Each of the five youth mentoring grantees bring unique assets and strengths to the table, as well as challenges that have been historically difficult to overcome. Sharing the story of these rural Central Appalachia communities highlights the traits that make each grantee agency unique.
Steubenville is located in Jefferson County, Ohio. It sits west of the Ohio–West Virginia state line, approximately 30 miles west of Pittsburgh. The city is known as the “city of murals” and features more than 25 murals downtown. It’s also known as the city where Dean Martin of the Rat Pack was born and raised. Steubenville’s main economic driver for many decades was steel, but it has experienced a sluggish economy since the decline of the industry in the 1980s.
The opioid overdose mortality rate is 30.4 (30.4 deaths per 100K people between ages of 15-64) and the poverty rate is 17.2 percent with an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. According to Groundwork Ohio, 49 percent of kids across the state have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), while 1 in 7 youth have three or more ACEs.
Steubenville’s park and recreation department offers a variety youth activities and events throughout the year including basketball and flag football leagues, swim lessons, and holiday events. With funding, the department is building a mentorship program to support at-risk and low-income youth in the community who experience daily challenging including exposure to substance use, hunger and lack of positive adult connections.
Middlesboro is located in Bell County, Ky., one mile west of the Cumberland Gap. The city sits in the Middlesboro Basin, an enormous meteorite crater. The city, known as “The Magic City” is the home of ragtime music and the oldest continuously-played golf course in the country. Once an incredibly affluent community, Middlesboro was built to be the “Pittsburgh of the South” and was responsible for designing the first electric street cars west of Washington, D.C., during the 1930s to support a thriving tourism industry that featured gambling and saloons. During the 1970s, the coal industry thrived, but it has since declined. With the economic downtown, chronic pain suffered by the coal mining workforce, and other factors, the opioid crisis has hit the community hard. The county has an opioid overdose mortality rate of 69.9, a poverty rate of 36.6 percent and a median household income of $22,600. A 2011–2012 Survey of Children’s Health found that 30 percent of children in Kentucky experience two or more ACEs.
The city’s parks have been a victim of the opioid crisis, with many falling into disrepair due to substance use in and around parks. Needles, sharps and drug activity are common occurrences. The city is working to revitalize the community, particularly the downtown area, and has received several grants including funding to support a summer concert series. Middlesboro’s park and recreation department predominately is focused on maintenance of existing city property. With grant funding, the city will partner with local organizations, including local universities, the school district and faith-based organizations to provide mentorship opportunities.
Elizabethton is located in Carter County, Tenn., within the tri-cities area encompassed by Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers, including the Doe River and the Watauga River, the city’s downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features the Elizabethton Covered Bridge as a well-known landmark in the state. There is strong evidence across the community that the opioid crisis has impacted Elizabethton. Many in the community have been impacted in some way, either directly or indirectly through family and friends struggling with substance-use disorder. Other challenges that youth in the community experience include experimenting with other substances including tobacco use and vaping, hunger, poverty, homelessness and ending generational cycles of adversity. The opioid overdose mortality rate is 24.1, with a poverty rate of 23.9 percent and a median household income of $33,200. Across the state, data shows that 61 percent of Tennessee adults have at least one ACE, and 27 percent have three or more.
Elizabethton’s park and recreation department manages several parks and, until recently, also managed the city’s minor league baseball team. The city also is home to Sycamore Shoals State Park and the Tweetsie Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Elizabethton to Johnson City. With grant funding, the city will expand their existing partnership with Carter County Drug Prevention to implement a mentoring program for youth impacted by substance use, supporting youth in activities of interest including skateboarding, outdoors experiences and e-gaming, while supporting community-wide events and resources to raise awareness of substance use. A number of partners have been recruited including the city library, local youth football training organization, University of Tennessee Extension and others.
Mount Airy, North Carolina
Mount Airy is located in Surry County, N.C., with a population of just more than 10,000. The city is widely known as the home to actor Andy Griffith, and it’s believed that it was the basis of Mayberry, the setting of The Andy Griffith Show. With the association with the popular show, the city has a large hospitality and tourism industry, estimated to contribute more than $5 million in revenue each year. Other major industries include furniture, textiles and the granite quarry, which are all depicted on the city’s official seal.
Surry County has been grappling with the impact of the opioid crisis on the community, with a high opioid overdose mortality rate of 24.6. Across the state, 23.8 percent of children experience two or more ACEs. The park and recreation department offers a variety of programs and events, including athletics, summer camps, swim lessons, an afterschool program and community events. They also manage several parks and a river trail running through the city that is connected to local schools and features a hammock park for teens to hang out in. The goal of the mentoring program is to “bridge the gap” for at risk youth, help them perform better in school and make good choices, and contribute to the community.
Danville is located on the southwestern border of Virginia and North Carolina along the fall line of the Dan River. Tobacco and textile mills were a major source of wealth for the community and provided jobs to the majority of community members. While the downtown fell into disrepair after closing many mills and the loss of jobs, the city has been rebuilding and revitalizing the community. New shops, restaurants and lofts fill the downtown that also features community gardens, farmers markets, parks, trails and outdoor activities. While there is new energy in the city, there are many challenges including high rates of ACEs and substance use. The opioid overdose mortality rate is 29.8, with a poverty rate of 21.5 percent.
Other challenges include food insecurity, transportation and navigating a long history of racial tension while the population continues to diversity with more than 50 percent of the population comprised of people of color. During the Civil War, Danville was transformed into the strategic center of the Confederacy and was known as the “last Capitol of the Confederacy.” During the Civil Rights Movement, Danville became the center of heightened activism, as people of color fought for the end of segregation through marches and protests in the summer of 1963. Demonstrations failed to achieve desegregation until the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. This history continues to linger today.
The park and recreation department operates an afterschool program, summer camp, a fit mobile program, sports leagues, special events for families and more. The mentorship program is an opportunity to connect vulnerable youth struggling with ACEs to caring, compassionate adult mentors in the community.