Avondale: the data-driven neighborhood

A community empowered by information looks toward tomorrow

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Avondale of the post-Civil War era was vibrant and thriving. Residents in 2018 see a different picture: abandoned lots littered with trash, historic buildings in need of repair and families struggling to make ends meet. Residents pulled together businesses, faith institutions and representatives from the public sector to form a task force. Their goal? Figure out what’s happening in Avondale and how to change it.

Dr. Eileen Rehberg, director of Data Analysis and Strategy, used publicly available data and support from passionate interns to equip the task force with what they’d lacked: information. Together, they gathered a wealth of information and pieced together a complex puzzle.

“It’s important to focus on what’s missing,” Ken Smith, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, said. “The reality is that community problems don’t exist in silos. Data can link community barriers so you can get a full picture and analyze everything that’s going on. It’s about working together with the neighborhood and empowering them to lead.”

What did they discover? The Avondale population was shrinking. Many lacked education necessary for employment, and those who were employed worked in industries in decline. The community was a “food desert,” meaning it lacked a full-service grocery store in the immediate neighborhood radius. Residents struggled with obesity, diabetes and lack of insurance. Families were struggling. Most families with children had female heads of household and struggled to stay above the poverty line.

Data can be a sobering truth – but it’s not a death sentence. Empowered with a holistic picture of what was happening in their community, the Avondale task force was determined to see the community thrive again.

United Way of Greater Chattanooga came alongside the Avondale community to match their key focus areas with programs that can help, like an after-school literacy program with Hamilton County Schools and mentor partnerships with the Chattanooga Mentoring Collective

“In a focus group, Avondale residents were asked what they want from their community,” Eileen said. “What they answered was what any citizen wants: education, jobs, safety. The biggest catalyst for change in Avondale or any community comes from within. That’s a really beautiful thing to see.”

The work in Avondale is just the beginning. United Way is looking to scale data partnerships like this one to other neighborhoods.



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