published Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Youths take Stand to improve Chattanooga

Ceondra Garner is only 11, but she has clear opinions on how to make Chattanooga a better city.

"No sagging," she said, referring to the drooping pants worn by some young men. "I want to see impressive people who don't sag. People who dress better than they do now."

She also included "no drug dealers. No alcoholics" on her list.

On Monday, the former Calvin Donaldson Elementary School student was among hundreds of students and young adults participating Monday in a survey about ways to improve the city. Sponsored by Stand, a community visioning effort led by residents across the Chattanooga region, the event was held in the Bethlehem Center.

"The power of community change happens when you start talking to someone across the table," said Sarah Lester, Stand campaign coordinator.

Bearing bright yellow T-shirts with bold-print letters stating, "I ask questions," members of Stand questioned attendees, encouraging them to share their ideas so community leaders and residents could use them to enact change.

"We want to know more about what the community is thinking and what we can do to translate those ideas and work on the issues," Ms. Lester said.

The survey asked participants what they like about the Chattanooga region, to describe the best possible Chattanooga region that they can imagine, to state challenges that need to be addressed and describe actions they can take to help.

While walking around circular tables of students at the Bethlehem Center gymnasium on Monday, Craig Van Korlaar, Stand's field organizer, called out questions and displayed the students' most-popular answers on an overhead projector.

"A lot of people want a water park," he said, reading from the screen. "More parks, make the schools better and a Six Flags in Chattanooga."

MORE INFO

To learn more or participate in the Stand survey, visit the Web site at http://chattanoogastand.com

Residents may also take the survey by telephone by calling 648-6499

SURVEY QUESTIONS

* What do you like about the Chattanooga region?

* Imagine the best possible Chattanooga region. Describe it.

* What challenges must be addressed?

* What actions, big or small, can you take to help?

Members of the Bethlehem Center's V-Team, a leadership development program for urban youth, were among those answering the survey. Being able to participate in the survey gives V-Team members a platform "to state their views about their community," said the Rev. Lurone "Coach" Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center.

"Stand being here gives our youth a voice," he said. "We want our youth to be engaged in Chattanooga and in their own neighborhoods and to give input on how to make it better."

Stand's goal is to complete 25,000 surveys by the end of summer, officials said, and about 7,000 surveys have been completed so far.

Working with the Ochs Center, Stand is developing a list of top priorities and themes for Chattanooga based on the survey results, which will then be made available to the public.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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