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Rutherford County Promotes Diverse and Inclusive Communities

This county in Middle Tennessee offers programs and initiatives with a goal of ensuring that all feel welcome.

By Lauren Caggiano on September 17, 2021

Buiding exterior

Rutherford County works continuously on being a welcoming and inclusive community, and a number of initiatives and programs are in place to meet this goal.

The state-operated Tennessee Rehabilitation Center (TRC) in Smyrna is making waves with its programming that provides vocational training to individuals with disabilities, including, but not limited to, intellectual, mental health and physical challenges. Typically, students range in age from 19 to 25 and live on campus.

Regardless of the individual’s situation, TRC’s approach is one of empowerment.

“We have 11 different areas of study that provide certifications or credentials that the students take with them to obtain employment,” says Beth Dunahee, a program director for TRC. “For instance, we have the automotive maintenance and lubrication technician certification program and the business education technology program, just to name a few.”

However, success goes beyond acquiring career-related skills. If you ask Dunahee, the interpersonal element often comes alive during the course of their education. She cites a specific example of how TRC transforms lives.

“We encounter students who, when they first come on campus, struggle to make friendships or look you in the eye when they’re talking,” she says. “And when they are finished with their program, they might deliver the speech at graduation in front of everybody and then go on and get employment in the community.”

Playground rendering
Courtesy of Tami Phillips, Miracle of KY & TN

It’s Play Time for All in Rutherford County

To ensure those with disabilities have an area to get active and play, the Smyrna Rotary Club, with the support of the city, local businesses and sponsors, built Freedom Playground at Lee Victory Park in Smyrna.

Murfreesboro also offers Miracle Field, a baseball park and playground facility designed for inclusive play for all ages and capabilities.

Courthouse exterior

Renovations Make Rutherford County Courthouse More Accessible

The Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro, which is among only six pre-Civil War courthouses still standing in Tennessee, recently became a more inclusive space.

Assistant Facilities Director Robert Schuh says the county prioritized Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades during the courthouse’s recent renovation process.

“The county added new automatic door openers to both inner and outer south entry doors,” he says. “We added a second ADA entry ramp on the south entrance, new handrails at both ADA entry points, re-striped parking for the inner square to add van accessibility and moved the ADA locations close to the new entry for ease of access. We also installed new signage in restrooms, offices and elevators to include Braille.”

Work Continues on Diversity and Inclusion

While the physical manifestations mentioned are helping make the community more inclusive, there are also intangible efforts taking place.

Dr. Louis Woods, associate professor of African American History and the presidential fellow for social justice and equality at Middle Tennessee State University, is among those leading the ideological charge.

He says while the area is predominantly white, it presents an opportunity for dialogue and understanding. Right now, 8% of Murfreesboro residents are Hispanic, 3% are Asian and 15% are Black. Though, on campus, the population isn’t as homogeneous.

“About a quarter of our undergrad students are African American,” he says. “About a third of our undergraduate population identifies as non-white. This roughly reflects the diversity of the state, which is a good thing.”

Still, there’s more work to be done in the form of diversity and inclusion efforts. Community outreach is one means to that end.

“We’ve started to identify a couple of high schools with whom we’d like to develop further relationships and have begun the process of communicating and laying the groundwork for future collaboration,” he says.

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