Dr. Everlena Holmes of Chattanooga can work circles around a team of 20-year olds. At 86, Dr. Holmes is a whirlwind of activity on a mission to bring communities together. She grew up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era, which inspired her to become a champion of social justice, education and community empowerment. “I’ve been volunteering and helping people since I was a 10-year old Girl Scout. When I retired, I decided to devote myself full time to community advocacy.”
In the years before she retired to Chattanooga, Dr. Holmes served as Dean of Health Services at Universities from California to Pennsylvania to New York. She has lived all over our country, transforming lives and communities with her deep knowledge of health and government institutions, her vibrant personality, and her ability to empower people to work for a common good.
When she came to Chattanooga, she quickly became aware of issues that were crying out for change. She walked her neighborhood daily, seeing a community that was quickly falling into disrepair and disrepute because of a lack of pride and common purpose. She noted homes and areas that violated city codes and put together a form to report them to city officials.
Dr. Holmes soon learned about neighborhood networking organizations that encouraged engaging neighborhood “Block Leaders” to keep neighbors informed about what is happening in their neighborhoods. She recruited Block Leaders in neighborhoods on the East side of Chattanooga and led efforts to keep undesirable businesses out, or to have cell towers located elsewhere. People realized that their voices made a difference, and other neighborhoods duplicated the efforts.
Police and county leaders joined the Block Leaders in safety walks through the neighborhoods. Churches became involved, helping keep lawns and hedges trimmed, building ramps, and doing general “fix-up” for neighbors in need. They have hosted block parties and front porch parties. Today, Dr. Holmes is active on a Regional Planning Group in her area, which is a historic part of the city. As she has helped her neighbors understand the issues, they have been able to find their voice, pushing back again some of the regional plans that negatively impact their area.
In this era of COVID-19 and social distancing, Dr. Holmes makes it a priority to keep up with her senior neighbors by regularly calling to check in with them. She is also lobbying diligently to make COVID-19 testing available for underserved communities like hers, where residents don’t have transportation for drive-through tests, or access to regular health care.
Her action in the Chattanooga community led to Dr. Holmes being selected as one of 10 Women of Distinction for Greater Chattanooga in 2019. Tennessee is fortunate to have such a strong community advocate volunteering and giving back to improve neighborhoods.