Partner | Atlas Charles



Atlas Charles (they/them) lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, and is a Partner at Rural Support Partners. Atlas provides one-of-a-kind coaching, thought partnership, facilitation, and strategy as they show up, hand-in-hand, with clients as folks dream, plan, and co-create regenerative communities and economies that cultivate community wealth and well-being. They also direct RSP’s training and coaching in participatory systems change that equips community leaders to create more regenerative, just, and democratic communities in their local places. In all of Atlas’ work, they work to honor the complexity of co-creating thriving communities that balance economic growth, current livelihoods, and collective well-being.

Over eleven years of professional and educational experiences, spanning global rural regions and sectors, inform Atlas’ work. But it is their life experiences and wisdom they learned in community that are the foundation for their work in Appalachia. 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 farmers and miner folk who taught Atlas to care for gardens and animals; cook good mountain food; and most of all be with (and) in the holler, in community. There they 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, their mom’s service jobs—exploit(ed) the community’s wealth, ultimately harming local people, their community, the land, and the water

Out of those experiences grew a “home-grown” systems thinking, which allowed Atlas to see and understand degenerative systems in rural areas. And that home-grown thinking is the basis of their work in service to community health and well-being. Because of both the beauty and the struggle of life in Central Appalachia, Atlas learned to live (mostly) 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. 

Contact Atlas via email

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)
Diversity, Inclusiveness, Equity, and Justice Committee Member, Appalachian Studies Association (2017-2018)


Interim Chief Executive Officer, 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 Environmental Sustainability and Local Wealth Building”

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 Systems Regeneration: An Emergent Approach to Community Organizing and Wealth Building for the Age of Complexity”


Rural Support Partners Services

We are a nationally recognized management consulting firm with deep expertise in nonprofit management, social-enterprise development, networks, philanthropy, and rural community economic development. We work with high-impact leaders, non-profit anchor organizations, foundations, social enterprises, and networks that are working to bring about innovative forms of large-scale community and economic change in rural areas. Our services are based on a strong commitment to rural communities and result in increased organizational effectiveness, improved strategies, more collaborative efforts, and deeper impact.


We specialize in anchor organizations, grantmakers, and enterprises whose work advances complex community and economic change. Our services are built on decades of nonprofit and business management experience, employ the latest innovations from around the world, and remain grounded in what it takes to do effective change work in rural places. We ask powerful questions, listen deeply, and tailor our services to maximize organizational impact. The results of our management, planning, and strategy focused work includes increased organizational effectiveness, deeper community impact, and more resilient organizations. Core services include:

Organizational Assessment, Problem Solving, Consultation
Executive Transitions
Strategic Planning & Theory of Change
Program / Project / Initiative Development
Evaluation and Measurement Systems
Social Enterprise Business Planning and Theory of Change
Thought-Partnership and Coaching


We have over 25 years of hands-on experience in building, growing, and managing rural networks, collaborations, and teams. From organizational staff teams, to regional collective impact efforts, to national networks, we help our clients cultivate the necessary relationships and trust, clarify group norms and values, define their collective focus, develop plans, and build the right management structure to get collaborative work done. Core services include:

Network and Team Assessment, Problem Solving, Consultation
Team Building
Development of Partnerships and Collaborations
Strategic Planning and Theory of Change for Networks
Network Evaluation and Measurement Systems
Backbone Support / Network Management Training and Coaching
Thought-Partner for those who fund or support collaborations and networks


Our experienced facilitation team has decades of experience in event planning and design, group process, and participatory facilitation. With this experience, we help groups learn from one another, find opportunities, uncover solutions to sticky problems, and make collective decisions. Our events are engaging, productive, and produce deeper relationships, shared knowledge, and greater alignment among the participants. Core services include:

Design, Facilitation & Management of:

Think Tanks / Problem Solving Retreats
Conferences, Gatherings, Events
Group and Staff Retreats


We are driven to capture and spread the lessons, innovation, models, and tools that arise from rural development work. Though participatory research and evaluation methods, we help clients understand their impact, reflect-on their efforts, and incorporate lessons learned into their future work. We also work to unearth, document, and share the innovation and proven practices that arise across RSP’s body of work—making us smarter consultants and helping to advance the broader field rural development. Core services include:

Participatory Research
Tool and Model Capture and Development
Workshops and Training
White Papers
Thought Partnership
Knowledge Capture / Training / Field building (white papers, thought partnership)

Our work starts by listening deeply to the needs, problems, and desires of our clients and partners. We pinpoint the leverage points to improve effectiveness, increase resiliency, and deepen impact. We tailor a suite of services to advance your project.