Commentary: Mountain TOP addresses poverty in Grundy Co.

Commentary: Mountain TOP addresses poverty in Grundy Co.

Lister: "At Mountain TOP, youth are encouraged to work as a team member and to problem-solve to accomplish the task at hand."

By Alex Lister

COALMONT, Tenn. (Feb. 28, 2018) -- My name is Alex Lister, and I work for a nonprofit ministry called Mountain TOP (Tennessee Outreach Project). It is based in Grundy County, Tennessee, and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. 

I grew up in Atlanta at Cannon United Methodist Church, where my father, Mitch Lister, was the middle-school youth pastor. He also is a native of Knoxville who previously worked with the youth at Trinity United Methodist Church. My grandfather, Bill Lister, was the choir director at Trinity. 

I want to share with you the many opportunities for youth service that we offer at Mountain TOP. Quite a few Holston Conference groups have participated in our projects, including St. Luke UMC in Chattanooga, St. Mark UMC in Knoxville, and ETSU Wesley Foundation in Johnson City. 

Grundy County’s story is usually told with grim statistics. Seventy percent of all high school students are considered economically disadvantaged. Only seven percent go on to higher education. Twenty-five percent of the county’s population lives in what we would consider extreme poverty. Unemployment is typically 40 percent higher than the current national rate.

The families we work with often have wonderful, inspiring life stories that they love to share with the groups while they are working on the project. It is the relationships that are built in those interactions that turn the structure, the paint, or the yard work that's completed into symbols of love and compassion for many years.

Here is a breakdown of our 2018 Youth Summer Ministry camps:


> SERVICE PROJECT provides a physical representation of hope to Cumberland Mountain families. Participants complete minor home-repair projects to improve the safety and sustainability. These projects may include porches, wheelchair ramps, painting or yard work. While on the worksite, youth are encouraged to work as a team member and to problem-solve to accomplish the task at hand. Youth are also encouraged to interact with families from different socioeconomic backgrounds. 

> DAY CAMP is a place to spread hope. It is an environment where children come to be loved and challenged in a safe, positive community. Youth and adults spend a week with Grundy County children, 6-11 years old, participating in activities that take them on a journey throughout the county. Participants will have the opportunity to help children learn about the environment, community service, health and local entrepreneurship. Each day the children and volunteers have a devotional time where they talk about the theme for the day and work in their prayer journals. In this time volunteers have an opportunity to hear about the children’s faith as well as share their own.

The cost for Service Project or Day Camp is $395 per person, per week. Openings exist beginning with Week 1 (June 10-16) and ending with Week 7 (July 27-28).


> NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS is offered in week 4, July 3-7. Participants form Youth Renewal Groups (YRG) comprised of youth and adults representing a mix of ages, genders, mission experience, and churches. No family members, best friends, or couples are permitted to serve in the same group together. The YRG experience encourages youth to step out of their comfort zones in a safe, Christian community. Youth and adults spend three days completing minor home-repair projects in the community. Projects can include anything from constructing a porch or shed to painting or doing basic yard work. On the worksite, YRGs are encouraged to spend time with the family they are working with throughout the day, inviting them to join the group for lunch, devotions, or prayer. The cost for “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is $150 per person.


For more information, contact Alex Lister, program manager of recruitment and public awareness, at 931-692-3999, 678-602-2798, or

See Mountain TOP's website.