Rural leaders from across commonwealth come together to strengthen early childhood system

Abingdon, VA (May 23, 2019) – Today United Way of Southwest Virginia hosted the statewide Rural Summit for Childhood Success in Abingdon to address the impact the addiction epidemic is having on rural areas in Virginia.  Adding to the addiction epidemic in Southwest Virginia is the one-two punch the region is suffering from outmigration and poverty.

“Not only are families and individuals struggling because of the addiction epidemic, there is a disproportionate impact on the systems that serve our citizens, including the early childhood system, which includes health care, social services, educational settings, early childcare settings, employers, law enforcement, and the court system,” said Todd Norris, senior vice president for community health at Ballad Health.

The Rural Summit for Childhood Success convened more than 500 leaders from across the commonwealth and offered keynotes and workshops on best practices for professionals in rural settings to address Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs), trauma, and resiliency using collective impact.

“The Rural Summit for Childhood Success has been a critically important first step to share the impact of ACEs and trauma on children, families, and child-serving systems in rural areas.  I am glad that United Way of Southwest Virginia has stepped up to serve as the backbone organization for the Trauma-Informed Community Network in Southwest Virginia.  Joining the statewide network of TICNs will give local organizations access to resources, training, education, and tools that create more trauma-informed organizations,” said Lisa Topshee, director of prevention services with Highlands Community Services.

The conference attendees included rural school superintendents, health districts, community action agencies, community services boards, departments of social services, city/county governments, businesses, economic development agencies, workforce investment boards, and health systems.

The conference featured learning tracks for professionals just learning about ACEs, trauma, and resiliency, professionals with a moderate amount of knowledge, and experts and thought leaders ready to learn effective interventions for childhood success, including collective impact and resiliency.

The Summit was hosted by United Way of Southwest Virginia and organized by a steering committee of local, state, and federal leaders.  The committee was co-chaired by Dennis Carter, Superintendent, Smyth County Public Schools, Judge Florence Powell, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and Heather Anderson, Director, Division of Primary Care and Rural Health, Virginia Department of Health.  First Lady of Virginia, Pamela Northam, served as Honorary Chair.

Partners for the event included the Virginia Department of Health, State Office of Rural Health, Ballad Health, Highlands Community Services Board, Anthem HealthKeepers Plus, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, the Town of Abingdon Economic Development Authority, Family & Children’s Trust Fund, Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, Frontier Health, and the Virginia Department of Education.

Photo by Earl Neikirk of Neikirk Image


United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.  Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change.  With a footprint that covers nearly 20% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia programs and initiatives serve the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton, and Radford.