(KNOXVILLE) Community and religious leaders gathered 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.

Though the efforts started long before the deaths of Zaevion Dobson and his cousin Jujuan Latham, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said it proves just how necessary the new center will be.

“We’re tired of burying babies,” Rausch said. “We’ve got to do something about it, to change the course. I truly believe this will be a catalyst."

READ MORE: Change Center will be a safe place for teens to gather

The Change Center 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.

Rausch said the idea arose from the Save Our Sons Summit in 2014 – young men of color telling city leaders what they need, not the other way around. They said many of their neighborhoods are defined by the amenities they lack – and the Change Center will help solve that problem.

“So all of those components that are missing that result in violence in our community, all of that will be right there,” said Rausch. “This is going to be a place where things can happen. We’re calling it the Change Center. I see it as a center for opportunity. A center of opportunity to change.”

Pastor Daryl Arnold, of Overcoming Believers Church, said when he thinks about the benefits of the center, he thinks about his young sons.

“I really believe that if we don’t change the culture, it’s going to be even worse 10 years from now when they’re 16, 17, 18,” said Arnold.

Arnold said the sad reality is deaths like Zaevion and Jujuan are not a new trend.

“I would like to say it drove the point home, but the point has been driven home a year, two years ago,” said Arnold. “This is new to some, but not new to me and not new to people that live in the community and not new to the kids.”

Pastor Daryl Arnold said he's held two many funerals for young people. He hopes The Change Center will change that.
Pastor Daryl Arnold said he's held two many funerals for young people. He hopes The Change Center will change that.

He said that’s why they’re acting now, before it’s too late.

“I don’t think this is one of those things we can drag our feet on,” said Arnold. “Nobody thought we would have buried two, in my opinion, babies -- in six months. So I don’t think this is anything we need to procrastinate. We need to get it done.”

Arnold is not alone in that opinion. In the last 15 years, Terry Walker-Smith lost two sons to violence. One was stabbed to death by a woman, the other gunned down by misinformed gang members. She said she hopes the Change Center might help keep other mothers from knowing her grief.

“It just goes to show that nobody is exempt,” she said. “Knoxville streets are not safe. And with the Change Center, it will provide a safe place (for children) to come and feel safe.”

Both Arnold and Rausch agreed that by providing opportunities, they can teach young people to focus on their similarities, not the differences that spark violence.

“We’ve got to show a different way,” said Rausch. “That’s what I think the Change Center is going to do. It’s going to show these young people that opportunity exists to do better – to be better.”

The Center is slated to open in late 2017.