The Refuge helping people reach goals, move out of poverty

Organization’s leader updates Sunrise Rotary Club on programs

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Posted 5/7/16

Though Bradley County has been seeing a positive decrease in its unemployment rate, one local nonprofit leader is stressing the continual need for people to be able to launch good careers.

Dr. …

This item is available in full to subscribers

The Refuge helping people reach goals, move out of poverty

Organization’s leader updates Sunrise Rotary Club on programs


Though Bradley County has been seeing a positive decrease in its unemployment rate, one local nonprofit leader is stressing the continual need for people to be able to launch good careers.

Dr. Terry Johns, executive director of The Refuge, recently told the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club how his organization is helping local families and individuals get and stay on their feet.

“We’ve learned being employed does not mean you’re not in poverty,” Johns said.

Bradley County currently boasts a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, according to the most recent figures from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

While that may seem positive, Johns said unemployment rates merely measure how many people were working in a given month. They do not, he explained, measure whether or not people are gaining the kind of work that can help lift them out of poverty.

Johns gave the example of a homeless person. He or she may be employed in part-time work or as a day laborer, but that does not guarantee he or she will have a paycheck large enough to rent or buy a home.

He added there are still some people in Bradley County trying to support themselves and their families on a $7.25 per hour minimum wage with no health insurance or other benefits.

“Even though there are a lot of jobs available, it’s not always the kind which will help them … move out of poverty,” Johns said.

The Refuge primarily helps people living in the East Cleveland area. Sharing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Johns said residents of that area typically have an unemployment rate that is higher than anywhere else in Bradley County.

Johns also shared information from The Social Genome Project, a study done by the Brookings Institution. The people behind the project have identified several things which need to happen in order for someone who is born in poverty to end up being part of the middle class.

Among the factors said to play a part in people’s successes are being born to parents who are “ready to parent,” having what they need in early childhood to be ready for school, remaining able to learn new skills in middle childhood, graduating from high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average and earning a college degree or getting a job which pays close to what a college graduate would make.

The Refuge also believes there is a seventh factor, Johns said. He explained one cannot underestimate the importance of someone having a good spiritual life and finding hope for his or her situation.

Johns said the organization is trying to help people reach those milestones with several different programs. All are offered from the organization’s locations in the Blythe Family Support Center at 1075 Blythe Ave.

The common thread running through each one, he noted, is that the staff of The Refuge strive to help people realize their own potential and support them as they work to better their lives.

“We commit to never doing for someone what they can do for themselves,” Johns said.

The organization’s Access 180 Center serves as the location for several different classes which are offered for free. All are designed to teach job skills or skills which can help people better manage their finances.

Current course offerings include: “Basic Computer,” “Coupon Connection,” “CPR Certification,” “Intro to Microsoft Excel,” “Intro to Microsoft Word and “Money & Banking.” 

The center, which is equipped with several computer, also remains open for several hours each week for anyone wishing to search and apply for jobs.

It also plays host to The Refuge’s Career Connection program. This intensive program combines instruction from the organization’s various courses and adds in instruction on things like how to write good resumes and have good job interviews.

An “advanced” portion of the program also allows participants to receive free customer service or manufacturing skills training through Cleveland State Community College’s OneSource Workforce Readiness Center.

Johns said that particular program has been “life-changing” for many of its participants, including some who gained good jobs and were able to overcome homelessness.

“This is one of the best things that we’ve ever done,” Johns said. “It has exceeded our expectations.” 

This June, the organization is also launching a Youth Career Connection program, which will allow youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs and the F.I. Denning Center of Technology and Careers to learn job skills.

From the organization’s 180 Tutoring Center, it also offers free one-on-one tutoring for those who have completed the Money & Banking course and those taking part in the Reading Connection adult literacy program.

“We have 50 and 60-year-old people who are learning to read for the first time,” Johns said. “It’s incredible.” 

Those looking for jobs and places to live can benefit from lists of job and apartment and house rental listings compiled by the organization each week.

The Refuge also offers programs for families with children, including an annual events to give away school supplies in the fall and toys for parents to use as gifts during the holidays.

Some 100 individuals were able to find employment with help from The Refuge each year in both 2014 and 2015, Johns said. With 76 people having found work so far in 2016, the organization is expecting to exceed the 100-per-year mark.

While the organization does try to help people get on their way to launching long-term careers, Johns said one still cannot underestimate the positivity of someone going from having no work to having some.

To close out his speech, he showed a video with the story of a woman helped by The Refuge. The woman, identified only as “Clara,” shared how she had found herself homeless and had been walking all over trying to find work.

She explained how someone with the organization helped her get a bus pass and fill out job applications on a computer. Her eyes filled with joyful tears as she shared how she now has a job and an apartment.

“That joy came from a job at McDonald’s,” Johns said. “What may seem so simple to us brought this woman joy and hope. Our goal is to, as we like to put it, ‘set hope free.’”

For more information about The Refuge and its programs, visit or call 423-584-5211.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment


Print subscribers have FREE access to by registering HERE

Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE

We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.

If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.

Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE