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Building a better community roundtable event

Assorted government officials from state and local government attend the Women of Mountain City’s first roundtable event to hear about issues and possible improvements for the area. The event took place on Monday, June 14 at the Watauga Lake Winery. Photo by Dennis Shekinah

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Women of Mountain City (WMC) hosted its first roundtable event on Monday, June 14, at the Watauga Lake Winery. More than 70 guests showed up to hear discussions on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), childhood abuse and neglect, teen pregnancy, diversity, inclusion, outreach, and victim advocacy in Johnson County. Parties involved offered to partner with the community to help meet needs and figure out why the area is in its current shape.

While most people probably expected the event to revolve exclusively around women-related issues, there was also a strong focus on youth. Along with talks of assault and opportunities for learning, speakers addressed Johnson County’s lack of resources for younger citizens turning the area into a “retirement home.”

“Most people I know have left this county, and I don’t want that for us,” said Founder and President Olivia Stelter. “The skills, experience, and potential of our young are taking their talents with them.”

ETSU Equality and Inclusion Director Calvin Claggett expressed shock after touring the area, comparing the conditions to urban decay in his hometown. According to his analysis, the pool should “be condemned,” the picnic tables are rotten, the community center’s conditions are “troubling” and its foundation is “bad,” and the tennis courts have “not been resurfaced in years.”

“There is a lack of diversity in local government,” Claggett continued discussing progress. “Diversity promotes progress. Progress promotes innovation. Innovation leads to change. If we want to better our kids, we have to invite these things.”

According to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth demographics, Johnson County currently has slightly less than 3,000 children under 18 in the community as of January 2021. Other statistics show that reported county child abuse rates come in at nearly double the state average.

“It’s sad to say, but with the rates of neglect and abuse, it’s almost like children born into this county are DOA, not physically but mentally,” said Stelter. “They aren’t equipped with the resources they need to thrive in an Appalachian environment. I hope we can work together. I hope that today is an eye-opening experience and an experience of love and dedication that we have to see the future of Johnson County thrive and come out stronger together. To take the gaps and fill them in together instead of separate. We need each other.”

To hear about issues in Johnson County, possible resource opportunities, and statistics, watch the roundtable event archive video on the Women of MC Facebook page. Find out more about WMC at womenofmountaincity.com or (423) 491-5048.