seamlessly assumed dual roles and navigated a challenging time. Her unwavering dedication not only ensured the center’s survival, but also fueled its growth, financial stability and development of a positive organizational culture, making her a deserving candidate for this award.

Organization winners

RISE: Health for Life 
Founded in 2018, RISE: Health for Life has exhibited remarkable resilience by navigating challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, financial instability and regulatory hurdles, emerging stronger than ever. Through adaptability, collaboration and a commitment to their mission, RISE continues to provide comprehensive sexual education and support to their community.

SMILE Foster Closet 
SMILE Foster Closet was founded in 2019, demonstrating remarkable resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic by adapting through innovative strategies such as its Portable Sort Program and no-contact dropbox system. The organization’s commitment to supporting foster children and at-risk families, coupled with creative approaches and community engagement, has enabled them to thrive, serving more children each year and expanding their services with confidence.

Appalachian Opportunity Fund 
Appalachian Opportunity Fund (AOF) is a shining example of resilience, founded amid an organizational crisis, flourished through a global pandemic and is now expanding at an unprecedented rate. Through innovative strategies such as a social enterprise and a commitment to client-centered programming, AOF has not only weathered challenges but emerged stronger, making a significant impact on the financial well-being of community members in this region.

More information about the Strong ACC is available at www.strongacc.org.

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