John Camp, Executive Director of Knox Pride Community and Resource Center and CEO of the East Tennessee Equality Council, understood that the pandemic compounded the feeling of isolation within the LGBTQIA+ community. He also recognized that sharing Knox Pride’s mission and work as a hub for the area’s LGBTQIA+ community meant the organization needed a new method to share its message.
Originally working in the corporate world, John changed his career path to help vulnerable populations. His prior experience informed John’s awareness that moving Knox Pride closer to its goals of better serving the community required additional partnerships and similar aspirations.
The United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK) approached Knox Pride as part of the Community Food Security Assessment, because LGBTQIA+ individuals experience food insecurity at higher rates that other populations. In what began as a discovery process of seeing where United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK) could best serve Knox Pride and help the organization meet its goals and community needs, a podcast was not what came to mind initially.
“At the beginning, we try to ask organizations what they need to be supported so we can help them hit the ground running on a program or initiative most needed in their community,” said Kimberly Pettigrew, UWGK’s Director of Food Systems. “We’re often surprised at what organizations need and what assets they have. This work has shown us the importance of listening to community rather than just prescribing a solution.”
The team at Knox Pride knew the best way to continue the organization’s work was to start a podcast and share conversations about its work to reach LGBTQIA+ voices and how community members can help and empower one another.
John emphasized the importance of the work done alongside UWGK and expressed that without UWGK’s initial investment, Knox Pride wouldn’t have been able to start the podcast. With the podcast, Knox Pride has leveraged their larger audience to drive investments to support real time community needs.
Most notably, representatives of Volkswagen of America reached out to Knox Pride and shared that they listened to the podcast and wanted to support the organization. After many fruitful discussions, Volkswagen of America partnered with the East Tennessee Equality Council to secure rent funding for the Knox Pride Community and Resource Center in 2024. This allowed Knox Pride to extend its services, including expanding mental health clinics in partnership with the University of Tennessee, creation and fortifying of multiple food pantries and adding increased meeting spaces and offices.
From this investment and the ability to expand, Knox Pride and the East Tennessee Equality Council also have been able to focus more efforts on combating food insecurity within the region. To this point, the organization has now accumulated almost 6,000 pounds of food for their food pantries.
For Pettigrew, this experience further solidified that listening and being an active and considerate community partner takes a culture of support and understanding rather than trying to rush to find a solution. “What works for one community isn’t always what everyone else needs,” Pettigrew said.
Reflecting on the past year, Camp shared, “United Way of Greater Knoxville has been a great community partner and friend to queer Knoxville, minority-owned businesses and within communities that don’t always receive the help they need.” Camp also noted that Pettigrew and her team at United Way of Greater Knoxville are making a difference.