Skate team l-r; DeAndre Thomas, Jaylan Tate, Daveon Hall and Jalynn Clemons

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — “Is this really for us?” Those were the words of the youth who came thru the doors of the Change Center at 203 Harriet Tubman St. during the soft opening of the

Entrance to the 5.1 million dollar facility.

5.1 million dollar facility that will officially open at 3 pm  on Friday, December 21st when Mayor Rogero and other officials will cut the ribbon and open up a new world to  the youth of East Knoxville. A world the youth themselves  envisioned and designed.

“The Change Center is the result of listening to the youth of the inner city. It was created from a vision of what the young people said they needed,” said Executive Director Cassaundra Chandler as she watched over the soft opening with a keen eye. “They asked for a space to feel safe, be with their friends, to study, not be judged, and a place to learn job skills.”

Chandler said the project, which began in 2016, initially met with push back for placing such a magnificent facility in East Knoxville. The project became a true community effort,  resulting in turning  a 22,000 square -foot warehouse

Cassaundra Chandler, Executive Director

into a facility that is like no other youth space in Knoxville.

Safety is top priority with an officer assigned to the center by the police department and a screening system at the entrance. All of the staff are certified in AED and CPR procedures.

The property was leased to the city by Overcoming Believers Church for one dollar for the next 50 years. Within its walls lie a top of the line roller skating rink; certified by the International Roller Skating Association, a rock climbing wall, a café, a DJ booth, games, and other fun activities to keep kids busy during dangerous  idle

Kiaya Ballenger demonstrates how to maneuver the Rock Climbing Wall


To meet the training needs, there are think tanks and collaboration rooms for mentoring and job skills training. Of the 27 part-time positions at the center, the majority are held by youth of the community.

The community is welcome to use the facilities as the center is available to rent for private events and meetings.

Officer Ricky Gallaher, assigned to the Change Center by the Knoxville Police Department.
Photos by Vivian Shipe

There is also a 24 by 20 stage area and a plug and play system for bands to use.

The mission to create the vision seems to have been accomplished as Ms. Chandler, walking thru the center, heard a youth say, “ I feel safe here.”