Building a Thriving Tennessee

August 2018
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Partnership Spotlight:  BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Project Search Collaboration

Project SEARCH® is a one-year internship program for students with disabilities in their last year of high school or for young adults working with a disability service provider. It is targeted for interns whose goal is competitive, integrated employment. Our Vocational Rehabilitation and their partners provide technical assistance throughout the year to ensure program fidelity. The ultimate goal for the program is that all interns secure competitive, integrated employment upon completion of the program.

Please check out a recent article posted on the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee News Center website, which focuses on how Project Search is being implemented within the company, including its partnership with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and local school system. Here’s an excerpt:
BlueCross team members Linda Atkins and Brittani Brown interview Brittany Barnett, a Project SEARCH participant.

Ready for the real world: Project SEARCH helps students with intellectual and learning disabilities

Alison Sexter, Communications Specialist, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee | Aug 1, 2018

In August 2018, eight students from Hamilton County schools will join the hustle and bustle of the workday as interns on the BlueCross Cameron Hill campus. These are no ordinary interns, though – they are the inaugural class of the newly established Project SEARCH program in Chattanooga.

Project SEARCH is designed to give young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities valuable work experience.  Originally founded by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the program has since been implemented in communities across the country and around the world.

Liftoff for Scenic City students

Establishing Project SEARCH in Chattanooga has long been a goal for the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE). A lack of specialized job training resources means many young adult students with intellectual and developmental challenges end up at home and unemployed after completing high school.

“These are high-functioning students who are aging out of many of their supportive services,” says Project SEARCH liaison Jennifer Allison, also an exceptional education lead teacher for secondary programs at HCDE.

“These individuals have demonstrated capacity to learn and grow and contribute to the community, but there are few resources available to help them develop the kind of life and professional skills that would enable them to seek competitive employment.”
In order for the program to operate in Chattanooga, a company had to be willing to take it on.  The BlueCross involvement in Project SEARCH began when Stephani Ryan, vice president of BlueCare CHOICES (which supports disabled individuals with home- and community-based services) connected with HCDE and Project SEARCH’s co-founder, Susie Rutkowski, at a conference.

“Our company’s Employment and Community First program within CHOICES is all about helping people with disabilities participate in their community at the highest level possible,” Stephani says. “Supporting Project SEARCH was a natural fit.”

Setting the stage for success

BlueCross Human Resources took on the task of developing and implementing Project SEARCH in the Chattanooga office. The process, which began last fall, involved identifying a series of different jobs that students could rotate through during their internships – as well as determining how many internship slots would be available.

“These interns require more hands-on direction than the typical employee, and they have different skill sets,” says Laura Hessler, manager of talent acquisition in Human Resources. “We needed to make sure that we accounted for those things in determining which areas might be able to support an intern.”

The Tennessee Department of Human Services – Vocational Rehabilitation (TDHS) and Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation both provided guidance, helping HCDE and BlueCross HR staff develop opportunities that account for the different needs and strengths of Project SEARCH participants.
“We wanted to help BlueCross develop an environment where these young people can flourish and advance their skill sets while providing a truly useful service to the company,” says Tiffany Ramsey, regional supervisor with TDHS.

In the early spring, prospective interns and their parents/guardians attended a series of meetings at BlueCross headquarters on Cameron Hill to learn more about the program. TDHS and Siskin Hospital staff also worked with HCDE to prepare the students for internship opportunities.

“Our collective goal was to set everyone up for success,” says Wendy Evatt, HCDE liaison for Project SEARCH. “Proper preparation helps ensure that everyone has a good experience – and that the interns acquire skills that can be used in gainful employment in the community.”

The remainder of the article can be viewed at

Thank you to the BlueCross BlueShield Team for their dedication and support in providing students with disabilities the opportunity to build their work knowledge and experience. Innovative partnerships like this exemplify what it means to build a thriving Tennessee! 
Project Search Participants and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Staff

FRONT ROW left to right: Karen Ward, SVP and Chief HumanResources Officer; Brittany Barnett; Wes Gallaher; Austin Mayse; Joshua Wooten; Amber Cambron, President & CEO, BlueCare. BACK ROW, Sam Riggan, HR Project Manager; Martin Boatwright; D’Angelo McReynolds; Marlon Kennemore;Chris Konieczny; Gary Steele, Vice President, Human Resources. 
“2Gen is not an initiative; it’s a way we do business.” - TDHS Commissioner Danielle Barnes

2Gen Partnership Collaborative Meeting

This month, TDHS brought together our 2Gen partners for a meeting centered on collaboration and continued learning.  All current 2Gen partners came together to explain how they are implementing the 2Gen approach, share best practices in implementation, and brainstorm ways everyone can work collaboratively to support families and increase positive outcomes.  
The meeting started with an introduction by TDHS Commissioner Danielle Barnes. She shared the history of the two-generation approach within TDHS, which started with gradual steps, such as partnering with Families First (TANF) clients to register more than 700 high school seniors in the Tennessee Promise, and enrolling more than 1600 children receiving Department-administered child care assistance in the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation’s Imagination Library. (That number has since expanded to more than 30,000 children.) In doing so, Commissioner Barnes emphasized the Department’s realization that to have the most impactful effect on families living in poverty would require meaningful partnerships with community organizations. Commissioner Barnes also shared the future vision of 2Gen, which has been embedded within the Department’s operational and strategic goals, along with more than 20 2Gen partnerships.
Eight of the 2Gen partners shared information on their organizations, including how the 2Gen approach has been implemented. For many, the 2Gen approach had been part of their service delivery model, but through partnering with TDHS, enhanced programming for children and families was possible. The meeting included a partner spotlight on the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services/Memphis Alliance for Legal Services, who highlighted the legal wellness check-up online app The online tool allows people with low-income to evaluate their overall legal well-being, and consult a lawyer to help remove barriers they’re facing, but didn’t know they could get assistance with.
Together the group of 2Gen partners and DHS staff discussed ways to include the family voice in planning and engagement, brainstormed ways to overcome challenges in program implementation, and strategies to increase opportunities for collaboration on a regional level.

Thank you to the 2Gen partners who attended the meeting and for your continued commitment to serving Tennessee’s families. We look forward to what’s to come! 

Recent News

Tennessee Landmarks Lit Green for Child Support Awareness

Metro Nashville Courthouse, Korean Veterans Bridge, and Liberty Bowl in Memphis among those observing Child Support Awareness Month

Released Thursday, August 09, 2018 | 10:12am

NASHVILLE – If you’ve noticed green lights on landmarks across Tennessee this month, there’s a good reason why.

Green is the color Tennessee has chosen to recognize Child Support Awareness Month.   Every August the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) raises awareness of the services available through the Child Support program and the positive impact it can have on families and children in Tennessee.

Across the state the Tennessee Department of Human Services employees:
  • Work more than 368,000 child support cases.
  • Serve more than 534,000 children through child support collections.
  • Ensure all Tennesseans are served regardless of income.
Some landmarks will be lit most of the month in support of Child Support Awareness Month while others will show green during specific days.  August 9th was one of the most visible for the emerald color with the Metro Courthouse, Korean Veterans Bridge, AT&T Building and the Bi-Centennial fountains in Nashville lit green along with the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and the RJ Corman Bridge in Clarksville.

“The work of our Child Support program really does make a positive difference in the lives of children across the state of Tennessee,” said Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes.  “Child support is an important resource parents utilize to build thriving families and, ultimately, a thriving Tennessee.”

The Child Support Program offers a variety of services that support children and families. Services include locating a child’s parent(s) for the purpose of obtaining support or establishing paternity; establishment of paternity; establishment and enforcement of child support orders; establishment and enforcement of medical support; collection and distribution of child support payments; modification of child support orders; and enforcement of spousal support orders, if child support is involved. 

The Child Support Program also supports the Department’s Two Generational approach to service by helping parents find the employment and job training they need to meet their child support obligations.   Later this year TDHS plans to launch a website in support of its Fatherhood Initiative to further emphasize the importance of fathers in the lives of children and provide local resources to help them.

Citizens are encouraged to contact their local child support office if they are in need of these services.
For more information on the Tennessee Child Support Program, visit:
Learn more about our Child Support Team in this quick video.

Employment, Volunteer, and Education Resource Fairs

TDHS has been partnering with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Mobile American Job Center for resource, volunteer and education resource fairs across the state. Each event features a mix of employers, job services, volunteer and education learning resources. Additional services/activities include job search, resume writing, interviewing skills, college preparation, career planning/development and more. Upcoming resource fairs are as follows:

Madison County Employment, Volunteer, and Education Resource Fair
Thursday, September 6, 2018
9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
225 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive
Jackson, TN 38301
Hamilton County Employment, Volunteer, and Education Resource Fair
Monday, September 10, 2018
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
1221 E. Main Street
Chattanooga, TN 37404
Williamson County Employment, Volunteer, and Education Resource Fair
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 (And every 2nd Wednesday of every other month)
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
203B Beasley Drive
Franklin, TN 37064
Have a resource fair or event you’d like to promote? Let us know!

Updated TDHS Resource Guide

In June, we shared the TDHS Resource Guide with you, which contains quick information on TDHS Programs and Services. The Resource Guide has since been updated with more direct web links and information. You can download the TDHS Resource Guide by clicking the link below. It is also available on our website at Feel free to share the resource guide within your organization and share it with clients.
Click Here for the TDHS Resource Guide

Upcoming Events

September – Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month

Hunger Action Month is the Feeding America Network’s nationwide awareness campaign to take action to end hunger. According to Feeding America, 1 in 8 Tennesseans, including 1 in 5 children face the realities of hunger and food insecurity every day. Food insecurity means that people don’t have the necessary access to food, or often have to make the difficult decision between buying food and using limited funds for other necessities such as household bills. This month, think about what you can do to impact food insecurity in your community. We encourage you to help raise awareness of hunger issues like food insecurity within your scope of influence. Hunger Action Month is a great time to take action through food donation drives and other activities. For more information visit the Feeding America website to locate the member food bank nearest you, along with planned events for September.

If you’re in the Nashville area watch for monuments lit in orange on September 13, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee’s annual Go Orange Day. Also, please plan to join the TDHS team for our Hunger Action Walk on September 28. More details will be provided soon.

October – Disability Employment Awareness Month and the TDHS ResourceAbility Fair

Connecting assistive technology resources to educators, practitioners, employers, and students with disabilities to reach their employment goals.

October 3, 2018 TRC – Smyrna

Invitations will be sent to rehabilitation service professionals, local special education coordinators and more. If you are interested in attending or learning more, contact Kim Lilley at

More Disability Employment Awareness Month events and activities will be occurring in October. Additional information will be shared in the next DHS Direction newsletter.

Check Out Our Recent Video

Child Care Licensing Supervisor Chris Mang shares his perspective on ensuring quality child care.

Until Next Time...

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Thank you for being our partner as we continue to build a thriving Tennessee!

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