Building Community with The Chattery in Chattanooga — Open Road @ Ross Week 2 by Brooke of Team MPower
After our first week in Detroit, we finally “hit the road” and began the trip to our next stop: Chattanooga, Tennessee. We broke up the drive by stopping first in Charleston, West Virginia, which was surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, rivers, and lush green landscapes. We wanted to learn a bit more about the mining history in the region and spent some time at the West Virginia State Museum and at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. We learned that mining companies often set up towns for workers and their families to live. Over time they created communities with schools, a store, and other local establishments. Workers often worked under a scrip system, where they were not paid in cash but rather with non-transferable credit vouchers that could only be used to buy goods at the company store in town. This made it nearly impossible for workers to save up cash and find other, less dangerous work. We have a newfound understanding for the popular song “16 Tons.”
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store
Late on Saturday evening we arrived in Chattanooga and started our Sunday with a beautiful hike at Signal Mountain. It felt good to get out and stretch our legs after so many hours in the car.
Later in the evening, we met our entrepreneurs, Jennifer Holder and Shawanda Mason-Moore, for dinner in downtown Chattanooga. Together, they have started The Chattery, a non-profit organization dedicated to building community through learning. The Chattery brings together learners and teachers through fun, affordable, and accessible classes which include anything from cooking and art classes to retirement planning and book clubs. Our get-to-know-you dinner with them was a great way for us to see the dynamic between Jennifer and Shawanda. Not only are they business partners, but they’re best friends. They effortlessly switch between talking about business challenges at the The Chattery to quoting movie lines together and cracking jokes at one another. After a lot of laughter and delicious food, we were excited to work with them for the rest of the week.
We spent Monday learning about The Chattery and Jennifer and Shawanda’s goals for the future. Right now, they only offer classes to individual students. However, they’re hoping to expand their offerings to businesses who want to use The Chattery classes to increase employee engagement or to further professional development. This will not only create a new revenue stream for The Chattery but will also their increase brand awareness across the city. They would also like to attract a more diverse pool of teachers and students to be a part of their community. Additionally, they’re interested in introducing a membership model, where students can pay an annual fee to become members and then receive discounts on classes and gain access to exclusive events. After learning all of this we divided our work into two workstreams: new customer acquisition strategies and a financial model to understand how a membership model would impact the business.
On Tuesday, Jennifer took us on a spectacular driving tour of Chattanooga. We started in the Innovation District and made our way up to the rooftop of The Edney building, the hub of Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Jennifer then took us to MLK and Glass Street, neighborhoods that have historically been underserved but are now being revitalized by community, arts, and education organizations. Jennifer and Shawanda hope to offer classes to non-traditional students in these neighborhoods through a scholarship program.
Throughout the week, we were able to sit in on a few classes at The Chattery to get a feel for the experience of the students. There was a watercolor paint class, a book club, floral arrangement class, and Instapot 101. We were impressed by the high level of engagement from students in all classes.
Over the course of the week, we learned that The Chattery is so much more than classes; it’s a community of smart, curious, engaged Chattanoogans. Everywhere we went, Jennifer and Shawanda bumped into people they knew who greeted them with a big hug and a smile. They are beloved by their community and everyone is cheering them on. We’re honored to have worked with them and can’t wait to watch The Chattery grow.