In October 2018, Tennessee Disability Pathfinder (Pathfinder) received a supplemental grant from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities to expand its visibility and outreach to targeted rural counties in the state. Activities included ramping up social media, facilitating trainings in rural areas, collaborating with long-time and brand-new partners, and creating a replication guide for reaching underserved counties.
Pathfinder is a service that provides free information, resources, support, and referrals to Tennesseans with disabilities and their families. Through an online searchable database and telephone helpline, training opportunities, and a stellar multicultural outreach program, Pathfinder serves individuals of all ages, all disabilities, and all languages spoken.
“Though Pathfinder aims to serve all 95 of Tennessee’s counties, reaching rural areas of the state can present unique challenges,” said Megan Hart, M.Ed., program director of Pathfinder. “We were thrilled to receive additional support from the Council on Developmental Disabilities to develop promotional activities that targeted Northwest Tennessee rural counties. Expanding Pathfinder’s reach to better serve Tennesseans with disabilities is always a goal.”
Hart and colleagues began by working with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Content and Social Media Engagement office to determine strategies for reaching rural areas through Facebook. A Facebook ad campaign was developed, and during the first two weeks, the ads reached more than 38,000 people in Benton, Carroll, Henry, Stewart, and Weakley counties, and resulted in more than 2,200 clicks and four calls to the Pathfinder helpline.
“Over the four and a half months that we ran the social media campaign, the reach, clicks, and calls to Pathfinder greatly increased,” said Hart. “With that success, we also embarked upon a series of professional development and community training presentations in Northwest Tennessee and developed new partnerships with agencies and organizations across the state. We all worked together to give professionals, family members, and individuals an opportunity to hear about services and resources available to them in their communities.”
At the end of the grant cycle, Hart compiled activities, evaluation data, and observations to create a rural outreach replication guide. The goal of creating the guide was to document what worked and to continue the work of reaching underserved counties.
“Rural outreach does not happen only once,” said Hart. “It is an ongoing process, so these grant activities are only the start. By creating the replication guide we can continue the work of connecting people with disability information and resources. As I said, it’s only a start, but we feel hopeful about the direction we’re heading.”
Courtney Taylor is director of VKC Communications.
Pictured top of the page: Tennessee Disability Pathfinder staff (left to right): Megan Hart, Karen Mevis, Angelica Deaton, Alexander Santana, Rachel Underwood, Elise McMillan, and Linda Brown