Assistant Professor of Sociology Arlie Tagayuna partnered with the University of Tennessee Knoxville in order to implement the Smart Community Initiative in East Cleveland, Tennessee.
Tagayuna said the City Planning Office asked him to take part in the initiative in order to organize the community of East Cleveland to identify the resources of the community as well as any needs they may have.
'East Cleveland, is a highly challenged area, but it also has so many assets [as well as being] the most diverse area in the [Cleveland] community,' Tagayuna said. 'There are people [in the East Cleveland community] bringing in a lot of culture and a lot of things that could help the community improve and right now we're actually in the process of trying to help organize them as a group, we only meet once a month, [to create] focus groups and through them we're able to identify several areas that are probably going to be helping us in the future as we organize.'
Tagayuna said he hopes Lee University but Lee students in particular, will in the future be able to spearhead the initiative by developing long lasting relationships within the community.
'I believe we can pursue God by serving others,' Tagayuna said. 'We are right at the doorstep of this community so what we're going to do for the next couple of months is we will be doing some quality of life assessments in the community, so we're going to talk to people in the community and do some surveys, and really listen to them.'
The idea of listening and building relationships within the community was discussed by Tagayuna as well as Lee students in the Service Council organized Poverty Symposium.
The Symposium entitled, 'Who's in the family' discussed doing more than just serving but instead, growing relationships with those in the community students wish to serve.
During the symposium, junior and Crossover Member McKayla Riley said, '[Serving] became more about relationships and building relationships with people, loving people and letting them love you and being the light of Christ in people's lives through serving. It doesn't feel so much like service when it is about relationships.'
Junior and Crossover Member Dylan Evans, who also spoke at the symposium, said he believed spending time in East Cleveland was directly related to what Jesus teaches about helping 'the least of these' in the community.
'When I go to Blythe Street [in East Cleveland] and I see miss Helen and Donnie and Eddie and all the people we hangout with, I have in my mind I'm going to hangout with Jesus,' Evans said. 'That motivates me. When Jesus said, when you hangout with these people, when you feed them and you visit them, you're hanging out with me and therefore you are my sheep.'
This motivation is what Tagayuna said he hopes will keep students engaged in the initiative.
'There's a lot that we want to do but it will take time and I know this is a process. But [we must] share the same vision that this isn't only a band aide kind of approach, that isn't just about one year [that we talked] about poverty and just disappeared afterwards,' Tagayuna said. '[Our work] has to be consistent, it should be a lifestyle for us, to really look beyond the perimeters of our home and to extend our home to the rest of the community here.'