By Mike Steely

Senior Writer

The Knoxville Convention Center was packed recently as the 2022 Neighborhood Conference was live this year after an easing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Candidates for political office and representatives from nonprofits and city and county departments manned tables prior to the luncheon. The Knoxville Office of Neighborhood Empowerment sponsors the annual event and hundreds of citizens turned out Saturday, April 2 to visit the many booths, socialize, and attend the awards luncheon.

Debbie Sharp and Courtney Durrett of that office organized the event which recognized neighborhoods for achievements and named this year’s Diana Conn Good Neighbor of the Year winner.

“We had 422 people registered (we have not had time to go through and see who didn’t show and who signed up at on-site registration to see actual numbers). I heard really good things about the workshops especially the Leadership Succession Planning,” Sharp told The Focus.

“Overall, I was very pleased with the participation, engagement, and turn out, especially as we are still in a pandemic.  People really seemed to have a great time being back in person networking, visiting old friends, and learning what other neighborhoods are doing.  We have already started ideas for next year,” she said.

Reico Hopewell of The Mend House was the keynote speaker and told the gathering of his past criminal and drug record, his recovery, and what his organization is now doing to help the community.

Mayor Indya Kincannon could not make the event because of a family emergency and Neighborhood Empowerment Director Charles Lomax filled in, noting the large attendance and congratulating neighborhood leaders.

Singled out for their efforts over the past year were neighborhood organizations in Mechanicsville, Murray Drive/Wilkerson Road, South Woodlawn, Vestal, West Hills and Westmoreland Hills.

Debbie Smith, a leader in the West Hills Community Association, was selected as Good Neighbor of the Year for her using her time, resources and energy for her area. She jumped at participating in the Second Harvest Food Bank effort, donated pressure washing services to West Hills Elementary for cleanup days and she and her father spend Sunday afternoons picking up trash.

In the running for Good Neighbor were Beth Booker of Old North Knox, who passed away last year; Chris Hall of Sequoyah Hills; Eric Johnson of Vestal; Nancy Shackelford of Sherrill Hills; and Arturo Cano of Colonial Village, who could not attend the ceremony.