(Image #1) Photo Courtesy of Erlanger Health System, (Image #2) Photo Courtesy of Cempa Community Care; (Image #3) Photo Courtesy of See Rock City, Inc.
Changing our Communities
In 2022, the Tennessee State Government reported that 65.6% of students in Hamilton County were economically disadvantaged, with 18.6% of our children living below the poverty line. Students born into low-income families often face significant socioeconomic obstacles that prevent them from attending college or accessing opportunities for high-paying careers after high school. This opportunity gap has become increasingly apparent in recent years, but with state funding and sponsorships from local businesses, FRI participants can access the opportunity to build a successful future for themselves regardless of economic status.
Many of these programs have created important bridges between companies and the communities they call home. According to Doug Chapin, CEO of See Rock City, Inc., that’s been one of the most rewarding results of working with The Howard School. “A lot of these students are coming in from really difficult life circumstances,” Chapin shares. “An assistant principal at Howard, Dr. Charles Mitchell, said, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see. We may be three miles away, but it might as well be 3,000.’ The FRI is a really practical way for us to help connect them with opportunities.” Recalling a recent ceremony for a group of over 40 graduates, Chapin says, “I asked how many of them had been to Rock City before, and only four students raised their hands. That’s one of the things that really hits me – that’s why The Howard School is so important. They are our neighbors and so close. We want these students to know they have a place here.”
While Cempa, Erlanger, UTC, NOVONIX, and Rock City come from vastly different industries, each group noted that working with these students has had a massively uplifting effect on their organization as a whole. “It takes a lot of people to support a program like this, and we’ve all become very emotionally invested in these students,” Powell shares. “Two of our seniors just graduated with full-ride scholarships to Emory University. Those success stories really make our community here at Erlanger proud.”