Disproportionately high levels of poverty and crime plague public housing sites nationwide, but this summer the Chattanooga Housing Authority exposed its residents to more positive possibilities.
"We tried to step it up a bit," said Brandon Bacon, the authority's service coordinator.
Dozens of youths and seniors in public housing visited the Creative Discovery Museum, toured the Hunter Museum of American Art, created glass fixtures at iGNiS Glass and listened to Booker T. Scruggs and his band play jazz this summer. They learned about electricity from EPB's Dr. Shock, grew their own vegetables, toured Virginia College and put on an art show.
The housing authority also developed a Destiny program in which nearly a dozen teens met career role models and learned about career choices. The authority paid each student a $300 stipend at the end of summer. And nearly two dozen East Lake Courts children took a trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., funded by the Front Porch Alliance.
This was not the typical summer in public housing, but housing officials will try to have similar programming in the future, said Carol Johnson, director of resident services.
This is the first year the housing authority got a $3,000 ArtsBuild grant to help transport youths and adults to events. And the Greenwood Terrace Resident Council got a separate $3,000 ArtsBuild grant to fund art activities at that site. Local artist Charlie Newton got another grant and conducted art classes at the James A. Henry Resource Center near College Hill Courts, the city's largest public housing site.
And the housing authority recruited volunteer local artist Lynne Mayer, who donated materials and time to teach youth.
Despite low incomes and low education levels in many communities, some people in public housing are brilliant, Bacon said. But, he said, a lack of exposure to outside opportunities and experiences holds them back.
"There is greatness in the housing authority," Bacon said of residents. "We've got artists and singers, and they feel empowered."
Public housing residents showcased their artwork at the housing authority this week.
Soft jazz sounded from the housing authority's IT room, where public housing artists from elementary school students to seniors showed off their paintings and pencil drawings.
"They get exposed," Bacon said of the opportunities provided this summer. "And now they want more."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.