Chattanooga teenagers revive Good Neighbors youth group

Chattanooga teenagers revive Good Neighbors youth group

November 14th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

From left, Jamaal Reynolds, Isaiah Brown and DerMario Harris discuss topics for a weekly radio broadcast Saturday at the Good Neighbors office.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.



Maudette Whiteside hears of neighborhood children who need food, buys groceries for them and others


Good Neighbors Inc. formally organizes at New Hope Baptist Church as a locally supported charity


Tennessee grants a charter to Good Neighbors to function as a tax-exempt charitable organization.

Early 1970s

Purchases East 10th Street building for $15,500 for Good Neighbors office

Late 1970s

Builds Whiteside Faith Manor for the elderly


Good Neighbors starts youth-hosted radio broadcast every fourth Saturday on radio station WNOO 1260 AM.

Juanita Ulmer tries to round out a discussion point during Saturday afternoon's meeting. Young members of the community met at the Good Neighbors office on Saturday to discuss topics for a weekly radio broadcast.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Reverend Ronnie Bullard listens as young members of the Chattanooga community hash out topics for discussion. Young members of the community met at the Good Neighbors office on Saturday to discuss topics for a weekly radio broadcast.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Reverend Ronnie Bullard, left, meets with young members of the community on Saturday afternoon. Young members of the community met at the Good Neighbors office on Saturday to discuss topics for a weekly radio broadcast.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

It was nearly 60 years ago when the late Rev. William Whiteside and his wife, Maudette, started Good Neighbors to help people who lacked money for food, housing and utilities.

Remaining organizers thought the charity that helps 200 people a month might eventually die because most of its members are over 65.

"We don't want to become known as an old corporation," said 67-year-old Wiley Morton. "We have to grow. New thoughts. New things."

So Morton recruited the Good Neighbors youth group, about 15 teenagers volunteering to be the legs and energy for the local nonprofit.

Two teen rappers called the Swaggbotz, who recently performed with Stevie Wonder, are hosting a monthly radio broadcast on WNOO 1260 AM to recruit more youth. And the young people are helping to plan a 60-year anniversary and fundraiser for the charity.

"We want to bring in the youth and the creativity that the youth have to offer," said 17-year-old DerMario Harris.

DerMario hosts the Good Neighbors broadcast at 11 a.m. every fourth Saturday with his 15-year-old cousin Isaiah Brown. The two, who make up Swaggbotz, are scheduled to perform at Buckingham Palace in London this month.

"We're about a positive movement, and [Good Neighbors] is about a positive movement, so we thought it would be good to work together," said Isaiah.

Good Neighbors started in summer 1952 after Maudette Whiteside learned of a family in financial need and started buying food to help.

The Rev. William Whiteside was a manager for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, and Maudette Whiteside was a housekeeper on Lookout Mountain.

The couple also asked congregants at New Hope Baptist Church for donations.

The late Revs. Horace Scruggs and Willie D. Clark were among several ministers who once worked with Good Neighbors, officials said.

Eunice Rooks, 92, has been a part of Good Neighbors since 1956. She worked as a treasurer for more than 30 years.

"It's getting too much for me, and I'm trying to ease down," she said. "We've got to groom the young people because we're moving on. I've enjoyed the ride, but I've got to step back."

The nonprofit is too valuable to die, Morton said, and it started from within the black community.

Morton said he wants the nonprofit also to be a place where young people can get professional counseling without being separated from their families.

"We need to have counseling within our community so that we can help people without exposing them to the criminal justice system," Morton said.

People in the community have the counseling expertise, but they have to be attracted to volunteer with the organization.

Good Neighbors has focused on seniors since its inception, said Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck.

"It started at a time when black seniors didn't have the luxury of living in a senior citizens home," Beck said.

Whiteside built Whiteside Faith Manor, a 117-unit senior apartment complex, to house elderly residents in the late 1970s, officials said. The site still provides a home to several local seniors.

But even in the 1960s and 1970s, the Whitesides thought young people should be a part of Good Neighbors' efforts, Beck said. If young people get involved and catch the vision, then Good Neighbors would survive, Beck said.

Ten churches are affiliated with Good Neighbors, including Tabernacle, Greater Tucker and Orchard Knob Baptist, Morton said.

At its height in the late 1970s, Good Neighbors had 18 clubs that raised money for the organization. The number has dropped to 10.

Organizers hope the youths will help get more clubs established.

"Those clubs are beginning to die out, and usually it's younger people who come along and begin to take up the standard and run with it," Beck said.

The clubs raise about $5,000 a year to give when people need financial assistance. Good Neighbors also receives another $5,000 from the federal government to provide Meals on Wheels.

Young adults with Good Neighbors are planning a fundraiser next year with a financial goal of $60,000.

Beck said the youth's participation is essential to the growth of the organization.

"When we who are working with the people weaken and our voices will be no more, then the young people will take up the baton and run with it," Beck said.

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