Providing Access

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This story was originally published in the February/March 2014 Issue of Chattanooga Magazine. 

In February of 1924, Rose Longgley and Emily Page Schlessinger founded the North Chattanooga Community Center after recognizing a great need among many of their neighbors living north of the river.

Though the name and location of the center have changed, the mission of the Northside Neighborhood House (NNH) remains the same 90 years later: promoting the independence of residents north of the river by providing a hand up rather than a hand out through education and assistance.

“Essentially, we serve as a place where people who are going through a rough time can come for support,” says NNH Development Director Brianne Carswell. “We want to make sure that we are providing holistic support, which is why each client meets with a caseworker to establish their individual needs.” Caseworkers help people who live in North Chattanooga, Hixson, Soddy Daisy, and other areas north of the city establish budgets and set goals. They provide ways for clients to meet goals through classes and programs. They also support clients through direct assistance, like helping pay an electric bill, or through education programs.

By working with Chattanooga State Community College, the NNH helped 18 adults pass the GED test in 2013. Adults are able to learn and improve other skills through supplemental education classes, like computing, parenting, and cooking, offered in partnership with the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). A free computer lab enables adults to research jobs and work on resumes. “A lot of the problems our clients face have to do with access to computers, access to transportation or access to education. So, we serve as a place to provide access to whatever they may need to better their lives and be more self-sufficient,” says Carswell.

The Northside Neighborhood House also provides after school programs for children. Close to 50 elementary and middle school students attend the program each week to work on homework with help from the education staff and volunteers from The McCallie School, Girls Preparatory School, and UTC. Erick Manirakiza, a 5th grade student from Normal Park Elementary, has been attending the after school program since kindergarten.

Artist and board member Erica Moreland leads an activity.

Artist and board member Erica Moreland leads an activity.

“I really like the people who help me here,” he says. “They help me with my homework and projects.” High school students are able to participate in the NNH’s Next S.T.E.P program, which trains teenagers in practical career skills. Teens who successfully complete the program are offered employment in the NNH thrift store, allowing them the opportunity to use their skills and earn an income.

In a time when other non-profits may be struggling because of low giving, the Northside Neighborhood House is thriving. Over the past seven years, under Executive Director Rachel Gammon, the NNH’s operating budget has increased from $300,000 to $1.1 million. They also now employ 30 people, compared to only five, several years ago. Carswell attributes their longevity and growth to having a business-minded approach to running a non-profit. “We are in the business of helping people, and because of that we have run our organization as a business, which has allowed us to be really fiscally responsible, serve more people, and increase our workforce.”

After 90 years, the NNH does not plan on slowing down. In 2013, they served 4,200 people overall. This year, they will open a satellite location to increase that number by better serving some of the more northern and rural parts of their coverage area. Because cities like Hixson and Soddy Daisy don’t have public transportation, it is difficult for some residents to make it to the location on the North shore for the required in-person meeting with a caseworker. The NNH is also hoping to secure monthly bus passes to give to clients who are struggling.

“We have concrete outcomes that show that our programs are really working,” says Carswell. She encourages people to support the Northside Neighborhood House in honor of their 90th anniversary by supporting the thrift store, learning more about the NNH, or donating money. “Your donations are really going to make a tangible difference in the lives of many people in North Chattanooga,” she says.

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Lindsey Mitchell is a frequent contributor to Chattanooga Magazine.

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