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
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
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
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.
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.”