“Change” begins in June 2018.
This “change” is the aim and mission of The Change Center of Knoxville, which will open in June 2018 to inner-city youth and young adults (ages 14 to 24) to end their boredom and hopefully bring down the crime rate. In other words, to keep them off the streets and out of gangs.
This $4.5 million project has to date raised $3.9 million and still needs to find $600,000 more, according to its executive director, Nicole Chandler. She spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut Wednesday along with Bruce Charles, the center’s chief financial officer and entrepreneurial officer.
“This is a place for the young people to hang out and get off the streets,” Chandler said. “They – and we are talking primarily about young African American men – have nothing to do, no jobs, and when boredom sets in they revert to making bad choices and the gangs become their social world.”
The center is located at 221 Harriet Tubman St. and on the campus of the Overcoming Believers Church. Its pastor, the Rev. Darryl Arnold, is a co-chair of the center along with Knoxville Police Chief David P. Rausch. The center is in an old 22,000-square-foot warehouse that the church donated to house it. The warehouse was built in the 1960s and is now being updated and brought up to today’s safety codes.
After their presentation, Farragut Rotary president Chris Camp presented Chandler a $1,000 check from the club. Chandler said they have so far had 9,000 donors for the center – and that is an impressive number.
“All of us get bored in this life and we find things to occupy us and prevent the boredom, but these young people, when they’re bored, will turn to gangs and many eventually will be into committing crimes,” she said. “The Change Center hopes to change that cycle and break it. To get them off the street.”
From 2011 to 2015, more than three-quarters of the city’s murders happened within a three-mile radius of the center. During that time period nearly 90 percent of both the victims and perpetrators were black males, according to data provided by The Change Center.
The center, which can accommodate 300, will be open Monday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m., from 5-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6-9 p.m. on Sundays. Admission for the young people is free but some of the things that will be offered will have fees – like $5 to roller-skate and low prices for food and drinks. It will include a multi-purpose sports venue, roller-skating rink, concert stage, movie wall, game room, a Hard Knox Pizzeria cafe, and more.
Once open, Charles said, the center will be self-sustaining.
In addition, The Change Center Jobs Initiative will include much-needed job training, 40 direct entry-level jobs for young people who use the center, connections to jobs in the greater community, and entrepreneurial job creation, in which Charles specializes. The center will be staffed by 10 adults and the Knoxville Police Department will furnish a plain-clothes officer to be present when the center is open.