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June 26, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Change Center focused on bringing hope, opportunities to 37915 zip code

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series spotlighting Knoxville’s Change Center that opened just four days before Christmas Day 2018.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Did you know that one-third of the City of Knoxville’s population lives within a 3.5 mile radius of an area just east of the historic Old City? Did you know that 40 percent of those residents don’t have a vehicle, and an average of 13 young male residents of the area die each year from violence? Did you know that the average annual family income in the 37915 zip code that defines the area is $8,000 while it is $108,000 in the West Knoxville zip code of 37922?

Those statistics should shock you, whether you live in or near the area or anywhere in Knox County. What can those statistics portend other than an economic environment that foretells real challenges. Equally important, much of the future success of any city rests on its young people.

It was those facts that caused Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero to convene a task force to better understand the challenges of the residents and craft a strategy to address those needs. The result of the four-year journey is a 22,000 square foot facility that opened four days before Christmas Day in 2018 and holds the promise of creating opportunities for the youth in the community.

We sat down recently with Bruce Charles, Chief Financial and Entrepreneurial Officer at The Change Center, to better understand how the facility came about and what it is doing to offer hope for those who might not have been believers earlier. As you might imagine by the focus of, entrepreneurship is a key ingredient.

Let’s start, however, with an answer to the question of why so much violence that leads to deaths and how The Change Center is poised to make a difference.

“When we are bored, we do dumb things,” Charles said young men who reside in the area told the group charged by Mayor Rogero with devising the plan to reverse the trend. “We need a safe place to go that is fun, and we need jobs.”

When asked what they did for fun, the response surprised the Mayoral-charged task force. The answer was roller skating. The answer was underscored when a trip was arranged for youth to travel to a skating rink in Halls, and 300 kids showed-up.

“Skating is a huge deal in the inner city,” Charles explained, and building such a facility became a major goal. With an initial $500,000 investment from the city, the planning group secured donations from 9,400 individuals totaling $4.5 million. The project needs another $600,000 to be able to operate debt free.

Now, four years after the first discussions began, The Change Center is alive and well, hosting events and providing much needed alternatives to teens and young adults at 203 Harriet Tubman Street. Charles says the facility is open from the early evening to 9 p.m. most nights and from midday to late evening on Saturdays to fill that idle time with positive alternative activities

In addition to the skating rink, there’s also an arcade, a cafe, a climbing wall and coming in June added basketball goals. All are designed to provide a safe and secure environment that the community will want to utilize.

In addition, The Change Center is making a difference by creating more than two-dozen part-time jobs that are held by 16- to 18-year old youth from five high schools – Austin-East, Central, Fulton, South Doyle, and West – as well as Pellissippi State Community College…

When we interviewed Charles in late March, he noted that “we have 90 days under our belt, and we are learning a lot.”

NEXT: A review of some of the initial plans for ways to help offer hope to young people.


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