June 4, 2021

It Starts With A Conversation

Last month, as we locked up the office for the evening, we found a man sleeping on our back porch. Dwayne Marshall, our VP of Community Investment, went outside and sat with the man, asking if he needed help.

After providing a warm plate of food shared from an evening event in our space, Dwayne had an opportunity to hear a little bit of this man’s story. He was homeless, and the nearby shelters were full. While Dwayne kept him company, Marisa and I called a few of our non-profit partners to see if we could find him a bed. After several calls, we secured him a space for the night, found a sweatshirt, ordered a Lyft, and were able to get him to shelter before it closed.

It was a brief glimpse into daily challenges and struggle that this gentleman worked through each day. For many Chattanoogans, simple needs like a meal and a bed are difficult to find and fraught with complication. On any given night, this man counts on the generosity of a stranger—someone willing to sit down and listen in a time of real need.

At the Foundation, we are striving to—in the words of Bryan Stevenson—“get proximate”. That means taking the time to get face to face with people in our community whose lives look very different from our own—whether they’re struggling just to get by or simply coming from another walk of life. This work means taking a moment to pause, sit, and listen with real curiosity and openness. And this isn’t just good for our most vulnerable neighbors, it’s good for us too. As we reach out with compassion and generosity, acts of kindness can shape us and expand the way we see the world around us.

These moments are easy to miss. Whether it’s a man on a back porch wondering where his next meal will come from, a neighbor quietly struggling to make rent, or a potential scholar trying to figure out how to cover tuition and groceries—it all starts with a conversation.

If we don’t challenge ourselves to break out of our homes and offices and cars, to push beyond our daily routines, it’s far too easy to overlook a neighbor in need. In a time when division threatens to define our communities, we must strive for connection and belonging. Instead of drawing lines, we ought to broaden our circles. Where those intentional and perhaps uncomfortable interactions live is where the seeds of a brighter Chattanooga begin to take root.

In humility and gratitude,