Kristi Strode said her career often seemed like a jigsaw puzzle, but she believes the pieces have come together in her new role as executive director of St. Andrews Center.
"I wanted this to be a God thing as far as coming onboard," she said of the faith-based nonprofit community center which offers artistic, cultural and civic activities in Highland Park.
St. Andrews Center owns the former St. Andrews United Methodist Church it has occupied since its inception, although the center is no longer under the Methodist umbrella.
Strode and board chairman Joseph Madida led a recent service that former members of the church attended in which ownership was symbolically transferred.
"We want to build on what's happened in the past ... because this is sacred space," she said.
Strode, who was raised Catholic and is now a member of Stuart Heights Baptist Church, had not worked with the center before taking her job there but was aware of its existence.
FACTFILE ABOUT HER
ON THE RESUME
Educational specialist, Consumer Credit Counseling, Partnership for Families, Children and Adults; coordinator, employee assistance programs, Partnership; director of regional work force planning, Tennessee Career Center; instructor, Chattanooga State Community College, Dalton State College.
Sketching, painting, visiting museums.
The Bible, "As I Lay Dying," "Memoirs of a Geisha."
"I know the great work they've been doing in the community," she said, having worked for a Partnership for Families, Children and Adults program on nearby McCallie Avenue. "I've been very aware of the needs of this community for a while, and I have a heart for this community. Inner-city ministry is so exciting to me, and I think that's the real passion I have coming into this."
Q: How did you get involved with St. Andrews Center?
A: I have been involved with nonprofits for many years. But I have been feeling, especially over the last several years, that I've been called into ministry. And I've had several brick-on-the-head-type experiences, where I've felt like God was saying, "Kristi, this is definitely where I need you to be."
Q: How will ownership of the building change things for St. Andrews Center?
A: It's a wonderful blessing to have the building acquisition. What we want to do is take the mission light that was here before and make it even brighter and take the light into the community. My vision here is that this will more and more become a true community center.
... We are blessed geographically to be next to the Highland Park Commons, [an adjacent outdoor recreation/activities area being built by a coalition of partners] which is going to become a central meeting place in the community. Great things are going to happen here, I believe, the next five or 10 years, and it's just very exciting for me to be a part of it.
Q: Is the plan to lure more tenants to help the agency become more self-sufficient?
A: We are so much stronger because we do have these wonderful partners in the building. ... Of course, we have in mind that we'd like it to be a one-stop shop for a lot of families where their kids might be able to come in and go to our arts academy. Maybe their families might be receiving some type of education through Chattanooga State. They might be able to have the child register for a bicycle program through the Main Street Bike Co-op. We all work together as a community within the building so we can take that community feel outside the building also. ... The building is very alive. We want to keep that feeling.
Q: What's in the near future for the St. Andrews Center?
A: We have our program really split between the Art Academy and the Feed the Faith Initiative. I think you're going to be seeing a lot of exciting things in both areas.
... The Scenic City Food Co-op [is] going to be doing food [and] produce distribution within the community because ... it's very hard for families with limited resources ... to go out and get nutritional foods for their families.
... Once the school year starts again, the arts academy will be back full session. We have some very exciting things on the horizon for our arts students where we're making sure everything they're learning through the arts academy is tied to an academic need and ... an actual learning strategy.