Vanderbilt University receives federal grant to help improve the quality of life of residents in northwest Nashville

November 21, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt University is leading an effort to help residents of northwest Nashville transform its neighborhoods into a safe, self-sustaining, healthy and cohesive community. 

With a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the University is joining forces with various community organizations, faith-based groups, Metro government and police to bring about major change in northwest Nashville. The Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) grant, funded by HUD, will focus on three areas that have been identified through various reports, surveys, meetings and studies:  community organizing, crime prevention and fighting chronic health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, through prevention.

The effort will include pragmatic endeavors that range from convincing merchants to sell healthy food to initiating after-school programs to engage young people.
The COPC grants specifically target universities as a means of pulling together their many resources and the resources of community partners to “help solve real life problems and issues facing a neighborhood,” said Debbie Miller, director of the Child and Family Policy Center at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies and project coordinator for the grant.

Although the Child and Family Policy Center is taking the lead, the effort is University-wide, with sociologists, health care professionals, students and educators from across the institution offering their time and expertise.  The focus will be on three neighborhoods in northwest Nashville: Preston Taylor homes and its two adjoining communities, Hadley Park and Tomorrow’s Hope.

A snapshot of the northwest Nashville area shows the following:

· home to almost 7,000 people with 6,680 being African-American (2000 Census)
· median household income is under $15,000, well below the poverty level (2000 Census)
· in 1997 the average number of crimes per resident in Preston Taylor homes was more than twice that of Davidson County
· 73 percent  of the 370 arrests in Preston Taylor in 1997 were non-residents.

Two years ago a revitalization project began at Preston Taylor homes and residents were temporarily relocated from their public housing. Today many are moving back into the rebuilt homes.  “We want to use the re-integration of the Preston Taylor residents into the community as a catalyst for change that leads to new opportunities and, at the same time, provides a safe, self-sustaining and healthy environment,” Miller said.

Community organizing is at the heart of everything when it comes to this grant,” Miller added. “If you have an organized community that agrees on its priorities and can do some basic strategic planning on how to meet those needs, then you can get economic development and crime prevention. Then you get some fundamental changes in the neighborhood.”

Tomorrow’s Hope and Hadley Park already have neighborhood associations and both groups have agreed to help Preston Taylor organize.  “We want to weave this thread to connect all three northwest Nashville neighborhoods, creating a seamless community with a strong neighborhood presence,” Miller said.  Brenda Wynn, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, will coordinate community organization activities with the help of residents to create programs and services that empower the people who live in these neighborhoods.

To help prevent crime, the grant calls for programs on leadership training, education on crime, initiation of a neighborhood watch, family relationship workshop and training for women on domestic violence.

Brian Williams, assistant clinical professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, will oversee the crime prevention activities that will involve Vanderbilt students, Vanderbilt’s Women’s Center staff, Metro police, YMCA Boys and Girls Club, Ujima House and various community groups.

While there are no health statistics specifically for northwest Nashville, there is information concerning residents of north Nashville.  African-Americans in north Nashville die from heart disease and diabetes at significantly higher rates than do whites or African-Americans in other parts of the country, according to the grant.

 For example, in 1997 African-Americans in north Nashville had nearly four times the age-adjusted death rate from diabetes compared with whites in Davidson County, and twice the average death rate among African-Americans throughout the country.  Add to those staggering statistics the fact that there’s not a single market that sells fruit and vegetables in northwest Nashville, Miller said. “One possible way of attacking that problem is to start a community garden,” she added.

Vanderbilt’s Dayani Center will provide health promotion and preventive health care services through educational programs and health screening assessments for northwest Nashville. The Vanderbilt School of Nursing and Vanderbilt service-learning students also would take part in the fight for a healthier community. Sharon Shields, Vanderbilt’s assistant provost for academic service learning and director of the human and organizational development department, will oversee prevention programs aimed at the chronic health issues facing residents.

“This grant is basically seed money to get things started, create change and to put into place an organizational structure that will sustain itself after the grant money is gone,” Miller said.  Research data also will be collected to document how change occurs within communities and residents attitudes toward change. This information will be useful in planning similar community revitalization efforts. “We hope residents in other neighborhoods will see the work we do in northwest Nashville and, as a result, utilize Vanderbilt as a resource in helping with their community issues,” Miller said.
The first order of business will be to hire a project director for the grant by the first of the year.

For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the Vanderbilt News Service homepage at

Contact:  Emily Pearce, 615-322-NEWS,

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