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Breaking Barriers: Chattanooga’s Commitment to Empowering People of All Abilities 

All individuals deserve the opportunity to receive an education, engage in recreational activities and pursue a fulfilling career. Chattanooga is actively breaking down barriers to ensure equal opportunities for individuals of all abilities, spanning from childhood through adulthood.  

Discover how our thriving economy is providing new, adaptive resources made possible through the support of Chamber member businesses: 

Higher Education: Chattanooga State Community College 

In October 2023, Chattanooga State Community College introduced Tiger Access, a two-year college experience for individuals with disabilities. Tiger Access is designed to open doors to students with disabilities by equipping them with skills, experience and knowledge that translate into the workplace. 

Chattanooga State, a Chattanooga Chamber member, recently announced it was awarded a $410,000 grant from Tennessee Believes, a TN Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities program.  

Tennessee Believes provides grants to two- or four-year colleges across Tennessee that show significant commitment to creating or improving existing programs that lead to inclusion of students with disabilities. Chattanooga State was the second college in the state to receive this grant. 

Utilizing the grant, Chattanooga State is partnering with Orange Grove and the college’s Workforce Development Center to provide opportunities to Tiger Access students.  

Students start the semester with a College Readiness class, which teaches them how to navigate being in college. In this class, students will audit classes in their chosen career fields, earn Workforce Development certifications and receive hands-on work experiences. 

The students’ first year is focused on the classroom, studying their field of interest. The second year focuses on immersive work experience while completing a capstone project. Students receive a Certificate of Completion upon completion of the program. 

“Chattanooga State Community College is a place where everyone can learn without limits and Tiger Access is a beautiful example of how this vision for the college is a reality,” said Dr. Kristi Strode, Director of Center for Access and Disability Services. “Students of Tiger Access will be able to obtain an education that will tie to their future jobs in the community.” 

“The goal of the program is that our students obtain employment that is meaningful and that can provide life-sustaining wages. As more of our students work in the community, everyone will see the benefits of offering employment to individuals with disabilities,” said Dr. Strode. 

Learn more about Chattanooga State Community College.  

Image courtesy of Chattanooga State
Image courtesy of Matt Hamilton

Community Spaces: Hope Included 

Inclusivity starts with our youth by establishing adaptive spaces for children to engage in play. In July 2024, Riverview Park in Chattanooga is set to unveil a groundbreaking project: a playground and park designed for children of all abilities.  

The driving force behind this initiative is Nicolle McCoy, the founder of Hope Included, a local nonprofit organization. In 2019, the McCoy family tragically lost their youngest daughter, Hope McCoy, to a rare syndrome called Xia-Gibbs.  

In response, the McCoy family established Hope Included with the mission of spreading hope in the local community by ensuring everyone has access to community spaces, regardless of their abilities.  

“Hope showed us how much we learn and benefit from one another when we have opportunities to experience life together,” said McCoy. “I believe this will be a wonderful space and an incubator for ideas to make inclusion and accessibility the standard in our community.” 

In collaboration with Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors and Play & Park Structures, a PlayCore company and Chattanooga Chamber member, Hope Included is bringing an adaptive playground to Chattanooga. 

Image courtesy of Hope Included

In October 2023, the project experienced a substantial advancement as the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities granted Hope Included $500,000, marking a significant stride towards the $1 million funding goal.

Additional support for the park comes from various donors, with Play and Park Structures offering a matching funds grant for the equipment. Hope Included is actively seeking to raise $10,000 for crucial features such as bathrooms, artwork and a pavilion. 

Designed for children aged six months to 12 years old, the playground will be equipped with ramps to accommodate mobility devices. It will also feature sensory-friendly music and a mix of static and dynamic activities. 

Lindsay Hill, Sr. Vice President and Group Manager at Specialty Play Group/Play & Park Structures, shared insights into the project.  

“The McCoy’s approached the Play & Park Structures brand of PlayCore with their desire to transform Riverview Park, the park that Hope McCoy used often with her family, into an inclusive neighborhood park that would allow children of all abilities to play, feel successful and spend time outdoors,” Hill said.  

By integrating accessibility into public spaces and facilities such as Riverview Park, we can cultivate a stronger community founded on the principles of play and hope. Hope Included’s initiative aims to promote equal opportunities for all individuals.  

“Children of all abilities should be able to go to our local parks and enjoy time outdoors with family and friends, but there are often a lot of barriers at parks. The design of Riverview Park playground will expand the offering of play equipment and amenities so children and families of all abilities can experience fun together,” Hill said.  

Learn more about Hope Included and Play & Park Structures

Images courtesy of Play & Park Structures

Competitive Sports: Miracle League of Chattanooga 

“As a child with a disability and limitations, the opportunity to play a team game wasn’t an option for me. Programs like Miracle League opened the world of sports to people like me,” said Linny Stamper.  

Stamper, a 38-year-old Chattanooga local with cerebral palsy, expressed, “Miracle League gives me the opportunity to be with people who understand my daily struggles. Every kid should have the chance to play and be part of a team.” 

The Downtown Family YMCA operates the Miracle League of Chattanooga at Rotary Field in Warner Park, providing individuals with disabilities aged 4 to 99 with the opportunity to play baseball.  

The upcoming season runs from April 13th to May 18th, 2024. Every Saturday for six weeks, participants, volunteers and spectators come together to share in the joy of witnessing children and adults play America’s favorite pastime. 

Image courtesy of Bella Merritt

Miracle League relies on support from volunteers and donors, many of whom are Chattanooga Chamber members, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Miller Industries, McKee Foods, UNUM, EPB, BuiltWell Bank and more.  

“Our volunteers come from everywhere to help Miracle League operate. We could not function without the support from the community, volunteers and donors,” said Robin Sturnes, Program Director at the Downtown Family YMCA. “I love Miracle League because every player demonstrates a passion for playing and strives to have fun and be competitive.” 

Each player is assigned a “buddy” for support and the game is adapted to accommodate the specific needs of every participant, allowing them to fully engage in all aspects of the game. The only score tracked on the field is the level of fun and joy each player derives from the game. 

“We plan to introduce a new 4-week adaptive program that teaches players four new sports and skills training, partnering with local coaches. This initiative will provide our players with new skills during the baseball off-season, such as soccer and basketball,” Sturnes said. 

The Miracle League of Chattanooga offers individuals of all abilities the opportunity to engage in enriching experiences and the excitement of participating in sports. 

Learn more about Miracle League of Chattanooga and its donors. 

Image courtesy of Miracle League
Image courtesy of Bella Merritt

Career Development: Orange Grove  

Mary Crews, a 41-year-old Chattanooga local, has been at the heart of Orange Grove for 13 years as a testimony of their support to overcoming barriers and finding opportunities that embrace all abilities.  

Founded in 1953, Orange Grove provides person-centered services and programs to over 1,000 children and adults in Chattanooga, with a commitment to fostering inclusivity and diversity in the community. 

Orange Grove, a Chattanooga Chamber member, serves individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, tailoring services to address the comprehensive needs of each person. These services encompass clinical care, employment support, community participation, family support, personal and residential assistance.  

As someone who uses their residential services, Crews said she enjoys the activities, her home and her housemates. “My house really feels like a home,” she said.  

In pursuit of facilitating job opportunities for every individual seeking employment, Orange Grove collaborates with numerous organizations across the Chattanooga area. 

“Orange Grove job coaches have helped me find jobs and fill out applications. I have worked for Erlanger Hospital, Goodwill and currently am employed at the Downtown Family YMCA. I like to go to work because it makes me feel independent and proud of doing a good job,” Crews said. 

“I am thankful for the Orange Grove staff who helped me with my weight loss goals through football, basketball and swimming. This year I achieved the Athlete of the Year award.”  

Orange Grove helps individuals like Crews navigate differing abilities by finding community, housing, careers and more.  

Wayne Collins, Chief Operating Officer of Orange Grove, said, “Orange Grove offers employment to people with disabilities as the first and best option for achieving their life’s goals.”   

“People with disabilities add a different perspective and worldview to your workplace,” Collins continued. “Hiring people with disabilities is not charity. It improves your workplace productivity and morale.”  

Learn more about Orange Grove and its donors.

Image courtesy of Bella Merritt
Image courtesy of Orange Grove

Employers play a pivotal role in expanding job opportunities that foster inclusivity for those with disabilities and contribute to our local economy. The support from businesses, donors and volunteers is instrumental in establishing adaptive programs and resources, thereby enhancing workplace morale and transforming the lives of many Chattanoogans. 

“To the people behind these programs, thank you for not allowing society to lock us out,” said Stamper.  

Individuals with disabilities should not be defined solely by their differing abilities; instead, they should be esteemed for the unique skills and character traits they bring to the workplace and the world at large. 

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