Eva Jo Johnson *Photo Courtesy: Chattanooga Times Free Press
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Eva Jo Johnson plays a big part in the lives of children.
She was born in Chattanooga and raised in the projects.
"We almost lived in luxury, we had running hot and cold water, we had a refrigerator, not an ice box, some of us had our own bedroom," she said, remembering her home at College Hill Courts.
She worked hard to attend college and moved to Connecticut where she worked as an educator.
Her life has been filled with mission work, social work, and community outreach.
She is a true volunteer.
"I don't know, I guess it was just who I am, to get out and do as much as I can for the community," she said.
But there have been challenges along the way.
She lost one of her four children in a construction accident.
Recently, she experienced violent loss in her church community when Pastor David Strong was murdered, allegedly by two young people. Pastor Strong's church, St. Paul AME, has close ties to Johnson's congregation at Warren Chapel AME Church.
"It brought my attention to a lot of things, it just brought my attention to that this is alive and well, what's going on," she said.
Since moving back to Chattanooga in 2008, Eva Jo has dedicated her time to her church, but she takes the church's mission outside the building, working with youth who have committed their first crime, in hopes of keeping them out of gangs and jail.
"I just want to keep up with them, I know they're not committing crimes, but I want to know what they are deciding to major in college," she said.
Investing in those youth, is what Eva Jo says it will take to fix Chattanooga's growing gang problem.
"You can't bring three kids together and read a story to them and say you're doing your part, it just takes more than that," she said.
Now retired, Eva Jo is working just as hard as she did in the classroom.
"There has to be a solution and I believe the solution can only be found in people working together, collaborating, and not being segregated by race, or religious groups, or neighborhoods," she said.
And for Eva Jo, the inspiration comes from the faces of the young people she's helped.