Johnson, Lilly Investing in Teens

By Jennifer Johnson

Johnson University (Knoxville, TN) is just starting its Future of Hope Institute, but has already been encouraged—and funded—by a $600,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The institute is the latest initiative in Johnson’s ongoing work to invest in the Knoxville community. Each summer for the next three years, 30 local high school students will participate in the program, which includes emphasis on spiritual, personal, and professional development.

teens-CS“After a weekend retreat in the mountains, there will be a week of classroom work,” says Dr. Gary David Stratton, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We’ll focus on the spiritual disciplines and theological reflection, participate in field trips around the city, and spend time with leaders doing great things in the business, nonprofit, ministry, and arts sectors. The week will end with a celebration banquet.”

This weeklong intensive is only the beginning; over the next nine months each student will work with a mentor and a small group to create a Future of Hope project that grows out of what they’ve discovered about their own abilities as well as their understanding of the needs of the city. Each student will receive $500 to resource his or her project.

Fifteen local churches and ministry organizations in Knoxville have partnered with Johnson on the initiative and will work with the college to identify and recommend students for the program. Many of these students will come from Knoxville’s “empowerment zone,” an area with six under-resourced high schools.

Stratton says the Lilly grant is key to the institute, allowing Johnson to hire a director as well as provide stipends for the students so they can take a week off from summer jobs to participate. The grant also allows the school to provide scholarship money for each Future of Hope “graduate.”

“We’ll double-match it if they come to Johnson,” Stratton says. “Of course, we hope some of these promising young people will study with us. But that’s not the reason we’re doing any of this. We just want to give opportunities and resources to the kids in our area who need it the most.”

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