The growth of the Goodwill Baptist Center

On top of a hill in the winding streets of the Western Heights area of Knoxville sits a small building known locally as “the Baptist center”. At 1230 Western Scott Ave. many members of the community seek refuge.

The Western Heights community itself is home to the largest collection of housing projects in the Knoxville area constructed by the Knoxville Community Development Corporation. The area is the Knox county’s “inner city”, a place where lower incomes and race issues are the status quo.

However, the staff and volunteers of the Goodwill Baptist Center shepherd the children of the community with a safe space for play and a helping hand for their academic and social shortcomings, while providing the adults of the area with food, clothing, and spiritual guidance.

Cynja Webster (right) leads four members of the after-school program in arts and crafts.

The primary focus of the center is to uplift and encourage the children of the community. The kids who have grown up in the area are now accustomed to a warm meal after school, several hours of play time, and a place where staff and volunteers are there for the sole reason of helping them.

Jackie Young, a 35-year veteran of the program who oversees the food ministry, has watched the children who come to the center grow into a beacon within the community.

“People have hope here,” said Young. “They feel comfortable here, they know there is something different here than the world, people have hearts that are giving. They can come here and be lifted up.”

The hope found at the center has planted the seeds of change in the imperfect area. Eight graduates of the program have gone on to college, something that may have been out of reach without the encouragement and guiding hand found at the Goodwill Baptist Center.

Wilson Armstrong (left) and Madison Baird (front right) lead a bible study. The leaders are students at the university of Tennessee who volunteer at the center weekly.

Tony Gunn grew up a member of the program, and is now a football player and communication studies major at Maryville College, just south of his native Knoxville.

His skills learned and connections made by spending his childhood in an uplifting community came back to help him when Gunn was hired by Emerald Youth Foundation — another Knoxville area program that puts adults in places to minister and teach within the Knox county region.

Gunn is now an employee at the Baptist center, giving back to the program that seasoned him and his friends for a better life than is often dealt to the Western Heights population.

“Because I grew up in the program, you definitely see in the future they’re going to some type of school and some type of college, or they have jobs,” said Gunn. “I think that’s what the program does, it gets them connected and it gets them motivated to actually do something with themselves.”

Four children in the program enjoy their recreational time either reading or napping

While Gunn is a long-time member of the community, the program is Cynja Webster’s first experience with inner-city children.

Webster was placed at the Baptist center courtesy of the Emerald Youth Foundation, and has taken the role of a leader with the program despite just being assigned the past summer.

“I think it’s such a great program,” said Webster. “They just come into the area and saturate the area with these programs that helps the kids in academics, in faith, and in health, so I think it’s really holistic in that sense.”

The Goodwill Baptist Center is now a staple of the local life, for people of all ages, and it is propelling the community forward. After 35 years of ministry, Young knows how much it matters to the people of Western Heights, no matter if they are employees, volunteers, children or parents.

“In 1960-something they built the building that is here now,” said Young. “And it has helped a lot of people down through the years.”

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