Chattanooga group seeks funding to mentor youth and curb violence

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Westside resident Cassandra Robertson hugs Betty Maddox after speaking at a rally to seek justice for the women shot on Grove Street last month on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A Chattanooga-based collective has asked Hamilton County officials for a $100,000 grant to mentor and protect the city's youth as it seeks to help fend off a surge in gun violence.

The Light House Collective, whose members began working together in the community about two years ago, made their case Wednesday at a Hamilton County Commission meeting for the three-year grant by citing a string of recent shootings in the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A grant could be funded by federal coronavirus relief money, commissioners said.

"Why is this important? Because young peoples' lives are at stake," said the Rev. Chris Sands, one of the organization's founders, also a youth pastor at Olivet Baptist Church.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga community raises more than $7,000 for Grove Street Justice Fund after deadly shootings)

Since Saturday, four people have been shot and three have died in Chattanooga. In late September, two women were shot and killed and five more were injured in a shootout on Grove Street, which prompted a community meeting earlier this month.

While county Mayor Jim Coppinger indicated that gang violence seems to be the predominant factor in the surge of violent crime, LaDarius Price, one of the collective's founders, said that's not always the case.

What's most important, Price said, is reaching the youth at a young age to guide them down the right path and prevent them from creating a future that involves violent crime in general.

To accomplish this, therapy, yoga and mindfulness training would be included in the group's services, Price said. The group also would address spiritual and physical health.

"There are no limitations on who can benefit from this endeavor," Price said.

(READ MORE: 4 shot, 3 dead in weekend shootings in Chattanooga)

Chattanooga isn't alone in its struggles to curb gun violence. Cities nationwide have seen surges in violent crimes since the pandemic began.

There were 4,153 homicides in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to a report by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which surveyed crime data from 66 of the nation's largest police departments.

That's a more than 20% increase over the same time period last year, when there were 3,451 homicides.

Cities' problems with violence are also multifaceted.

In addition to the havoc it inflicts on the cities' families, it also is a financial burden to taxpayers. Hamilton County spends at least $120,000 daily to operate the county's jails, Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, said Wednesday.

"In the last three days, there have been four shootings in Hamilton County," Mackey said. "All over the county, not just in the city. It just can't continue that way."

Commissioners at the meeting praised the collective for its mission. The next step for the group will be providing an itemized list of how any funding would be used. The commissioners could consider the proposal as early as next week during its Tuesday meeting, Mackey said.

Although it is not yet registered as a nonprofit, The Light House Collective's founders said that the organization plans to work on that while the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga handles its finances.

Contact Logan Hullinger by phone at 814-319-5158 or via email at Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.