Community Engagement Partner Update – Advance Memphis

By Fara Foster, Director of Communications and Community Engagement

On Vance Avenue, just east of Downtown Memphis, sits a nondescript, brown brick building. While it has a bright yellow door, the entry offers little of what goes on inside. The mural on the side of the building, however, gives a stronger hint. The vibrant art has a simple message –“Grind ‘til You Shine.”

In 1999, 38126 was listed as the third-poorest urban zip code in the nation. It was during that year that Steve Nash began helping connect friends living in this specific neighborhood with jobs. Steve’s work grew to include GED preparation, entrepreneurship and financial literacy programs, as well as a small staff.

Nearly 20 years later, the Advance Memphis staff is still small, but their work is huge. Consequently, they depend heavily on volunteers to support their mission. Allen Halliday, our Chief Administrative Officer, remembers the early days of the ministry and has actively volunteered since.

It was Allen who encouraged me to become more involved at Advance Memphis. In June, I was introduced to their community engagement manager and attended a “Work Life Class” graduation. Work Life is a six-week commitment, during which students attend classes daily from 9 a.m. until noon. These classes are geared toward people who are either entering or re-entering the workforce and need to learn a few basics. The curriculum includes things like the value of work, expected attendance, setting and achieving goals, and dealing with conflict. After lunch, students can take electives and learn food preparation, fork lift operation or even auto mechanic skills.

One of the ways our companies support Advance Memphis is by serving lunch to the class. Brenda Myers, our HR Specialist, said, “I had no idea all the things they are doing for the community. I just felt such love when I was in that building.” I agree with Brenda’s observation. In July, I started a journey alongside three ladies going through the Work Life Class.

These women are so different – one is young, with a sunny, infectious disposition who is a certified dental hygienist, but found herself in a job that didn’t fit. On the opposite end of the spectrum was a quiet, mature woman, who has dedicated the last 40 years to raising children and grandchildren. The remaining woman was someone who has always worked low-wage jobs and found herself in a new city, with few connections and fewer opportunities. What connected these ladies was their desire for hope and their desire to grow.

Each week, I spent one hour, just listening and encouraging. Each week, I saw changes and growth in each woman. I watched one go from believing she had nothing to even offer to our conversation, to being the most thought-filled, admired member of our group. I watched another go from the deepest despairs, to the most hope-filled, buoyant participant.

Advance Memphis is not just changing the lives of these three women. They are changing the way people view their own worth and their contributions to their community. We were proud to sponsor their annual “Art for Jobs” fundraiser, that took place September 27, and hope that you will aid in our effort to support this amazing local nonprofit organization.

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from the programs at Advance Memphis, go to www.AdvanceMemphis.org or contact me at (901) 947-5704.