JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Over the last 20 years, Diondre Jackson and his wife have loved working with kids, especially young men.
When he discovered the need for a program that would help those men transition from high school to life as an independent adult, he picked up the hammer and built it himself.
As a former track athlete, Jackson found the perfect name for the new organization he launched in August 2019. He called it 'Penultimate Development,' named after the transitional step that high jumpers take before launching themselves into the air.
"It's the most important step of the high jump. A lot of people think it's the take-off, but it's the Penultimate step, the second to last step," Jackson said. 'The lower you go without bending over, the high you're going to jump. So, it's the second to last thing they do before they soar."
Penultimate Development is aimed at being that transitional step the young men need to soar as adults.
For 10 months, five young men from inner-city Knoxville live together in downtown Jefferson City. They share household responsibilities, attend full-time jobs, participate in bible studies and undergo leadership and professional development training.
"The change we want to see in our inner cities, in our low-income communities, has to come from within. That’s why I’m focusing my efforts on giving them the tools they need to be leaders to go in and change their community," Jackson said.
Before the participants were selected and before they moved into what Jackson called 'Penult Place,' there was a lot of work to do to prepare.
Jackson and his wife purchased an old building in downtown Jefferson City and spent months performing all the restoration work needed to transform it into 'Penult Place,' a 3,900 sq. ft. residential living quarters for the men in the program.
"There have been a lot of blood, sweat and prayers that have gone into this place so, it can be a home, a safe place, a safe haven, where they don’t have to worry about where they’re living. It’s comfortable. It’s warm, and it’s home," Jackson said.
The participants agree, they'll be better prepared for the 'real world' when they complete the program in June than they were before they started it, and Jackson hopes to move in a new class of men in August.