Families First

Since September of 1996, the ETSU Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research has contracted with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to operate an extensive job training program for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

TANF, known as Families First in Tennessee, provides low-income families with financial support, educational opportunities, job training, child care, employment assistance, support services, and transitional benefits in an effort to aid these families in moving from government assistance to self-sufficiency.

Currently, the ETSU Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research's Employment Services division provides a wide range of career assessment, job readiness, job retention, and training services to Families First clients in thirty-one counties throughout East Tennessee. In addition, ETSU Employment Services has developed a large network of local businesses to provide clients with job placement opportunities.

The ETSU Families First program in the 31 counties that constitute Zone E for the state of Tennessee has been successful in achieving the main goals set forth by the Department of Human Services. The Work Participation Rate, WPR, is the percentage of clients in a given month who have been employed at a job, engaged in community service, attended approved educational programs, participated in job skills training or engaged in approved job search activities for a combined average of 30 or more hours per week. ETSU Families First has the highest WPR over the period July 2007 through June 2011 (the first four years of a five-year contract) of any of the zones in Tennessee, usually exceeding the state goal of 65%. Perhaps more importantly, ETSU Families First has been the leader in client employment and retention of jobs over that four-year period.

The mission of ETSU Employment Services is to empower Families First clients to become self-sufficient by gaining the skills necessary to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. To this end, ETSU employs highly trained and experienced career advisors referred to as Work Participation Coordinators or simply WPCs. Once DHS refers a Families First client to ETSU, a Work Participation Coordinator will work with the client to design a career plan to meet the client's individual needs and desires. Specifically, WPCs assist clients to focus on short-term and long-term goals that are the building blocks of future success.

For more information or to apply for Families First, please contact your local Department of Human Services office at:


To locate the ETSU Families First office in your county click here:

ETSU Families First Office Locations:

ETSU Families First Program:


During the past five years the ETSU Families First program has assisted thousands of TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) clients in finding jobs, achieving educational degrees, and attaining greater financial independence. Presented below are but a few examples of those success stories:

 In Polk County a husband and wife with several children were trying to finish college and needed some help. With the services and benefits available through Families First the couple was able to continue their studies and the husband worked part-time. Recently, the husband obtained a position as a management trainee and works 40 hours per week. The wife finished her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work this past May and was hired by a government agency in early June. Their case has now been closed because their income exceeds TANF limits.


In Greene County a young, single mother had the goal of becoming a schoolteacher. But with four young children, living in public housing and virtually no economic resources, this goal seemed no more than an unlikely dream. However, with the assistance of Families First she was able to have subsidized daycare for her children, help with transportation costs, and counseling. This enabled her to work part-time while going to ETSU full-time. She completed her B.S. degree in Education, passed her licensure exam and now works in the Sullivan County School System. Her income and benefits package allows her to support her family without any state aid, provides financial stability, and perhaps most importantly, in realizing her dream she has shown her children a very positive role model.


In Cocke County we currently have a client who is the mother of two boys and works part-time. Via the assistance of ETSU Families First and a lot of encouragement from her ETSU caseworker, she is a full-time student at ETSU who so far has a 4.0 GPA and is swiftly moving toward her degree. She will not only be a productive member of her community but, very importantly, will be a positive role model for her sons.


In Johnson County we have a former client who enrolled in and completed the LPN program offered at the Tennessee Technology Center. ETSU Families First paid for the state certification exam, which she passed with flying colors. She is now employed full-time as an LPN in a local Nursing Home and due to her income she no longer receives state assistance.


 In McMinn County we find the story of a woman moving from despair to hope. She had dealt with a violent, drug-using husband for years, trying to protect her two sons from a dangerous and demoralizing situation. Finally, she escaped to the domestic violence shelter with her boys with virtually no possessions and no money. Her young sons already experienced nightmares on a regular basis and exhibited emotional damage. ETSU Families First helped this woman and her children get into stable housing, subsidized child care, and intensive job search activities. The mother found a full-time job within a month, is now making close to $400 a week, no longer needs the TANF welfare check, and has a promising future. She has a plan to get a paralegal degree and to one day work for the benefit of victims of domestic violence. Just as importantly, her sons are thriving in preschool and daycare and they have a much brighter future.


Throughout 31 counties of East Tennessee the staff of ETSU Families First strive to help, counsel, empower, educate and motivate poor parents to advance themselves and their children toward emotional and physical health, intellectual achievement, social stability and financial independence. Despite a troubled economy over the past five years, ETSU Families First has been able to assist thousands of Tennessee residents in accomplishing those goals.