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KNOXVILLE — Through a United Way grant, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is helping former welfare recipients now working in health care move farther away from poverty.

UT WAVE — which stands for Work Achievement Values Education — received a $200,000 Community Impact Venture grant this fall to administer a program called Learn to Earn. Knox County provided another $64,000 for Learn to Earn.

The program provides support for health care workers while they are enrolled in training courses to help them get better paying jobs. For instance, a certified nurse assistant could train to become a licensed practical nurse or an LPN could train to move up to a registered nurse.

UT WAVE, a GED and work readiness program for high-school dropouts that is housed in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, has existed at UT for about 30 years. It receives funding from external grants and contracts.

Learn to Earn is a slight departure from UT WAVE’s main focus, but fits into the university’s mission for outreach. UT WAVE has a history of serving welfare recipients in Knox County. The health care field was chosen because of the demand for workers.

“We had worked with Knox County welfare recipients for 11 years and were familiar with the barriers. We submitted a proposal to provide support services to individuals working in health care who desired to move up by way of training,” said Bethany Mincey, director of UT WAVE.

The grant is the second UT has received from United Way for Learn to Earn. Last year, UT was awarded $240,000 and served 49 people, all of whom completed the program. This year, another 50 will participate.

The money acts similarly to a scholarship for the participants. They must first meet several requirements including already holding a job in health care, earning $8 an hour and having a maximum household income that does not exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Learn to Earn then helps place them into training programs if they are not already enrolled and provides case management support for a year while they complete their studies. The individual awards are capped at $7,500 and can be used to help pay for tuition, books, uniforms and living expenses while they take time off from work to be in school.

Kellie Griffin, who is now an RN in the emergency room at UT Medical Center, participated in the program last year. Griffin, a mother of three, was working part-time in a doctor’s office while going to nursing school. She had a year left to go when her husband was deployed to Iraq and her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.

“Everything happened at the wrong time,” she said. “I don’t know if I could have made it through that senior year without that grant.”

Learn to Earn helped Griffin pay for child care, nursing scrubs and even repairs for the transmission of her van that broke down during the year.

The United Way is currently in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. UT’s corresponding Campus Chest Campaign, in which employees can choose to give to United Way and other charities, lasts until Oct. 30.


Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,

Bethany Mincey, (865) 974-1953,