Rotarians learn about reaching out to youth

Rotary Club of Farragut members learned how a community is reaching out to Knoxville’s inner city youths, ages 14 to 24, to give them a safe place to play and develop leadership and entrepreneur skills.

Nicole Chandler, Change Center of Knoxville executive director, and Bruce Charles, its chief financial and entrepreneurial officer, shared the program’s benefits with Farragut Rotarians during their meeting in Fox Den Country Club Thursday, Jan. 10.

“Both have mentored me totally different in two different aspects,” Farragut Rotarian Brandon Ross said of Chandler and Charles in his introduction. “Nicole had mentored me, as far as community goes … her passion is people and family.

“On the opposite end, Bruce is business mentorship. He is working with techtronics, with the I-Company, and he has also done financial stuff with Johnson and Johnson, so if there’s an entrepreneur out there, they’re going to listen to what he says,” Ross added. “When you put both of them together and you put them in the heart of Knoxville, you’ve got something that’s going to grow from somewhere. Their passion — what they’re representing — is the Change Center, which birthed out of — honestly — seeing kids, just like me, ending up in boxes instead of being successful.”

Change Center of Knoxville is a multiplex family life center being built to provide a safe place for recreation, leadership development and job initiatives.

“What Bruce Charles and Nicole Chandler are spearheading [is] the Change Center, which is basically going to be a catalyst to pull those statistics up and prevent bad things from happening to people, just like me,” Ross said.

The Change Center began in 2013 under Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s initiative, Save Our Sons, Chandler said.

“Nationally, there are statistics that every 24 hours in that [14 to 24], age group, 14 young men lose their lives,” Chandler said. “In meeting with young people, they shared ‘when we’re bored, we do dumb things.’

“From the age of 14 to 24, there’s nothing to do because what is fun for the little kids, it ain’t cool for their age group,” Daryl Arnold, pastor of Overcoming Believers Church, said in a video. “The young people said this to us.”

Chandler said one thing the youths wanted most was a place to roller skate in their own neighborhood, so the Change Center provides skate parties, paid for by the City of Knoxville.

Since 2013, there have been skating parties at Skate Town in Halls, and at every party, there have been about 300 youths show up, she said.

To bring the experience closer to the young people, Arnold donated 22,000 square feet of unfinished space for the proposed center.

It would include a roller rink, rock-climbing wall, video games, concession stand and an entrepreneur center.

“We’ll have a movie wall and plug-in play stage, so we will be able to do concerts, plays and all kinds of activities for young people in our community,” Chandler said.

To build the facility, she said it would cost $4.5 million.

“We raised $3.9 million,” Chandler said. “To date, we need $600,000 more. We plan to be finished in June 2018. We’ve had 9,000 donors for this thing.”

The Rotary Club of Farragut also donated during its meeting.