It's hoped a new community center will help change the lives of young people in Knoxville.
Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero joined community and religious leaders on Wednesday to announce the Change Center, a new facility that will provide a safe and entertaining place for teens and young adults to hang out on evenings and weekends.
It will be located on Harriet Tubman Street in a 20,000 square foot building donated by Overcoming Believers Church. It will include a multi-purpose sports venue, roller skating rink, concert stage, movie wall, game room, a Hard Knox Pizzeria cafe, and more.
The Change Center, projected to open in late 2017, will have free admission and moderate activity fees for attractions, games, and concessions.
In addition, The Change Center Jobs Initiative will include job training, direct entry-level jobs for young people within the Center, connections to jobs in the greater community, and entrepreneurial job creation.
"We have heard over and over from teens and young adults in our neighborhood that we need safe places to go, to hang out with friends," said Rogero. "The Change Center will help fill that gap."
"We know that boredom and having nothing to do, can lead to bad decisions," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
The new center will be made a reality in response to the recent gang-related deaths of two young men. 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson was gunned down just before Christmas, while protecting friends from gun fire. His cousin, Jajuan Latham, only 12, was shot while sitting in his father's car last weekend.
But their deaths were not the first in our community.
Chief Rausch said, “Zaevion showed by example what our young people are capable of. Jajuan’s death reminds us how vulnerable they are. The Change Center gives us an opportunity as a community to rise to the occasion and provide the support, resources and leadership that our young people need.”
The inspiration for the Change Center actually came from a group of young people at a summit last summer, convened to discuss ways to reduce violence-related deaths among young men and boys. They cited the need for a safe places to socialize outside of school.
Their parents agreed, emphasizing the need for options and activities to keep kids off the streets and away from the influence of gangs.
"The Change Center will serve our entire community," said Pastor Daryl Arnold of Overcoming Believers Church.
Rogero said it will take $2.9 million dollars to open the Change Center. She has pledged $500,000 of capital funds to the project, pending approval of city council.
The Haslam Family Foundation, Pilot Corporation, and Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville have joined together to donate another $500,000 for the project. The Haslam Family has also pledged $250,000 over five years for operating expenses.
Other community groups, organizations, and businesses have also pledged money. Organizers will continue to seek donations and ways to raise funds for the center through a fundraising campaign.
“Today we are kicking off a capital campaign to meet the rest of our goal, and we will be reaching out to all sectors of our community,” said Nicole Chandler, Executive Director of The Change Center. “And not just major donors – families and kids can get involved by donating in the ‘Change 4 Change’ Campaign. Every penny counts!”
Rev. Arnold will co-chair The Change Center’s Board of Directors, along with KPD Chief Rausch, but he emphasized that it is a separate community facility, not a ministry of the church.
Off-duty Knoxville Police officers will provide security for the center.