JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A $25 million grant awarded by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) will help the STRONG Accountable Care Community (AC) launch a new program focused on providing resources to Northeast Tennessee families.

The STRONG Families Northeast Tennessee program will aim to help 1,000 low-income families reach financial independence over the course of three years. This includes an estimated 1,800 children.

The program will entail a peer-support method that will provide families with a partner who lives in or near the communities of enrolled families.

“The family partner system isn’t just a tool for families, it’s an interpersonal connection with someone who might have a lot of the same experiences,” said Mark Cruise, director of the STRONG ACC. “They’re someone who can not only help families but relate to them and the challenges they face.”

Provided resources will include access to behavioral health services, a regular cash stipend and a network of family partners.

The service area expands across Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties, with resources made possible through partnerships among organizations such as Ballad Health, MAYA Consulting, ETSU’s Center for Rural Health Research, Frontier Health, the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, Tennessee Voices, the First Tennessee Development District, the YWCA of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia and more.

“The impact of this grant will be felt in every corner of Northeast Tennessee by serving 1,000 families in need over the next 1,000 days,” said Joe Grandy, First Tennessee Development District board chair and mayor of Washington County, Tennessee. “By partnering with the STRONG ACC, the FTDD is fulfilling its long-standing mission to increase economic opportunity through collaboration.

“I speak for every board member of the First Tennessee Development District when we express our thanks to the State of Tennessee and the Department of Human Services for the faith they have placed in our region and for providing the resources to alleviate poverty and overcome barriers to opportunity.”

STRONG ACC marked one of seven applicants that received the grant through the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative, according to the TDHS in a release on May 5.

“This grant provides us with an incredible opportunity to further the efforts we’re making to improve the quality of life in our communities,” said Mark Stevans, director of special projects for the First Tennessee Development District. “STRONG Families Northeast Tennessee zeroes in on some specific challenges many families in our region face, and addressing these issues puts us one step closer to bringing these families out of poverty permanently.”