The region served by Mountain T.O.P. is sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Appalachia.” In truth, many people are not aware of how much area Appalachia covers. Portions of thirteen states are included in the geographical boundaries of Appalachia, from Southern New York to Northeastern Mississippi. Mountain T.O.P. serves the people of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee. This area covers seven of the poorest counties in the nation. Because of its location, in between Knoxville and Nashville, and only 40 minutes from Chattanooga, the plateau is often not viewed as a low-income area in the traditional sense. Few major roadways travel through the poorer sections, so only a small portion of the poverty is visible.
The area was once a great mining district, with coal being a major product. As the economy waned and dependence on coal shrank, and as local veins in the region dried up, the income of the plateau began to drop. Few industries are located in the area, with retail and convenience stores and farms being the major employers.
Similarly, the Cumberland Plateau is a place of tradition. It is not unusual to find three or four generations of the same family living on one patch of land. Within the mountain culture, fatalism has joined hands with traditionalism to give the mountain people a different outlook. While traditionalism can thwart the planners and molders of industry, education, and society in general, fatalism can stifle a people to believe that passive resignation becomes the approved norm, and acceptance of undesirable conditions becomes the way of life. This fatalistic outlook has sometimes been a buffer against disappointment. People in this region are seldom optimistic about anything. Hope rests in tentative terms. Generally, society is subdued.
High unemployment, high school dropout rates and infant mortality rates add to the problems on the mountain. Mountain T.O.P. seeks to bring to the mountain something it desperately needs: a sense of hope. Through the service done by our participants and staffs, the lives of the people of the Cumberland Plateau are forever changed. As a bonus, the lives of the participants and staff also change, touched by the simplicity and joy that comes from an act of service in the Lord’s name.