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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries, sits in the organization's new space on Rossville Boulevard on Jan. 21, 2021. The approximately $2 million building renovation opened space for other area nonprofits to work collaboratively to address local issues.

Area organizations serving those most in need are finding a new home at Metropolitan Ministries's new "Impact Hub" along Rossville Boulevard.

Leaders said the shared space will allow them to work more collaboratively to address issues connected to economic insecurity.

MetMin bought the 10,080-square-foot structure at 4001 Rossville Blvd. in September 2019. The renovation project cost around $2 million to create top-line office space for local nonprofits, a commercial kitchen, storage and meeting rooms.

Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of MetMin, said the space was designed to be efficient to help those in need and beautiful because those who are helped deserve it. Providing other nonprofits with office space, storage and amenities, such as a high-quality printer, allows them to focus their efforts on serving instead of overhead costs, she said.

"When you finally have a nonprofit with access to a building like this, we may be able to move the needle," Whelchel said.

The building, a former factory and warehouse that had not been used since 2001, sits along a bus line and allows for foot traffic from the surrounding area. MetMin was previously located in Highland Park but outgrew its space as the neighborhood gentrified and poverty became more concentrated in other parts of the city.

Six organizations now are moved into the space, including MetMin, Cempa Community Care Clinic, the Chattanooga Tumor Clinic, The Hamilton County Community Bail Fund Project, Love's Arm and The Pursuit of Happiness. The building is not open to the public because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but organizations are operating hotlines and other outreach efforts to meet various needs.

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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries, flips through a book documenting the construction of her organization's new space on Rossville Blvd on Jan. 21, 2021. The approximately $2 million building renovation opened space for other area nonprofits to work collaboratively to address local issues.

Whelchel and other leaders said sharing a building allows them to connect their clients with other services immediately, rather than having to send them across Chattanooga. While each organization may provide a different service, many clients of one organization could benefit from the others in the Impact Hub, Whelchel said.

Mimi Nikkel, founder and executive director of Love's Arm, said her organization has worked with others in the building for years but the new proximity will help connect people to resources, especially at a time of increasing need.

"We're serving the same people group, the marginalized, the outcast and those in poverty," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities in Chattanooga, and across the country, with more people struggling financially or with health problems. Nikkel said her organization, which helps transition local women out of sex trafficking through street outreach and supported housing, is seeing more people in crisis in the past year.

The pandemic, a tough job market, gentrification and a lack of affordable housing are pushing people to their limits, she said.

"We really need more low-income housing and assistance for low-income people," Nikkel said.

The building features seven intake spaces, including two that are handicap accessible, so workers can better understand someone's individual needs and connect them with services. The building is very energy efficient, Whelchel said. The utility bill is about half of what it was at MetMin's old space on McCallie Avenue.

A commercial kitchen in the space can be used for cooking or nutrition classes once holding such events is safe, Whelchel said. MetMin also plans to expand its food bank service to three days a week, including making available refrigerated food, once that part of the building is completed and operational. The nonprofit is planning to build a greenhouse on the property as well.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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