Community Impact transformed The Chattanoogan ballroom into a community-wide block party on January 9 to celebrate resident-led change in the seven inner-city neighborhoods it has worked with over the last twelve years: Bushtown, Churchville, Glenwood, Highland Park, M. L. King, Orchard Knob and Southside. The event also featured the debut screening of From the Ground Up: The Impact of Community, a documentary produced by WTCI-PBS that focuses on Community Impact’s history and the residents who joined forces to lead change efforts in their neighborhoods.
The documentary will air on WTCI Thursday at 8 p.m.
“The residents of these seven neighborhoods should serve as an inspiration to us all,” said BettyeLynn Smith, executive director of Community Impact. “They took a stand for their neighborhoods because they believed in a better future for their communities. Our event celebrated everyone who has been instrumental to Community Impact’s work—board members, funding and program partners, staff and, most importantly, the residents who had the courage, conviction and perseverance to turn their neighborhoods around.”
Founded in 1999 through an innovative public-private funding partnership, Community Impact was the first local initiative to approach neighborhood change in a comprehensive, geographically targeted manner, focusing on both resident capacity building and physical revitalization. Initial funding partners included the Benwood Foundation, city of Chattanooga, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Lyndhurst Foundation, Public Education Foundation, United Way of Greater Chattanooga and Annie E. Casey Foundation. Later, the Maclellan Foundation, SunTrust Foundation, Tucker Foundation, Weldon F. Osborne Foundation and several private donors joined the effort.
The initiative was not about prescribing solutions for the neighborhoods — it was about helping each neighborhood re-knit the social fabric of their community and problem solve together, officials said.
“Community Impact was that beacon of light, that lighthouse that showed the pathway,” said LaMonte Vaughn, Sr., president of the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Watch Association. “They have empowered a lot of members of the neighborhood by instilling leadership qualities they didn’t know they had, and that is something we’ve taken a great deal of pride in.”-
A sense of pride is visible in every Community Impact neighborhood — in the banners on front porches, well-maintained yards, “porch talk” between neighbors, block parties, music festivals, youth activities and the many other examples of residents taking a stand against neighborhood threats, officials said.
They said working with Community Impact and its partners, the neighborhoods have achieved impressive results: 79 blighted or vacant properties have been removed or rehabbed, more than 50 crime hotspots have been eliminated, 60 homebuyers have received home purchase incentives that leveraged over $6 million in home sales, 130 residents have received façade grants to improve curb appeal and over 160 neighborhood leaders have been trained to serve as anchors of resident engagement and revitalization.
“While the quantifiable results are inspiring, the most important outcome of our work cannot be quantified,” said Jack Murrah, board chairman and one of the first board members of Community Impact. “Reconnecting the social networks and the beloved community again was critical for each neighborhood. When residents know and care about each other, they are better prepared to take a stand together against threats and sustain positive change in their neighborhood.”
As Community Impact concludes its work in March, officials said it leaves behind a legacy of resident-led change and best practices for stabilizing urban neighborhoods that can guide future neighborhood revitalization efforts in Chattanooga in the decades ahead.