We held our third Active Trails excursion into Glass Street’s national parks with neighborhood youth and the magic produced couldn’t have been better.  We all congregated at Glass House Collective’s new headquarters in the newly renovated “Custom Cycles” building at Glass Street and North Chamberlain Avenue.  Sixteen diverse youth ranging from 5 to 17 showed up ready to see what the day had in store. These youth have been engaged with Glass Street’s Studio Everything, artist Rondell Crier’s community-based art studio and maker space for years. They are growing up together; each in the most formative years of his or her life. We believe that the decisions they make and the experiences they have now, will determine the trajectory of the rest of their lives.  The stakes are high.  The realm of what they believe to be possible, about themselves, about their families, about their futures, will depend on what experiences they are exposed to today.  We feel like it is our job to expose them to as many varied experiences as possible, to show them the entire world around them to the greatest extent as possible, and to support them as they navigate the very real life of Glass Street, warts and all.

So we are taking them into the woods and onto hallowed Civil War land.  We are introducing them to an experience of nature and history that is outside the everyday conscious reality of their urban lives.  We are broadening their landscape of possibilities, we are opening their minds to their new potential.  And we are doing it on purpose.

To this end, Glass House Collective has formed a coalition of creative partnerships consisting of National Parks Foundation, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, City of Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs, Outdoor Chattanooga, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, Causeway, Techme Community Consultants, and the Good Neighbor Network  (a collective of East Chattanooga residents) who are all committed to empowering East Chattanooga youth in this way.

This excursion is a prime example.  Nicole Lewis, coordinator of the Active Trails grant and Glass House Collective’s Community Engagement Coordinator, and adult leaders carpooled the youth to Sherman Reservation above Glass Street just atop Missionary Ridge.   The youth gathered at the entrance to the park and were introduced to the Civil War history of the land.  The older youth reviewed what they knew about the war for the younger in attendance: North vs. South, a nation fighting over the nasty institution of slavery, freedom without equality. The youth were then introduced to the pivotal role their neighborhood played in the Union’s conquest of the South.  As they learned about the battle between Union General Tecumseh Sherman and Confederate General Patrick Cleburne they heard the whistle of a Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum train passing through the same railway tunnel the Confederates were defending.  They then set out on the now closed section of North Crest Road leading to Sherman Reservation.

Once there, the youth naturally migrated to the majestic Iowa monument and gathered on its stairs.  For the wellness component of the trip the youth were given and playfully exercised with exercise bands graciously donated by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department’s Step One program.  Afterward the youth were led in a soft skills building exercise.  Each was paired with a partner, directed to stand back-to-back, and tied together.  One partner was then blindfolded.  The seeing partner then had to communicate with the blindfolded partner and lead the team to flags stationed around the reservation that the blindfolded partner had to touch. If the team fell, they were out.  The life lessons and fun that ensued will be remembered.  Patience and active listening won the day. Those that screamed at each other and tried to run inevitably ended up hitting the ground.  Those that took the slow and steady route, communicating clearly and making sure each partner understood what to do next, completed the race.  From there the group hiked up the bald to the Sherman Reservation’s cannons and panoramic view and took the walking trail back to the cars.
It was another successful Active Trails adventure. The kids are learning more and more and gaining comfortability with adults and each other alike.  We can’t wait to see what else is in store!

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