KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Change Center is supposed to be a safe place for children in our community to hang out, have fun and just be kids. The announcement of the new community center’s opening was made last week. It is part of a plan to stop the violence.
Violence is an issue fresh on everyone’s minds after the recent deaths of Jajuan Latham and Zaevion Dobson. Latham’s cousin Ella Bailey says coping since Latham’s death have been difficult.
“It was overwhelming. It devastated everybody, not only my family, everybody, the school kids, the little basketball people that he played for, it impacted a whole lot of people here in Knoxville,” said Bailey.
Bailey is in full support of the Change Center.
“I think that is very nice. Something like this should have happened a long, long time ago to give the kids something other to do than following kids around doing the wrong things and you know what comes next,” said Bailey.
The Change Center Director Nicole Chandler says by fall of next year the 20,000 square foot building will be transformed to offer many activities from roller skating and rock wall climbing to basketball and more. The goal is to help give kids safe, fun alternatives.
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“[We want to] create a healthy environment and create hope and just a good place for our kids to come and laugh,” said Chandler.
The Change Center will be open to everyone in the city from parents, kids and teens to youth serving organizations.
“We want to offer later hours in the evening and on the weekends but we don’t want kids to be out late leaving here so we are trying to find the sweet spot between those times,” said Chandler.
She says it will be free for people to come in the building and play basketball, but to skate or use the rock climbing wall there will be a nominal fee. Chandler does not yet know what the amount will be.
Bailey hopes something positive can come from the loss of her cousin Jajuan.
“Great change can come. He’s gone too soon and never lived his life, never got to complete his life but he is still loved. He is here in our hearts and in our minds,” said Bailey.
The structure will cost $2.9 million to build. Mayor Madeline Rogero says the city will provide half a million of that. Council member Dan Brown, who represents the part of the city where the Change Center, says he expects the council to approve the funding.
Groundbreaking on the Change Center is expected in late summer or early fall 2016. The grand opening is expected in the fall of 2017.