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How We Got Started

Impact Cleveland was initially born out of visionary conversations between leaders at the United Way of Bradley County and Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, but it was nursed by the Blythe area residents and other local nonprofits. As early as 2010, these leaders began envisioning an even better Cleveland, TN by acknowledging that:

  • Habitat for Humanity does more than just build homes... they transform people’s lives, and improve entire neighborhoods. 
  • United Way does more than just raise money... they help drive and facilitate positive community change. 

Both organizations are moving toward a “Collective Impact” model characterized by collaboration, a place-based approach, innovative solutions, strategic investments, and data-driven decision making. Out of these visions, Impact Cleveland was born. 

In the words of Habitat for Humanity International's CEO, Jonathon Reckford, “Neighborhood revitalization is the way of the future and is an essential element of Habitat’s work. By focusing on entire neighborhoods, we can greatly increase our impact.”

We wanted to create an initiative that would serve as a catalyst to comprehensively and holistically revitalize entire neighborhoods in Cleveland, TN - one neighborhood at a time. 

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So then the question became…which neighborhood to start with? We began to look for neighborhoods that would benefit most from this new initiative.

Terry Johns and Kelli Kyle of The Refuge, an existing nonprofit that had developed extraordinary relationships with community members, and had already begun to work with them to address issues in the neighborhood, came to mind. Immediately we discovered passionate new and longstanding community residents already affecting positive change in the area. A community association had begun to be formed, and residents already felt fervently about seeing transformation in the Blythe neighborhood. This was the perfect starting point for Impact Cleveland. With help from The Refuge and a handful of community members, Impact Cleveland began to get to know many residents and was able to establish trust and credibility with them.

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Blythe residents accepted that we wanted to help improve this neighborhood, and that we weren’t serving our own agenda - but trying to serve theirs.

The Blythe-Oldfield neighborhood is located in Southeast Cleveland, it borders the recently abandoned 90 acre Whirlpool factory, and is among the lowest income census tracts in Southeast Tennessee. The area is historic - most homes built between 1920 – 1969, and contains almost 500 residential units.

This meant it was large enough to be a challenge, but also small enough to realistically "move the needle" of poverty and disinvestment.

We have set down our roots and are committed to working alongside residents and other partners to help see this neighborhood be transformed through revitalization and strategic investment.

"How long?", one might ask...
As long as it takes!