Changemaker of the Year Award

Causeway believes that any person, in any neighborhood, who has an idea for social change should have access to the resources and the tools they need to act on that opportunity. Through our work, we get the chance to meet tons of passionate people who are doing amazing things for our city. Most of the time, these are not the people in the spotlight. They are the people rolling up their sleeves, working tirelessly in their neighborhoods and communities to create change.

We evaluated all of our many impressive cause leaders on their engagement, innovation, execution, and impact. We want you to meet six people who knocked our socks off this year. They each deserve recognition and support, and we couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. We’re going back to our crowdfunding roots, and asking you–the crowd–to help us decide who should be our first annual Changemaker of the Year, winning a $500 cash prize. Get to know the nominees, then vote for your favorite before Thursday, April 27th. The winner will be announced on April 28th at SPARK, our annual party to celebrate Chattanooga’s changemakers.


Byron Francis

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Byron believes that international travel experiences can change the life of a high school student.

Byron was part of our very first CO.STARTERS for Causes cohort way back in 2014. He came to us with a big idea, and we’ve had the pleasure of watching him persistently bring it to life. He is an avid traveler, whose life was changed through his experiences abroad. He has taken that experience and turned it into a growing social enterprise called World Smart. World Smart provides opportunities for underrepresented high school students to expand their horizons through studying abroad. Beyond personal impact, Byron knows that travel shapes the way a person views the world, creating globally-minded leaders and healthier communities.

We love that Byron is thinking entrepreneurially about his idea. He is working towards a sustainable model, where he will partner with local businesses to employ the students part-time during the year in exchange for money to support their trip abroad. It is a win-win-win: the business gets eager workers, the student gets real-world work experience and an invaluable study abroad trip, and World Smart gets a sustainable model. World Smart has taken students on one trip to Europe last summer, and will leave on their second trip to Uganda this year.

Learn more on his website.


Jon Johnson

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Jon believes that baseball can build strong relationships in the changing population of The Howard School.

We quickly learned that Jon is not your average teacher. He applied to our Youth Violence Challenge with a thoughtful application to bridge a growing divide that is occurring as Howard’s student population diversifies, with the Hispanic population growing from 6% to 37% in just three years. Jon showed up from day one with three students that he has encouraged to lead the project every step of the way.

While working with Jon and his students on their Challenge project, Los Tigres Unidos, we caught word of their side project: resurrecting Howard baseball. A year before Jon started teaching at Howard, a group of students rallied to start a baseball team at the school. They cobbled together a team, and lost every game (all of which were away games, in the absence of a usable field), but it was a start. The next year, Jon started teaching Spanish at Howard, and brought a vision to use baseball to build relationships and create a thriving environment at Howard. Over many winter nights and weekends, the small group of teammates and Jon rolled up their sleeves, and completely revamped their overgrown baseball field. We helped Jon set up a crowdfunding page, and he raised over $30,000 in just 8 weeks after David Cook told their story in his Times Free Press column. In addition to the money raised, community members from all over Chattanooga came by to lend a hand, pouring concrete, building fences, and laying sod. Jon’s vision doesn’t stop with Howard. He wants to build a culture of baseball in the surrounding neighborhoods, getting parents and kids involved in little league, baseball camps, and community teams, all using the field that he and his students built.

Read the news story here.


Katie Smith


Katie Smith believes that community members can make a difference in public schools by knowing their options, and getting involved.  

We met Katie when she applied for our very first Causeway Challenge back in 2014. We asked for ideas to make Chattanooga more connected, and Katie applied with her idea to enliven the crosswalks around all the public schools in her zone. She worked with a local artist and led students through a feedback and design process that culminated in a unique design for each school painted on its surrounding crosswalks.

When the Education Challenge came around a few years later, she applied again with a much bigger project. As a mom looking for options for her two girls, she saw the need for a resource that informed parents about the different schools in Hamilton County and what they each have to offer. She wanted to provide a creative outlet for schools to show what they do well through a short video. We connected Katie to Unifi-Ed after we got word that they were working on a similar guide to help parents navigate local schools using data. They teamed up to make both of their projects even stronger, showing both the data and the culture of our local public schools. Katie was able to use her previous experience as a project manager to work with local videographers to coordinate a unique video for each of the 74 schools in the Hamilton County school district. In addition to this project, she is extremely involved in her daughters’ school, Battle Academy, as the Fundraising Chair for the PTA.

Learn more about the project here.


Rebekah Griggs

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Rebekah believes that Spanish-speaking parents can be their child’s best teachers with the right tools.

As the parent coordinator at East Lake Elementary School, Rebekah is responsible for getting parents connected to the school, in one of Chattanooga’s most diverse neighborhoods. Rebekah applied to our Education Challenge with a solution to two problems: getting Spanish-speaking parents to feel comfortable coming to the school, and getting parents to read more with their children to improve literacy skills. Her project, called Books Over Dinner, is a series of free dinners and workshops at the school to start a movement of parents reading aloud to their children.

Research shows that reading with your children for 20 minutes a day, five days a week can make a significant impact on their literacy skills. Many of East Lake’s Spanish-speaking parents were relieved and surprised to learn that reading to their children in their native language is just as impactful as reading to them in English. They left each dinner with helpful tools and bilingual books to help boost their confidence and create good reading habits. Rebekah did an incredible job of creating a program that worked for the specific people that it served. Over 200 people attended a Books Over Dinner event, and her surveys showed a significant increase in the amount of time parents were spending reading with their children after the workshops.

See the results on our blog.


Roenesha Anderson

Roenesha believes that more positive interactions between at-risk youth and local authority figures can build trust on both sides of the relationship.

Roenesha (affectionately known as Roe) is passionate about bringing people together. We first met her through our Diversity and Inclusion Challenge, as part of the Wildcard Team, who wanted to create more social events in Chattanooga where people from different backgrounds could get to know each other. Since then, we have watched her grow into an impressive community leader.

Roe was born and raised in East Chattanooga. As a kid, she remembers seeing police officers keeping an eye on her neighborhood but noticed that the lack of interaction created a distrust between the police and the community. Alongside some negative experiences, Roe also had some positive experiences with a police officer that she knew, who helped her navigate the process of applying to college when no one else could. Now, as a mother to a 7-year-old son, Roe wanted to find a way to build trust and understanding between kids and authority figures. We asked, “How can more opportunities to play make Chattanooga a stronger city?” Roe applied and won with a grant to pilot her project, titled P.L.A.Y. (Police Leadership and Youth), which brings policemen, firemen, and youth together through sporting events to build understanding on both sides of the relationship. She has hosted two successful tournaments and is making great progress towards more consistent programming, and ongoing partnerships.

Follow along with her project on Facebook


Theresa Nix


Theresa believes that families of children with Down syndrome can be a vital source of support for each other.

Theresa’s life was changed when her newborn son was diagnosed with Down syndrome. She remembers the overwhelming alienation and fear she felt, not only as a first-time mom, but the mom of a child with Down syndrome. She quickly realized that no book or website could make her feel as supported, informed, and understood as other moms who had been through the same experience.

She and her husband started Downside Up – an organization that acts as an extended family for families of children with Down syndrome. At Causeway, Theresa has knocked out two crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for her cause and won a Causeway Challenge grant. We asked, “How can more opportunities to play make Chattanooga a stronger city?” Theresa applied and won with her idea for Camp Wakawalu, the first family camp of its kind in Chattanooga that brings together children who have Down syndrome and their families for a weekend away. The camp allows families to take a break from day-to-day stresses, while building relationships with other families experiencing the same challenges. She hosted the first camp last summer with her Challenge grant, and that success led to a $5000 community grant from Ironman, allowing Downside Up to host the second annual Camp Wakawalu this year.

Learn more on their website


Voting closes at midnight on April 27th. The winner will be announced on April 28th through social media, and at SPARK, Causeway's annual celebration of Chattanooga's changemakers.