West Hills vol named ‘Good Neighbor’

Betsy PickleOur Town Neighbors

After a two-year interruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the city’s engaging Neighborhood Conference came back to life on Saturday.

A combination of celebration and inspiration, The Neighborhood Conference recognized many who’ve put their brains and backs into helping their neighbors and offered expert perspective on issues facing residents from throughout the city.

The April 2 event at the Knoxville Convention Center wrapped up with an awards luncheon that was full of winners. Six people were nominated for the top prize, the Diana Conn Good Neighbor of the Year Award: Beth Booker (posthumously) of Old North Knoxville, Arturo Cano of Colonial Village, Chris Hall of Sequoyah Hills, Eric Johnson of Vestal, Nancy Shackelford of Sherrill Hills and Debbie Smith of West Hills.

Smith seemed genuinely shocked when she was announced as the winner. The West Hills resident was nominated for a variety of volunteer efforts she has taken on, including donating pressure-washing equipment and services for cleanup days at West Hills Elementary School, picking up trash on a weekly basis and leading the West Hills Community Association Board in a challenge to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank.

Charles Lomax

Charles Lomax, Community Empowerment director, presented the award as proxy for Mayor Indya Kincannon, who had a family emergency. Members of the Neighborhood Advisory Council chose the winner from among the nominees.

Neighborhood Achievement Awards were presented to the Mechanicsville Neighborhood Association, Murray Drive/Wilkerson Road Neighborhood Watch, South Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, Vestal Community Organization, West Hills Community Association and Westmoreland Hills Homeowners Association.

The luncheon speaker was another winner, Reico Hopewell, the cofounder and executive director of the Mend House Sober Living Community for Men as well as the founder and owner of Hopewell A&D Counseling LLC. The Knoxville native has earned the Community Champion Award from the Metro Drug Coalition and the Overcoming Believers Church OBC Heroes award. He and Hopewell Helping Hands Inc. received the 2022 US Cellular Pinnacle Minority-Owned Business Excellence Award.

The upbeat Hopewell shared the story of how he was born to a 15-year-old mother and a young father who was “in and out of the picture” who both loved him. He grew up in the Austin Homes development. When he was 7, he and his mother moved to West Hills, which he called “culture shock.”

In addition to trauma going on in his home life, he recalled, “I didn’t fit in. I was darker than most kids. I was taller than most kids. My mom was younger than most of their parents.”

After graduating from Bearden High School, he started Maryville College on a full-ride basketball scholarship.

Still feeling as though he didn’t belong, he made the first of four eventual suicide attempts. In 1992, his father was murdered, and he began using drugs.

Reico Hopewell

“Recovery is possible, and I’m a living testament of it,” he said. Years of struggle including addiction, incarceration, stays at mental health facilities and homelessness culminated with him on his knees in jail in 2007, praying to God to “take the taste away.” He has been sober since May 7, 2007.

He landed a job at a downtown hotel, then transitioned to a job as a counselor at a treatment facility. He acted on an idea to create a sober-living community in a 1940s-era apartment complex; since 2015 his program has helped more than 1,000 men. In the early months of the pandemic, he created a pressure-washing business for the residents, and it’s now a licensed home-improvement business.

Hopewell said he realized his life “was not about me,” and he has devoted himself to helping fix “broken” people. He said he’s grateful to his hometown and how people have supported him. While many are working on the complex problem of addiction, he reminded the audience that there’s more to be done.

Hopewell’s inspiring presentation received resounding applause, and the mood continued to brighten as the conference ended with a slew of door prizes.

Neighborhoods Coordinator Debbie Sharp looks on as John Morgan accepts the Liaison Officer of the Year Award.

During the morning opening session, Officer John Morgan was named as the Officer Liaison of the Year. A member of the Knoxville Police Department since August 2000, he is currently assigned to the Community Outreach Programs (COPS) Unit. He is also a member of Mobile Field Force, a KPD special unit.

The West Hills Community Association and the Westwood Homeowners Association both received recognition for participating in a Healthy Knoxville pilot program that now will be expanded citywide. Westwood earned silver and West Hills platinum status.

Workshops for attendees included Navigating Local Government, New Community Safety Department, Creating a Leadership Succession Plan and Yes in My Backyard (affordable housing).

Patricia Robledo and Carly Harrington greeted visitors at the Knox County Schools booth.

A hall with informational booths featured city and county offices and nonprofits, ranging from AmeriCorps to the YWCA and the CAC Office on Aging to the Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians.

The conference was organized and executed by Neighborhoods Coordinator Debbie Sharp and colleagues Courtney Durrett and Hayley Howard, with the assistance of a small army of volunteers.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville..



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