At the Community Development Center, “reaching out to serve” is more than a mission. To Executive Director Anita Teague and her team, the support they provide to families and individuals with disabilities is a calling — even a moral imperative — especially in rural Middle Tennessee.
“We love the people we serve, and we know the work of our agency is critical,” said Anita. “Our staff is sometimes the only people fighting for our families, which makes the work important. And it pulls at our heartstrings.”
The Community Development Center, originally named the Child Development Center, was founded in 1972 in Shelbyville by families of children with developmental delays like autism spectrum disorder. They started the support agency in a church eight years before autism was formally recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis.
Since then, the agency has expanded to serve neighbors of all ages across 17 counties. Its programs include early intervention services for children, support and training for families with a developmentally challenged family member, and a wide array of programs for adults with similar disabilities, including job placement assistance and medical equipment loans.
As a beneficiary of Project UNITE, Anita and her colleagues are among the 13,000 Tennesseans who’ve gained access to high-speed internet despite living and working in rural and remote communities — access that is more important than it has ever been, especially for vulnerable populations.
“The majority of our staff live in the communities they serve, from Petersburg to Lewisburg,” Anita explained. “We’re part of the same community, and that helps us understand the benefits and challenges of living in those communities.”
Among the challenges of rural living is accessibility to basic but critical services like healthcare and specialized education.
Over the past decade, more rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee than in any other state. In many of the counties they serve, the Community Development Center is the sole service provider for children with developmental disabilities and their families.
And since the start of the pandemic, their work has relied heavily on virtual connections to the families they serve who were already facing barriers to the services they depend on. For some, that means contacting a specialist working with their teachers to develop and implement Individualized Education Plans. For others, it means securing reliable transportation to see specialists who aren’t located nearby.
“Back in March of 2020, our staff pivoted so quickly and so effectively to virtual services,” said Anita. ”Being able to provide our services through the internet and without interruption made such a difference.”
And with fast, reliable internet service through United, they can focus on serving more than 1,400 families in Middle Tennessee.
“We love United,” said Anita. “Without reliable internet, there’s no way we can do our jobs. We are a champion for people of all abilities, and we champion that cause across all communities. The reliability and accessibility of our internet have been so very important to keep our staff engaged and help them work.”
Anita also appreciates United’s dependable, local customer service and their presence in the community.
“And the folks I know at United are all active members in our community,” said Anita. “They truly are a service provider — not just an internet service provider, but they understand the real meaning of service.”
Learn more about the Community Development Center and its mission at cdctn.org.