January 29, 2021


4th Purpose Foundation, a Knoxville-based criminal justice reform philanthropy, announces it will provide ex-offenders with affordable housing and supportive services in the former home of the historic Dogan-Gaither Motor Court located at 211 Jessamine St. in Knoxville. The new development, known as Dogan-Gaither Flats, will provide housing, counseling, accountability, work placement, and transitional skills training to males returning to Knoxville from incarceration in the 16 one-bedroom unit apartment development.

4th Purpose Foundation, a supporting foundation of the East Tennessee Foundation, aims to be “a catalyst to make prison a place of transformation,” and to support programs that reduce barriers for ex-offenders as they reenter society. It was created in late 2019 by Josh Smith, a Knoxville area resident and former CEO of Master Service Companies, based on his own experience in federal prison before starting and ultimately selling his highly successful companies. Through the Foundation, Smith has become a national advocate for prison reform and serves as a key member of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force. 

“I know what it is like to leave prison without strong supporters who help you avoid going back to prison,” said Smith. “Dogan-Gaither Flats will provide a place of accountability and hope to give these men a chance at a new life.”

Although owned by 4th Purpose Foundation, Dogan-Gaither Flats will be managed by Men of Valor, a nonprofit focused on reducing recidivism among ex-offenders through “encouragement, support, accountability, and training.” Men of Valor owns and manages a similar facility named Valor Ridge in Antioch, Tenn., where approximately 90 ex-offenders reside during a transition period after leaving prison. Residents of Dogan-Gaither Flats will stay for a minimum of 12 months, while Men of Valor provides life skills training, job placement, and long-term housing consultation. 

The recidivism rate in some locations nationally is as high as 70%. In Tennessee, it is 51%. However, for men who receive a full year or more of affordable supportive housing in a Men of Valor facility, the recidivism rate is less than 10%. 

“We’re blessed to have the opportunity to partner with 4th Purpose Foundation and extend Men of Valor faith-based programming to East Tennessee,” said Raul Lopez, executive director of Men of Valor. “This partnership furthers our mission, allowing us to reach more men in need of friendship, mentorship, discipleship and turn them toward Jesus.”  

Gov. Lee and Tony Parker, Commissioner of Correction for the State of Tennessee, are long-time supporters of Men of Valor. At this time, Lee plans to attend a groundbreaking event at Dogan-Gaither Flats scheduled for Friday, March 5, 2021.   

“This project is a unique opportunity for the Tennessee Department of Correction to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to the rehabilitation of returning citizens,” said Parker. “Engaging in evidence-based programming is at the core of our reentry efforts. We know that obtaining meaningful employment and housing are the primary components necessary for a successful transition. This partnership helps to eliminate those barriers to success. The collaborative work demonstrated by the 4th Purpose Foundation and Men of Valor is a perfect example of community engagement and volunteer services working together to make Tennessee a safer place to live, work and raise a family, as well as providing an opportunity for people to make a positive change.”

Paying tribute to the historic Dogan-Gaither Motor Court, which first opened in the early 1950s during the days of segregation, Dogan-Gaither Flats will provide a source of redemption in an area with a rich African American history in Knoxville. The Jessamine address was the second location of the important motel, that hosted patrons such as Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and five Freedom Riders, after being forced to move from its original location at East Vine Ave. as part of the "Downtown Loop" urban renewal project that would become James White Parkway in the early 1960s. In 1959, Dogan-Gaither was listed in a publication for "Negro travelers," the Newark-based Nationwide Hotel Association Directory and Guide to Travelers; similar to publications such as the famous Green Book guide for traveling African Americans. 

“Following in the footsteps of Knoxville’s first black businessman of 1845, Richard ‘Uncle Dick’ Payne, in the late 1950s the Dogan-Gaither families owned and operated Dogan-Gaither Motor Court, a local motel that was known as the ‘South’s Most Exclusive - Tennessee’s Finest - In the Heart of Knoxville - For Colored Tourists’,” said Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. “The original motel was taken during Knoxville’s infamous urban renewal projects, but the Dogan-Gaither Motor Court relocated to 211 Jessamine Street in the late 1960s. Dogan-Gaither Flats’ tenancy on Jessamine is a fitting tribute and an intentional act of preserving Knoxville’s rich cultural history.” 

The City of Knoxville will provide $480,000 in funding for the project through the Affordable Rental Development Fund in order to help keep the rent and supportive services affordable for the ex-offenders. 

“We are happy to see this life-altering housing and reform model expand here in Knoxville,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon. “We want to help decrease recidivism rates and increase success stories for these men. One way we can help do that is by ensuring this is an affordable housing option as they reintegrate in our community.”  

Christian-based Men of Valor will find a champion nearby in Pastor Daryl Arnold, Senior Pastor of Knoxville’s Overcoming Believers Church, who has been an advisor on the development. 

“The core of my faith is centered around the word restoration, to take that which has seemingly lost its value and to bring it back to its full potential and purpose,” said Arnold. “What a joy it is to witness one of Knoxville’s historic landmarks being transformed into a place of redemption and restoration. I applaud and support the efforts of 4thPurpose for acting as an agent of change and empowerment in our community.”

Smith confirmed that development of the property involves architectural and construction firms from the nearby neighborhoods. Sanders Pace Architecture, located in the Old City, is serving as the project architect, and Elite Diversified Construction Inc., owned by Randall Turman and headquartered on Magnolia Ave., is the project contractor. The Foundation is also working with the Tennessee Department of Corrections to find ways to involve potential future residents in the construction of the building.   Smith stated, “My hope is that some of the ex-offenders who will eventually stay here can help build their future home.”

Pinnacle Financial Partners will provide construction and permanent financing through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency’s Community Investment Tax Credit program. 

“This innovative project aligns perfectly with the cornerstone of Pinnacle’s community involvement efforts, which is supporting affordable housing,” said Mike DiStefano, Pinnacle’s Knoxville president. “Financing affordable housing in our markets helps build stronger communities that allow for more people to prosper. When that happens, everyone wins.”