If the Brainerd Neighborhood Coalition has its way, gang activity among the area's young people will cease and more will become business owners, group members said.
"We want to provide opportunity to our young people where they have a reason to stay in school and not join gangs so they can really have a future that will be productive," said Marti Rutherford, organizer of the coalition.
The community has had an increase in gang activity over the past decade, she and several business owners said.
"I'm seeing things in Brainerd that I haven't seen before like graffiti," Ms. Rutherford said. "That says to me that (gang members') geographic scope is increasing."
The coalition of about a dozen neighborhood organizations will submit its application today for a U.S. Department of Justice $1 million Weed and Seed grant. The grant would cover five years to help fight crime and offer residents activities for community improvement.
Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams used $5,000 from his discretionary funds to underwrite the grant. Debra Stinnett, owner of Debra Stinnett Consulting, is the grant writer.
Ms. Rutherford said the coalition expects to know in January if it will receive the grant. Only about 10 such grants are being awarded this year, she said.
She noted this is Brainerd's first time applying for the grant and that the M.L. King Boulevard neighborhood was awarded the grant on its first effort. However, it took the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed group three attempts before it was successful, she said.
The Westside community also has received Weed and Seed funding.
The Brainerd Weed and Seed grant area would extend 12.5 miles from Missionary Ridge to Chickamauga Creek and from Interstate 75 to Lightfoot Mill Road. The area also picks up the Cromwell Apartments public housing site.
Dalewood Middle School eighth-grader Deontay Taylor said providing children with mentors would help keep them out of gangs.
"They go (to gangs) because they don't have anybody to love them or to take time with them," he said.
Stan Brown, owner of Success Realty, said he plans to teach youth entrepreneurship skills and raise their self esteem.
"The children who live in the projects in Alton Park are the same children who live here and who live in Hixson," he said. "The difference is their mindset."
Mr. Brown said his goal is to teach youths to operate a business so they can be successful and have hope of earning a living without resorting to illegal activity.