ENHE began as an outreach of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, at Woodland and 5th Streets, only 6 blocks from “Five Points.” In 2010, ENHE became an independent non-profit. The core mission remained the same: to strengthen the literacy of at-risk children in East Nashville.
East Nashville has experienced some of the greatest change as part of the overall growth and development of Nashville over the past 20 years. An influx of resources after the 1998 tornado that damaged and destroyed homes and businesses (and even much of St. Ann’s Church) funded the revitalization of one of the city’s few remaining historic neighborhoods.
The real estate development and transformation of East Nashville quickened even more over the past 10 years, as the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown, vibrant cultural life, and walkable layout appealed to both new and long-time Nashville residents.
This explosive growth has occurred alongside persistent poverty and areas marked by lack of resources, with many public housing units, including the largest public housing development in Nashville, situated near some of the most prized homes on the market. The disparity is not a new phenomenon, but its pace has been dramatic in recent years.
Contrasts can be found not only in housing, but markedly, in East Nashville’s educational opportunities. Some of the schools considered highest and lowest achieving in the state are within walking distance of each other. While some students spend a summer rich with science, art, and music camps funded by their families and frequent trips to the library, their neighbors may be losing reading gains from the school year over the summer break, a trend called the “summer slide.”
For nearly 15 years, East Nashville Hope Exchange has served these students with free summer and school year programs led by certified teaching staff, focusing on the surrounding community and target schools within East Nashville, and providing literacy education that has become a model for other programs in Nashville. Students receive books to take home and keep, meet leaders in Nashville business and civic life, and experience a variety of cultural activities. Always, the focus is on reading.
Literacy is not built or used in a vacuum, and reading is not just one of many subjects taught in school. The ability to read is foundational to success in all future endeavors in life. Students who struggle to read are more likely to drop out of high school and find themselves in prison. Access to quality reading programs should be universal, inspiring East Nashville’s Hope Exchange’s 2017 campaign, #LiteracyIsJustice.
As much of East Nashville benefits from an incredible boom of investment, it’s up to the people of East Nashville to maintain its unique spirit of neighborly involvement and community investment so that injustices of opportunity do not grow around us. Begun as a local art show celebrating our favorite summer fruit/vegetable, The Tomato Art Festival now attracts visitors from all over the city, and even the region. Yet, the sense of neighborliness and civic pride that draws so many new residents to East Nashville persists in the event.
East Nashville Hope Exchange fits right into the spirit of the Tomato Art Festival, celebrating creativity, the value of the people around us, and the distinctiveness of our community. We look forward to introducing ourselves to neighbors we’ve not yet met, as well as sharing a smile with old friends. We have lots of work to do under the banner of #LiteracyIsJustice, but we can’t imagine a better place to do it!
Happy Tomato Art Festival!