Causeway announced Jon Johnson as the winner of its first annual Changemaker of the Year Award. Mr. Johnson is a Spanish teacher and baseball coach at The Howard School, and has facilitated student-led efforts to better integrate diverse populations within the school. Additionally, in his role as baseball coach, Mr. Johnson has overseen the team’s efforts to rebuild their own field during the off-season.
Finalists for the Changemaker of the Year award included Roenesha Anderson, Byron Francis, Rebekah Griggs, Theresa Nix, and Katie Smith.
Causeway was founded on the belief that any person, in any neighborhood, who has an idea for positive social change should have access to the resources and the tools they need to act on that opportunity. The Changemaker of the Year award celebrates community leaders who have completed one or more of Causeway’s programs to help them get their community-focused project off the ground. To choose the finalists, Causeway staff members evaluated all of their program participants on a rubric that measured levels of engagement, innovation, execution, and impact.
The winner, Mr. Johnson, was chosen through a public vote that included over 2,300 individual votes cast. The Changemaker of the Year was announced at SPARK, Causeway’s annual celebration of Chattanooga’s changemakers. He received a $500 award funded by the sponsors of Causeway’s event SPARK.
“Getting to know Jon–and all the finalists–has been a true honor," said Abby Garrison, Causeway's executive director. "At Causeway, we get the chance to meet so many people who are rolling up their sleeves, working tirelessly in their communities, often without any recognition. We think it’s important for new people and new ideas to get infused into Chattanooga’s social sector, and are thrilled to highlight these talented changemakers.”
Causeway learned that Mr. Johnson is not your average teacher. He applied to the Youth Violence Challenge with an application to bridge a growing divide that is occurring as Howard’s student population diversifies, with the Hispanic population growing from 6 percent to 37 percent in just three years. Mr. Johnson showed up from day one with three students that he has encouraged to lead the project every step of the way.
While working with Mr. Johnson and his students on their Challenge project, Los Tigres Unidos, Causeway caught word of their side project: resurrecting Howard baseball. A year before Mr. Johnson started teaching at Howard, a group of students rallied to start a baseball team at the school. They cobbled together a team, and lost every game (all of which were away games, in the absence of a usable field), but it was a start.
The next year, Mr. Johnson started teaching Spanish at Howard, and brought a vision to use baseball to build relationships and create a thriving environment at Howard. Over many winter nights and weekends, the small group of teammates and Mr. Johnson rolled up their sleeves, and completely revamped their overgrown baseball field.
Causeway helped Mr. Johnson set up a crowdfunding page, and he raised over $30,000 in just eight weeks after David Cook told their story in his column. In addition to the money raised, community members from all over Chattanooga came by to lend a hand, pouring concrete, building fences, and laying sod.
Mr. Johnson’s vision doesn’t stop with Howard. He wants to build a culture of baseball in the surrounding neighborhoods, getting parents and kids involved in little league, baseball camps, and community teams, all using the field that he and his students built.
Founded in 2010, Causeway uses an entrepreneurial approach to inspire and equip Chattanoogans to develop smarter solutions to the city’s toughest challenges. Causeway is here to make sure that anyone, in any neighborhood, who has an idea for positive change, has access to the tools and the resources they need to act on that idea. Causeway is a local, 501(c)(3), non-profit organization supported by the Benwood Foundation, Footprint Foundation, the Community Foundation, the Osborne Fund and by thousands of Chattanoogans wanting to make a difference in their home town. For more information about Causeway, please visit www.causeway.org or contact the workspace at 521-5554.