Breaking Ground 97 - People First of TN

by The Arc TN staff

People First of Tennessee has a long history of advocacy leadership by people with disabilities in this state, going back to the early 80s. In the 90s, People First and its advocates with disabilities, along with other disability organizations, led the way in the sweeping lawsuits against the state that resulted in the shutdown of the large, state-run “warehouse” facilities for Tennesseans with intellectual disabilities. This led the state to move toward supports for community living, offering far greater integration and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. Through policies that promote community engagement, inclusion, and self-directed services, the lives of Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) have greatly improved. We have collectives like People First and entities that support them to thank for much of this progress.

The importance and power of having a large, organized group of people with disabilities advocating for their rights to inclusion, self-determination, peer opportunities, and any other issues they face in their communities cannot be understated. It is with that thought in mind that we get to the vision of People First of Tennessee.

The Arc TN received a two-year grant from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to revitalize People First of Tennessee with the goal of re-establishing the premier advocacy organization in the state. We want to reach every corner of Tennessee and offer people with disabilities the opportunity to become members of People First Tennessee, and to help us become a stronger force of advocates linked together with all other People First members and chapters throughout the state. We want to help with the opening of as many local chapters of People First as possible. In the process, we will have a state full of active advocates working to make their communities more inclusive, accessible, and open to people with all abilities.

Since January, we have formed the staff for People First of Tennessee, led by our People First coordinator, David Griffin. He has a supporting staff comprised of Dean Fox, Lorri Mabry, Scott Finney, and Dylan Brown, all advocates with disabilities offering their unique experiences and talents. Three of us are graduates of the Council’s Partners in Policymaking™ Leadership Institute. In addition, Arc TN staff Breanna Atwell helps out with administrative duties and planning. We happily get mentorship, support, and guidance from long-time Arc TN staff member Peggy Cooper. 

We have formed our statewide advisory council, and it is 100% comprised of people with disabilities. We have a Facebook page, “People First of Tennessee,” which we will update constantly to keep our members and local chapters connected and informed. We have had more than 100 new members sign up and have helped with the opening of two new People First chapters in Dickson County and Rutherford County. Both are now up and running, with elected officers with disabilities to lead them, ensuring that each chapter is truly directed by and for people with disabilities. 

People First of Tennessee will continue to pursue and create a strong network of new local chapters. We will help with training opportunities for members at local chapters on topics like advocacy, self-determination, and public policy. We will support local chapters finding community resources and opportunities. We will have semi-monthly, statewide, all-member conference calls to help keep all chapters aware of what other chapters are doing, and to build a strong statewide network of advocates.

How do you become a People First member and/or form a local chapter?

Anyone who identifies as having a disability can sign up and become a member of People First of TN for $5. That comes with a People First t-shirt, access to our semi-monthly, statewide calls, and our weekly newsletter. In order to form a local chapter, you need five or more people with disabilities, a meeting location, and at least one mentor who can help with a chapter’s vision. We will help with finding a meeting location and identifying a great mentor for your chapter if you have a group of peers with disabilities in the same geographic location. You can sign up at:

Can people without disabilities become members? 

Yes!  People without disabilities can sign up to be a People First supporter for $20. You can also be a Business Advocate for $100.

For more information, please contact The Arc TN’s main number, 615-248-5878. 

Learn more on the Arc's website.

a group photo of six people that comprise The Arc TN’s People First staff
Scott Finney, Lorrinda Mabry, Breanna Atwell, Peggy Cooper, Dylan Brown and David Griffin