Clothing Closet

Site coordinators keep shoes, socks, shirts and pants for students in need.

COCKE COUNTY—In fall of 2019, Communities in Schools of Tennessee (CIS-TN) launched a three-year pilot program in 23 rural high schools across 15 counties. Two of those schools are right here in Cocke County.

The program was introduced to Tennessee in the 2012-2013 school year, serving three schools in Nashville. Since then, the program has expanded to cover 17 schools in Nashville, and has spawned an independent CIS affiliate in Memphis and the recent pilot of the CIS-TN Rural Expansion.

CIS-TN’s goal is to identify chronic absenteeism in students and address the underlying issues that cause it.

“This isn’t just kids playing hooky because they don’t feel like showing up,” says Holly Tungett, Site Coordinator for CIS-TN at Cocke County High School.

“Most of the time there’s something a lot bigger going on, whether they’re food insecure, or they don’t have a ride, or they don’t have a way to wash their clothing. Our job is to address these needs.”

Tungett came to the program at CCHS in 2019 when it launched, and she’s extremely proud of what CIS-TN has accomplished in its first years.

“When I first got started, it took a little bit for people to figure out who we were and what we were doing, both for students and for the community. Students didn’t know what resources we were providing to them. After that first year, though, we’ve really taken off,” Tungett said.

CIS-TN provides resources that span a wider range than one might expect, and the power of the program lies within that flexibility. Site coordinators work with the community and with the students to provide support wherever the students need it most.

“Our goal is to provide in-school support built on strong relationships with the students,” said Dawn Williams, Cosby High School’s CIS-TN Site Coordinator. Williams joined the program in September of 2020 to fill the position of former Site Coordinator Kenny Cody.

“Attendance is our main focus, but it isn’t our only focus,” Williams said.

“We start by looking at attendance, then we say ‘okay, what are these students’ academic needs?’ and then from there, we address their social and emotional needs.”

Williams shared just how broad the support CIS-TN provides truly is. They’ve worked with Crisis Pregnancy Centers to provide help to students affected by teen pregnancy. They’ve partnered with local businesses to provide food boxes and Christmas boxes to students in need. They’ve helped provide funding to pay students’ light and grocery bills.

“There was one time I got a phone call before I even got to school,” Tungett shared. “’Mrs. Holly I missed the bus this morning, could you come pick me up?’ So I got in my car and drove out to get them.”

Williams and Tungett both stressed that much of their work would not be possible without help from the community. Both schools’ programs offer a clothes closet and food pantry to the students, with supplies provided by the community.

“Our clothing closet is all donations from the community, we’ll do clothing drives and stuff like that. The shelves we use for storage were built by one of our shop classes. We have a whole rack of professional clothes, in case a student has a job interview or anything like that. A lot of these kids do end up needing help financially supporting their family,” said Tungett.

Another large supporter of the program is Amazon, who provides anything from plastic storage containers for clothing to peanut butter and oatmeal for the pantry.

“Pretty much whatever we need, I can reach out and say ‘Hey we need this or that’ and they’ll get it to us,” Tungett said.

Williams shared that Amazon even helped to provide wheelchairs for students who needed them.

“The most important thing is that this isn’t meant to be a punitive thing,” Tungett explained, “it’s more of an incentive program and an intervention program.”

“Most of all, these students just need a place to feel safe,” Williams said.

“They need somewhere that, no matter what’s going on at home, no matter what’s going on in their classes, they can come to us and just be reminded that people care about them.”

For more information, or to donate to CIS-TN, visit cistn.org or contact either Holly Tungett at htungett@cistn.org or Dawn Williams at rdwilliams@cistn.org.

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