In Knox County, 40 percent of families are unable to access basic needs on their income alone. With housing prices rising, many families are struggling to make ends meet. East Tennessee Collaborative (ETC) is a program of United Way of Greater Knoxville that helps individuals and families reach financial independence. Through mentorship, career planning, financial incentives and more, ETC gives families the support they need to thrive.

When we first got together, we were living in someone else’s car on someone else’s property, and my kids were in foster care. Now we have our kids back full time. We have our own little place. We both have good paying jobs that we like, and we are building a foundation for our life together.” – Savanna, East Tennessee Collaborative participant

ETC participants, Savanna and Dylan, have been together for five years, and they are raising their two boys: Alex (13) and Chance (7). 

Currently, Savanna works full-time as a molder in a local factory, and Dylan juggles two jobs as a Utility Worker at a local brewery and as a Customer Service Representative for a moving company. 

When they aren’t working, taking the kids to school or appointments, they enjoy spending quality time together, exploring Knoxville, having family movie nights, and playing games together. These incredible parents have worked diligently to get here. After years of separation from their kids, they are excited to be making up lost time and building a better life for their children.

Like so many other families in Knoxville-Knox County, hard working parents often live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet on their limited income. With no family in town, Savanna and Dylan have had to worry about what would happen if an unexpected expense came up. 

“We have enough money to cover the bills, but if anything else comes up, we don’t know what to do,” expresses Savanna. “The day before payday, every muscle in my body is tight on the way to work because that gas light is on when we get in the car.”

Savanna and Dylan got connected to ETC through a clothing drive at a local church. After getting to know their Mobility Mentor and learning how the program could help them on their journey to financial self-sufficiency, they were thrilled to get started.

“ETC is the bridge that helps you get from where you need government assistance to where you can do it on your own,” says Dylan.

Through the ETC program, Savanna and Dylan have found a safety net that provides them with the space to think and dream about what is possible, rather than feeling stuck.

“One of my biggest fears before joining ETC was our 22-year-old car breaking down,” shares Dylan. “Now, if something does go wrong with my car, I know our Mobility Mentor has the ability to help us put it in the shop. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to get to work, my wife wouldn’t be able to get to work, the kids would be truant, we would lose the apartment. The entire fragile life that we have worked so hard to build over the past three years would just get smashed with a sledgehammer.”

Savanna adds, “It was so hard to even dream because I couldn’t stop what I was doing to even think about doing anything else. Our Mobility Mentor has reminded us that there are options. There is hope.”

Now, alongside their Mobility Mentor, Savanna and Dylan are planning for their future. They sit down once a week and talk about where they are, where they want to be, and brainstorm what steps they need to take to get there through actionable goal-setting. 

Since joining ETC, Savanna and Dylan have been able to start paying off their debt. They have extra money from each paycheck going into savings. Savanna has a 401K set up through her work, and they are able to contribute to it. They are building up their credit and establishing a support system in Knoxville. They are excited for the day their family owns their own home, and Dylan is pursuing different career options to find something he is passionate about. When they talk about the future, they see that it is full of possibilities. 

“I was absolutely that person who was in a spot in my life where I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to fix it,” Savanna expresses. “If I could tell that person what I’ve got going on in my life right now, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

While Savanna and Dylan continue pursuing their dreams for their family, they are already eager to give back. When their children outgrow their clothing, Savanna and Dylan take pieces to local shelters and clothing drives. Any food they receive from food boxes that they don’t eat, they donate back to local pantries. They are also excited to share their story and help other families get connected with the ETC program.

“There are so many other families out there that are literally a flat tire away from their life falling apart,” shares Dylan. “It’s really easy to fall into that state of being scared and feeling stuck – to feel like you’re alone and you have no one else to help you. Don’t consider joining ETC, just go do it.”

East Tennessee Collaborative, because life takes a village.

Click here to find out more about this program or apply today.