More than 30 years ago, Emerald Avenue United Methodist Church started a summer program to reach out to young people in Knoxville’s Oakwood/Lincoln Park neighborhood. This ministry grew to become Emerald Youth Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the ambitious vision of making Knoxville a city where every child in every neighborhood can lead a full life.

“I have come that they might have life and have it to the fullest.” – John 10:10b

“Our mission is to raise up a large number of urban youth to love Jesus Christ and to help renew their communities,” said John Crooks, Emerald Youth’s Director of Marketing & Communications. John also provided some background information on the history of the ministry. “Steve Diggs, who’s our president and CEO, was hired as their [Emerald Ave UMC’s] summer intern, right out of college. It literally started with a kickball game in the church parking lot, asking neighborhood kids to play.”

The church decided to expand the program beyond that summer session because Steve and the church leadership could see how God was working. “They made a commitment and stuck to it,” said John. “That was in the summer of 1988, and three years later, Emerald Youth Foundation was officially launched.”

From that initial summer outreach, Emerald Youth has grown to work with even more young people in Knoxville, mainly in inner-city neighborhoods. According to their website (, Emerald Youth has served more than 30,000 young people in Knoxville during the past 32+ years. Along with churches and other faith-based groups, Emerald Youth works with nearly 3,000 children, teens, and young adults in year-round programs.

“We are a faith-based Christian ministry – that is at the core of what we do,” said John. “The primary outcome areas that we focus on are faith, learning, and health. We like to say that relationships are wrapped up into all of those.”


JustLead is Emerald Youth’s K-12 urban youth ministry that connects children (and their families) to neighborhood churches and other faith-based communities. They provide children with after-school care in safe spaces where they can learn more about God’s love, be discipled, and get help with homework. They also have snacks, play games, go on field trips, and participate in community service and local missional opportunities.


Emerald Youth’s Calling & Career ministry is another way to help ensure city young people succeed academically, offering four learning center locations for teens in grades 8-12. This program provides students with access to technology and tutoring, and they can get help with college and financial aid applications, learning life skills, and opportunities to learn about different career options.


The Sports ministry is an essential part of the health portion of Emerald Youth’s mission. Emerald Youth is a community ministry partner with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), working together to help Knoxville’s young people play, be active, and learn leadership skills. Program experience levels range from beginner to competitive, and all levels are welcome. Led by trained staff and volunteers who strive to teach young people about good sportsmanship and how to have healthy food and exercise habits in a God-honoring environment, Emerald Youth sports programs are also affordable.

The year-round program of leagues, teams, and clinics includes the following programs:

• Baseball
• Basketball
• Performance Training (weights and conditioning)
• Soccer
• Softball
• Swimming
• Volleyball
• Track & Field
• Wrestling

John noted that the sports programs are essentially year-round and added, “We are recruiting volunteers to serve in the organization in different ways. So whether as coaches or assistant coaches or scorekeepers or homework helpers, we’re always looking for folks to engage with us from a volunteer standpoint.” Their website lists numerous volunteer opportunities, and it also notes that, because of the nature of Emerald Youth’s work, volunteers and staff are required to have background checks before serving directly with youth.

By partnering with parents and guardians to support their children to grow and thrive in healthy ways, Emerald Youth hopes to help Knoxville children have the opportunity for a full life. Through all of these activities, Emerald Youth strives toward its goal to develop enduring and transformative relationships with these young people and their families so they can in turn help renew their communities.

Emerald Youth greatly appreciates the generosity of their volunteers and donors. For more information about partnering with them, as well as their accountability and transparency resources, please contact them through their website at or at 865-637-3227.

By integrating their faith, learning, and health programs – and through the relationships built through these areas – Emerald Youth focuses on growing youth into promising Godly leaders. The Emerald Youth’s 2022 Outcomes & Impact Report (latest year available), defines this type of leader as a person who is:

• On track to complete two years of post-secondary education or training;
• Confidently moving toward gainful employment and community leadership; and
• Showing evidence of a lifestyle with exemplary behaviors regarding academics, spiritual maturity, and health.

Emerald Youth Foundation’s Impact:

• 80% of parents said their child has grown academically since participating with EYF
• 89% of EYF youth engaged in sports managed a healthy weight
• 80% of parents said their child has grown in their faith since participating with EYF

Ways to Help:

• Volunteer
• Explore Job Openings
• Donate
• Prayer Breakfast – May 3
• Rick Barnes Golf Classic – September 23
• Legacy Dinner – Date TBD