Advance Memphis brings change to South Memphis

Advance Memphis is in the business of bringing economic self-sufficiency to the residents of the 38126 ZIP code, which includes much of the Soulsville USA neighborhood.
The 38126 ZIP code includes much of the Soulsville USA neighborhood. It’s a larger neighborhood with a rich history, but one with generational poverty.
 
In 1999, the 38126 was listed as the third-poorest urban ZIP code in the nation. That same year, Advance Memphis was formed to help bring resources for economic self-sufficiency to the people in and around the Cleaborn/Foote public housing developments.
 
The Cleaborn Homes project was demolished some five years ago, leaving Foote Homes as the only public housing project in the city. And while these neighborhoods aren’t in Soulsville USA, the condition of the greater 38126 has an effect on the community. And Advance Memphis, which is located at 769 Vance Ave., is there to serve the whole community even if its beginnings were centered on a more focused part of the 38126.
 
The only stipulations for Advance Memphis participants is that they are 18 and older and can prove they live in the 38126 ZIP code.
 
“In the beginning we were focused on Cleaborn and Foote homes,” said Amanda Coop, Volunteer and Development Coordinator for Advance Memphis. “A lot of poverty was centralized there. … Probably in the last three years or so we’ve been trying to recruit more beyond just the Cleaborn and Foote homes.”
 
Many of the clients come from word of mouth and family members. When Cleaborn was torn down five years ago Advance began moving its recruiting efforts to include the College Park area.
 
Advance Memphis has several programs, from job training classes to GED assistance. The organization started small in 1999. Through the years, residents of the neighborhoods were polled on what resources they wanted. That knowledge helped create what Advance Memphis is today.
 
“The heartbeat of what we do is relational,” Coop said. “We’re here to serve people. We go back into the community to engage and serve their lives. That’s why we’re in the business is to love and serve the people in the community.”
 
Advance Memphis has a variety of programs:
 
  • Launch Program: a 10-week entrepreneurship program designed for individuals interested in starting their own business
  • Work Life: A six-week, soft skills job training program for those who are unemployed or underemployed
  • High School Equivalency Preparation Program: Students who do not have a diploma can attend day or night high school equivalency classes and can meet with tutors
  • Counseling, Legal Aid and Overcoming Through Christ: A variety of wrap-around services to participants at no cost that include marriage and family therapy, information on legal issues and a weekly addiction recovery meeting
  • Anger Management: An eight-week anger management course
  • Advance Memphis Staffing Program: Forms relationships with businesses that requests employees on a weekly basis
  • Employment Support: Assists graduates with resumes, employment applications, job searches, workshops addressing employment issues and temporary/temp-to-hire opportunities
  • Faith & Finances: A 12-week evening course empowering participants to track income and expenses, develop a budget, avoid debt and more
  • Individual Development Account Program: This savings account allows Faith & Finances graduates to receive $2 for every $1 deposited from earned income with the goal of increasing net worth through the habit of saving.
 
Advance Memphis sometimes helps people recognize skills that can be utilized for income streams. It might be the ability to repair a car or clean a home. The idea of taking those skills to the next step of operating a business might not be on their radar, yet.
 
Coop said she has seen several residents go through the Launch class who weren’t at a point of operating a successful business but going through the class helped them narrow their focus.
 
“They’re not ready to quit their day job but it’s enough to develop another $10,000, $15,000 annually to put in their pocket,” she said.
 
Bryce Stout is the Entrepreneurial Development Coordinator for Advance Memphis. He said the Launch Program was added two years ago after asking the community what they wanted to see added. The overwhelming response was entrepreneurship training.
 
The program has seen four cohorts go through with 25 graduates. Out of those 25, Stout said 23 are currently in business or taking steps toward having their own business.
 
The next class starts Feb. 29 and is still open to participants.
 
So far, Stout said, many of the participants live north of E.H. Crump Boulevard, but he’s focusing recruitment efforts in the Soulsville USA neighborhood. He said because the organization’s work is conducted on a personal relationship basis, the beginning focus near the Foote and Cleaborn homes communities took time to develop.
 
Now, the hope is to move south of Crump into the heart of Soulsville USA.
 
Empowering residents to focus their skills in an income-generating way is important, but the path out of poverty or toward better economic security is harder without the greater business community.
 
“We can train up people in the neighborhood to be successful but if business people won’t take a risk and hire people or bring work to the neighborhood we’re only going to get so far,” Coop said.
 
Is the organization making a difference? Coop said poverty is still a big problem in 38126. But there is plenty of hope.
 
“It’s one of those things when you zoom out and look around and still see crime rates and still see stats on unemployment in the neighborhood are three times higher than the average of Memphis, see blight of the neighborhood, it’s easy to get discouraged,” Coop said. “But then when you go back and look at individual lives that are changed and the families and the fact that this past year in 2015 we had our people going to work from this neighborhood who earned over $1.3 million in gross wages.
 
“That combined with individual stories of people getting their GED, going to work, then yes, there is still a lot of transformation that needs to happen in this community but there are men and women getting resources here they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And change is happening.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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