KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Lonsdale community is opening a new sports facility today that leaders hope will bring the community together.
The Haslam-Sansom Ministry Complex is 30,000 square feet and includes two fields, which can be used for soccer or football, a gymnasium with two full-sized basketball courts, a chapel, a community room and a medical clinic.
It is located on Texas Avenue between Sherman Street and Stonewall Street and the complex opened Thursday, Dec. 12.
The complex is privately funded by community leaders Elizabeth Sansom, Bill Sansom as well as Dee and Jimmy Haslam, in partnership with the city of Knoxville, Knox County and the Lonsdale neighborhood.
"We wanted to build a place where kids can really play in what I call a safe backyard," Bill Sansom said.
The Haslams, also owners of the Cleveland Browns, said they are excited about the impact the complex will have.
"Dee and I have a heart for this community, and we truly believe young lives and our future will be changed through this sports complex and Emerald Youth Foundation," Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, said.
Emerald Youth Foundation, a faith-based non-profit that served Lonsdale for many years, will run the facility.
Through this facility, leaders hope young people will grow in their faith, education and health.
"This area has longed for something like this, and if we're going to transform lives and children, we have to transform the whole person beginning with faith in the Lord," said longtime Emerald executive director Steve Diggs.
Not only will the complex serve the more than 1,400 young people within Emerald but it will also help hundreds of families in the Lonsdale neighborhood.
Many in the community have prayed for a positive place where youth in the area can go, including Nathan Harvey. The 36-year-old served time in federal prison for selling drugs in the Lonsdale Community as a child.
"This should give people hope," Speaks said. "A decade ago this place was crime-filled, and now look at it."
Speaks, who said his life was drastically transformed in prison after finding a connection to God, returned to Knoxville in 2009.
He has a full-time job speaking all over East Tennessee telling his story and is now an advocate for the Haslam-Sansom Ministry Complex.
"God has really made a difference in Nathan's life and for him to have prayed about this says a lot," Sansom said, who now talks often with Speaks.