Rural Support Partners, mission-driven management consultants with a participatory approach to create lasting, equitable change in rural areas. Rural community and economic development.

Atlas Charles

Partner, Director of The New School of Participatory Change

Atlas Charles (they/them) is a Partner at Rural Support Partners and Director of the New School of Participatory Change.

Atlas provides one-of-a-kind coaching, partnership, and consulting to clients as they dream, plan, and co-create regenerative communities and equitable economies.

With over 10 years of experience as a participatory changemaker, Atlas supports other changemakers and organizations to build more just, regenerative, and democratic places. Extensive professional and educational experiences, spanning global rural regions and sectors, inform Atlas’ work. But it’s their life experiences and the wisdom they learned in community that construct the foundation for Atlas’ practice.

Atlas grew up as a part of a holler community tucked into the Cumberland Mountains of Southwest Virginia and Southwestern West Virginia: a place full of natural wonder and full, too, of down-to-earth folks. Their family, like most locals, are farmer and miner folk who taught Atlas to care for gardens and animals; cook good mountain food; do hard things well; and most of all be with and in the holler, in community.

There Atlas navigated the many complexities of living as queer, non-binary, and autistic in a small town; never quite fitting in, yet deeply connected to the land and people‌. Living in a sacrifice zone deepened the complexity: the same thing that put food on Atlas’ table—their dad’s logging and mining jobs and their mom’s service jobs—exploit(ed) the community’s health and wealth, ultimately harming local peopletheir community, the land, and the water. That’s why in all of their work, Atlas honors the complexity of co-creating thriving communities while honoring lived experiences and current needs. 

Out of their experiences grew a “home-grown” systems thinking, which allowed Atlas to see and understand the potential for abundance in rural areas and the degenerative systems stealing that abudance from people they care about.That home-grown thinking is the basis of their work in service to community health, economic equity, and collective well-being.

Because of both the beauty and the struggle of life in Central Appalachia, Atlas learned to live mostly (we all struggle) as unapologetically and joyfully themself—Appalachian to the core, queer as hell, and deeply committed to co-creating futures where kids like them, in towns like theirs live joyful, full, authentic lives. Atlas lives in the mountains of East Tennesee with their beloved dog, Ushki. 

Click here to schedule a 30-minute call with Atlas to explore coaching or work.

Board Leadership

Economic Development Greater East Board Member (2020 – 2023)
A Safe Harbor Home Board Member (2021 – Present)
Partners for Stronger Communities Board President  (2021 – 2022)
Tri-Cities Mutual Aid Network Steering Committee Member (2020 – 2022)
The New Opportunity School for Women Advisory Board Member (2013 – 2014)
GLSEN Southeast Arkansas Board Member and Communications Director (2014 – 2016)
Appalachian Studies Association Diversity, Inclusiveness, Equity, and Justice Committee Member (2017 – 2018)


Interim CEO, Partners for Stronger Communities
Director of Organizational Development, The Bristol Crisis Center
Small Business Owner, JonBoys Pizza
High School Teacher and Department Chair, Lakeside High School
Fellow, Appalachian Teaching Project, Appalachian Regional Commission
University Instructor, Zhengzhou University of Light Industry
Teaching/Research Assistance, Department of Appalachian Studies, East Tennessee State University

Selected Research

Bachelors of Science, Honors in Psychology, Bluefield University

“Comparing Rates of Learned Helplessness Among Central Appalachian and Non-Central Appalachian College Students” 
“Creativity, Wisdom, and Love as an Ethic of Community Economic Development in a Post-Coal Central Appalachia”

Master’s of Arts, Appalachian Studies, Concentration in Community Studies, ETSU

“Queer(ing) Appalachia: Radically Imagining an Appalachian Futurism In Which We Reclaim Belonging from Myths of Queerphobia”
“Rocky Fork State Park: Linking Cultural and Natural Resources through Oral History” 
“Localized Rural Economies: Restructuring A Local Tourism Economy in Rural Central Appalachia for Community Wealth and Environmental Sustainability”

Rural Support Partners

“The Work and Impact of Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Across Three Appalachian States: Informing a Measurement and Communication Framework for State-Based Criminal Justice Reform Impact”
“Participatory Change: An Emergent Approach to Community Organizing and Wealth Building for the Age of Complexity”

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Management - Strategy - Collaboration

Rural Support Partners equips changemakers, organizations, and networks to cultivate lasting, equitable, participatory change in rural areas.

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