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Center loses annual $50K grant funding

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Johnson County would be a different place without the Mountain City/Johnson County Community Center. The community center offers after-school tutoring and activities to students in our school system and after school meals.

“The Mountain City/Johnson County Community Center was very recently informed of a critical loss of funding,” explained John Cunningham, President of the Board of Directors of Hometown Service Coalition, a newly formed non-profit with plans to assist local service organizations towards the goals set forth to benefit our community.

Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor also informed the county board of commissioners of the loss in funding during the September meeting. “We are doing everything we can to assist them,” he said, “and we are advised they plan to appeal.”

In November 2002, Tennesseans voted to create a state lottery. The General Assembly established that the lottery profits go toward specific educational programs: college scholarships, early childhood programs, and afterschool programs. The overall goal of Lottery for Education: Afterschool Programs (LEAPs) is to provide Tennessee students with academic enrichment opportunities that reinforce and complement the regular educational program.

“The LEAPs three-year grant in excess of $50,000 a year was not renewed,” said Cunningham. “This grant helped cover some supervisory and tutorial positions as well as funding to help offset food insecurities for elementary, middle and high school youth.”

According to Bellamy, the community center has specific criteria to follow to apply for grants necessary to pay their employees and added, “All the people work beyond their pay.”  The center is required to have child care licensing. Everyone who works with the students, even volunteers, undergo a background check and fingerprinting updated every five years.When Blake Tester, a JCHS graduate, and a past community center student, heard there were needs at the center, immediately gathered some needed items and delivered them.

“I want to make sure other kids have the opportunity to grow and learn from Flo and the community center,” said Tester, who is taking post-secondary education classes while working a part-time job. He recalls being initially invited by a friend. “I decided to check it out for myself. The community center was welcoming and not just from my friend, but by Flo, Eva, and Eunice.”

Tester remembers how much he enjoyed the garlic bread at the center. “It was just hotdog buns,” he said, “but to me, it was the best garlic bread in the world.” He recalls immediately feeling it was a safe and well-structured environment for kids. “Being one of Flo’s kids and the matter that she continues to have the community center open, it inspires me to give back to her, and since she has helped me as a kid,” said Tester.  

“I was so touched with his contribution,” said Flo Bellamy, Mountain City/Johnson County Community Center Director. “I’ll always know him as ‘one of my kids,’ and it was so wonderful that he chose to help.”

Bellamy advises the current need is cleaning supplies. She recently released a list of suggested donation items on social media, including disinfectant wipes, Lysol spray, latex/cleaning gloves, Dawn dishwashing liquid, and gallon jugs. The center can also use any students needing community service hours for participation in Tennessee Promise call 423-727-2942. The Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center is located at 214 College St. Mountain City, TN 37683.