Downtown Council bridges business and education

Members of the Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce accept the award for Council of the Year. From left are Honor Hostetler, Julie Alcantara, Justin Whitaker, Brad Cansler, Beth Harrell, Joey Greer, Tonya Cammon, Patti Frierson, Lesley Berryhill, Amanda Elmendorf, Wilson Meads and Peter Lindeman. (Contributed photo by Kristen Jeffers)

The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce recently named its Downtown Council the 2017 Council of the Year.

The downtown branch was selected from the Chamber's 12 area councils in part because of its work addressing needs at two schools that lie within its footprint: Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Brown Academy.

With funds from council members' support dollars and contributions from business stakeholders in the downtown area, the council was able to provide the schools with a combined $4,000. Joey Greer, past president of the Downtown Council, said it was the largest amount the group has distributed in one year.

"We wanted to partner with the schools specifically in our area as the Chattanooga 2.0 initiative got off the ground, so we found some needs that were specific to each school, and worked with the resources that we had to try to fill those to the best of our ability," said Greer, who served as president from 2016-2017.

For CSAS, the council provided $2,000 for the purchase of more than 20 digital walkie-talkies. CSAS is currently without an intercom system, and the new devices allow for full room-to-room communication between the classrooms, nurse's station and offices.

The walkies are especially important for relaying information in the event of an emergency and could keep students and teachers from going down the wrong hallway during a fire or keep them out of harm's way during an active shooter incident, Greer explained.

"That's important to help protect and save lives of people in an emergency," he said.

The council also addressed needs at Brown Academy by providing $2,000 to purchase uniforms for more than 75 students whose families did not have the financial resources to buy their own.

"It all adds up so fast," said Principal Emily Baker. "[Kids] may start at one size in the beginning of the year and end in another size. There's always a need."

Baker said the school's Clothes Closet, where the spare uniforms are available, was often empty before the first portion of the council's donations came in. The school isn't allowed to use its own funds to pay for uniforms for students, she explained.

"They were really ecstatic," Greer said of the educators at Brown. "It was one of their biggest needs that they had going into last year."

The closet isn't just for students who can't afford a uniform, Baker clarified. It's also for students who have accidents during the day and whose parents cannot bring them a clean change of clothes.

To meet students' ongoing need for uniforms, the council also created a way for community members to donate funds through the school's website.

The purpose of the projects was to bridge gaps between businesses and education, Greer said.

"There's so many needs in our educational community. There's so many gaps that are missing that private sector businesses and community groups are working to fill," he explained. "We're just an organization who's asking our schools in our area, 'What are your needs and how can we fill them?' I think if a more people did that, there would be a lot of things that could get accomplished in Chattanooga."

Staff writer Gabrielle Chevalier contributed to this story.