Walk of Blessings to draw attention to Alton Park needs

Walk of Blessings to draw attention to Alton Park needs

August 27th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Lurone "Coach" Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center and event organizer, right, and Elizabeth Tallman-Gazaway, Bethlehem Center administrator and event coordinator, speak about the Bethlehem Center's Community Walk of Blessings in front of one of the stops, the Big H Food Store, early Thursday morning. Participants in the 5k walk/run will pray while traveling on foot through different spots in South Chattanooga.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


• What: Bethlehem Center's Community Walk of Blessings

• When: 8 a.m. today

• Where: Meet at Chattanooga Christian School, 3354 Charger Drive for 5K run/walk

The Rev. Lurone "Coach" Jennings wants people to walk and pray that Alton Park becomes safe and economically efficient.

The $35 million HOPE VI project "gave better housing, but we need to step further," he said. "How do we get people jobs?"

Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem Center, is hosting the center's Community Walk of Blessings, a 5K walk/run to draw resources to the South Chattanooga community.

The event starts at the Chattanooga Christian School at 8 a.m. today. Participants will walk and run through some of the most blighted and in-need areas in the community.

"We're trying to drive out all the negative things, drugs and violence, and we're trying to take over the community the right way," said Larry High, owner of Bear's Barbershop on Alton Park Boulevard. His business will distribute water during the 5K.

The Rev. Aaron Tolson, assistant pastor of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, is walking with members of his youth group.

"I believe in the power of prayer," he said. "We need to give the (Bethlehem Center) every resource to help bring healing to the Alton Park community."

Group prayers will be held at Big H, a store at the corner of Alton Park Boulevard and West 38th Street, and Calvin Donaldson Elementary School off West 37th Street.

The 5K will end with a meeting to discuss volunteer opportunities in Alton Park and Willie Kitchens, of the R&B vocal group the Impressions, will give a concert.

Walk of Blessings participants may also give a $25 donation to the Bethlehem Center to assist the community, Jennings said.

Lack of jobs, crime and gangs still plague Alton Park, a community that was promised revitalization with the HOPE VI grant in 2000. The project got rid of Spencer J. McCallie homes, the largest public housing site in the city, and put up newly built homes in the Villages at Alton Park. But promises for a commercial corridor on West 38th street and jobs have gone unfulfilled, Jennings said.

Before the Villages of Alton Park were built, residents, the Chattanooga Housing Authority and others spent hours in meetings, planning a new Alton Park in which a grocery store, dry cleaners, hardware store and playground would line West 38th street, but those businesses never materialized, said Milton Jackson, who attended the planning meetings.

And manufacturing plants such as Velsicol, Wheland Foundry and Mueller that once provided jobs for Alton Park residents have closed or relocated, so the community has a high unemployment rate and visible gang and drug activity, residents say.

What affects one community in Chattanooga affects all of Chattanooga, said Jennings.

"If Chattanooga is going to be a great city, we can leave behind no community," said Jennings. "We have to be intentional about helping them."