- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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July 26

The Commercial Appeal on United Way of the Mid-South:

The venerable philanthropic force United Way of the Mid-South, known for dispensing millions of dollars over the decades to organizations throughout the Memphis metro area, is sharpening its focus to make a dent in a seemingly intractable problem.



Led by president and chief executive officer Dr. Kenneth Robinson, the organization has begun leveraging the dollars it distributes to nearly 80 high-performing nonprofit agencies, guiding them to focus on the same goals and to work together to form a social services system of care.

The main goal of the “Driving the Dream” initiative is fighting poverty and helping families become self-sufficient.

In our minds, it is a prudent move that takes the agency beyond just providing services to people with a variety of needs. It puts a strong emphasis on making sure they reach a situation in life where they no longer need these services.

It has meant that, for the first time, organizations receiving a total of $13.7 million in the new fiscal year for United Way funding are finding somewhat more or somewhat fewer dollars based on the poverty-fighting mission, Robinson said.

Robinson has been at the helm of United Way, founded in 1923, since February 2015. He is a minister, physician and poverty fighter. From 1991-2016, he also served as pastor and CEO of St. Andrew AME Church at Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway East, where he led the congregation in developing health and human services programs, high-quality child care, economic development initiatives, and pre-K and elementary education.

He founded an associated community development corporation, The Works, Inc., which has brought more than $22 million in new investment to the area.

With the support of the agency’s board of directors, Robinson is bringing the same focus to United Way.

It also is about getting more bang for the organization’s buck.

Tax filings show public support dropped 25 percent, from about $26.5 million in 2010 to $19.8 million in 2014, and the organization reported shortfalls of more than $2 million in 2014-15 and $1.5 million the previous year. Robinson said the reinvention of United Way comes at a time that the organization has stopped a trend of year-over-year losses.

Ninety-six percent of United Way contributions are made through workplace campaigns, where payroll deductions and, in some cases, company matches are available. Downsizing by companies during the Great Recession, plus a rising preference by firms and the millennial generation for direct giving and engagement with charities, have been cited as factors.

In the larger picture, United Way has joined the “collaboration” movement taking place in Memphis, where organization are tearing down silos to find more efficient ways to combine resources and strategies to attack poverty and the social forces that contribute to it.

United Way is working closely with the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle, the city’s Workforce Investment Network and the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, among others, Robinson said.

For 93 years, United Way has been a force for good in Memphis and the surrounding area, and has provided a way, through employee deduction, for residents to contribute toward helping their fellow citizens.

We think the organization’s new focus will have an even bigger impact by helping more citizens climb out of poverty.

Online:

https://www.commercialappeal.com/

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July 25

The Knoxville News Sentinel on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Next month will mark the official 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but the celebration in our own Great Smoky Mountains National Park and elsewhere began months ago and will continue throughout the year.

As land protected by the federal government, the park system began long before President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service on Aug. 25, 1916. Congress, in 1872, had established the Yellowstone National Park in parts of Wyoming and Montana, both territories at the time.

Entering the park system on the eve of World War II, the Smokies has a couple of decades to go before reaching its centennial anniversary. Yet, it is the most visited of the national parks in the United States, and it likely will remain at the top of that list during this celebratory year.

For Cassius Cash, the superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the centennial assignment is proving to be a labor of love - if it’s a labor at all.

Cash, appointed in 2014, is the 22nd Smokies superintendent and the first black person to hold the position. His race, however, is not the important factor: “What matters is my journey,” he said, a sojourn that led from Memphis to a love of the outdoors and a role as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Cash recently participated with a group of middle-schoolers as part of the Junior Naturalists program hosted by the Smoky Mountain Field School, joining the youths on the park’s Porter’s Creek Trail about 6 miles east of Gatlinburg.

One eighth-grader was impressed by having hiked with the superintendent. “He’s an important figure and he’s decided to hang out with us,” he said. “I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Explaining his job and perhaps his philosophy, Cash said: “I believe there is a whole generation out there waiting to be ushered into the outdoors.” He was speaking not only about the natural beauty of the national parks. “I’m talking about how they can become sanctuaries for the soul,” he continued. “This is a leadership moment, not just for me but for the entire park service.”

The national park movement, which was strong in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, benefited mightily from the influence of Theodore Roosevelt, both as president (1901-1909) and as a private citizen. Years later, it was another Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who helped provide the final funding and dedicated the Smokies as a national park.

In a year of political discord and social unrest, the national parks’ centennial birthday is truly something that should bring Americans together, since so many citizens have visited at least one national park. Indeed, the parks are one of our strongest institutions supported by enlightened government for the welfare and happiness of its citizens and for the study and protection of our natural environment.

The current celebration, the park service says, is as much about the future as the past. It is easy to tout the treasures of what is in our midst. Yet, the education for stewardship of our natural resources is ongoing. As previous generations gave us the parks, it is up to all of us to ensure their existence for generations to come.

Online:

https://www.knoxnews.com/

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July 21

The Johnson City Press on state residents’ access to broadband internet:

A survey commissioned by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has found 13 percent of state residents and businesses do not have access to broadband internet.

Gov. Bill Haslam has released a statement calling the report a “starting point to advance the conversation” about improving the availability of high-speed internet in Tennessee. That is certainly a discussion that local government and economic development officials in many rural communities, including some in our region, are eager to have.

The Associated Press reports the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association believes the survey demonstrates that city-owned utilities should be allowed to expand into areas outside their traditional service areas.

Thousands of households and businesses in this state lack access to a reliable high-speed internet connection. This threatens to put areas of Tennessee at a distinct disadvantage.

Broadband connectivity is essential to lure both businesses and new residents to a community. Without it, many of the new tech generation will go elsewhere.

And make no mistake about it - broadband connectivity is more than an amenity. It is an essential way our culture now works, socializes and plays.

Earlier this year, Press Assistant News Editor Nathan Baker reported on a position paper written by George S. Ford, chief economist for the conservative think tank Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Public Policy Studies, which says municipal broadband systems hurt investment and competition from private companies and should be pursued as a “last-ditch effort” to provide those services.

While we appreciate Ford’s concerns regarding competition, there are simply times when the open market does not meet the needs of the people. That is particularly true for rural areas here in Northeast Tennessee where private companies don’t believe extending those services is worth the cost.

Online:

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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