By Mike Steely
More than 80 information booths, 32 workshops, door prizes, and all for free — sounds like a large event, doesn’t it?
It certainly is and it’s promoted as “The neighborhood event of the year.” The annual Neighborhood Conference is Saturday, March 7 at the Knoxville Convention Center and will have more than 60 different neighborhood groups from Knoxville and Knox County attending.
Deadline for registration is tomorrow, March 3, if you’d like to receive a boxed lunch during the event, which starts at 7:30 a.m. and runs until 3:30. A free breakfast and will also be available. If you don’t register you can simply come to the event at no charge.
Both mayors, Knoxville’s Madeline Rogero and Knox County’s Tim Burchett, will address the first session and Rogero will present the “Neighbor of the Year” award to one of 14 nominees.
The nominees include: Ben Ream of South Knoxville, Beth Booker of Old North Knoxville, George Conner of Adell Ree park, Heather Burchfield Ream of South Knoxville, Kirk Anderson of Timbercrest, Linda Denton of North Hills, Monte Stanley of Old Sevier, Nancy Wallace of West View, Rita Schwartz of Love Towers and Old North Knoxville, Ronnie Thompson of Montgomery Village, Sandra Robinson of Wesley Neighbors and West Hills, Sylvia Cook of Eastport, Lee Williams and Five Points, Tanisha Fitzgerald Baker of Pleasant Knoll, and Tonja Warren of Montgomery Village.
The award is named for the late Diana Conn of the Old Sevier Community and given to a person who has devoted time and talent in service to their neighborhood.
“Ties that Bind Youth and Neighborhoods” is a part of the conference that will focus on youth and youth issues, with a talent showcase and a panel of youth leaders discussing topics that concern their neighborhoods. Some of the youth organizations taking part are American Youth Soccer Organization, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Tennessee, Boy Scouts, Knoxville Inner City Kids Outreach, Free Will Baptist Family Ministries, K-Town Youth Empowerment Network, Our Daily Bread of Tennessee, The Joy of Music School and Thrive Lonsdale.
Meet and Greet sessions during the day will be held with members of the Board of Education, the City Council and the County Commission.
Several business and corporate sponsors are helping the Office of Neighborhoods present the event. Neighborhood Coordinator David Massey said that the Knoxville Utilities Board will hold a workshop about how to reduce your utility bill and the information booth sponsors will include the Red Cross, Emergency Management Agency, The Knoxville Health Department, Knoxville Fire Department, Alzheimer’s Tennessee, CAC Office on Aging, Purple Cities Alliance, and many more.
Other booths include the Knoxville Police Department, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney General.
Three different workshops will teach how to start a neighborhood organization, discuss online tools for neighborhood groups, and instruct attendees how to apply for grants. Two workshops are devoted to why zoning matters and what the planning commission and the boards of zoning appeals do. Three workshops deal with crime, disasters, and law enforcement concerns.
There will also be workshops on schools and the community, homeowner legal issues, rental housing, city and county government, blight and revitalization, pets, KUB bills, food access and urban gardening. Door prizes are donated by businesses, neighborhoods and nonprofit groups and will be given away starting at 3 p.m. City and county neighborhoods will compete in a silk screen and best home-made tee shirt contest.
Anyone wanting more information should contact Debbie Sharp at 215-4382.
Who might want to attend? Leaders and members of resident-led neighborhood organizations, young people, especially Middle and High School students, anyone interested in starting a neighborhood group, elected officials, business owners, and nonprofit officials.
Free parking is available at the Poplar Street parking lot across Cumberland Avenue. The event has partnered with KAT Smart Trips allowing people to park downtown and ride the bus for free to the Convention Center or take the always free trolley which will be making early runs there.