Frayser Exchange Club boosts community

The Frayser Exchange Club is more than a weekly gathering of members. It serves as a community booster for Frayser, where everyone is welcome in a positive environment. 
These days, when anything occurs in Frayser the first people who know about it likely are at the Frayser Exchange Club.
The Frayser Exchange Club started as part of the national exchange club in the late 1960s. The organization bills itself as being for family, community and country.
All of that’s true in Frayser, but there is a clear community boosterism at the heart of what makes this organization continue to tick long after other organizations stopped meeting in Frayser.
Pat Anderson has been a member for 16 years, first joining when she came to the community in 2000 to work as director of the Southwest Tennessee Community College Gill Center in Frayser. She said she reached out to everyone she could find in the Frayser community to learn more about the community.
She discovered and joined the Exchange Club. Since that time she’s served a variety of roles, including secretary, treasurer, vice president and president. Today Anderson is secretary/treasurer.
“When I joined they encouraged everybody to join the national organization so you had to be a member,” she said. “It was more a closed group of people. And then as we have evolved it’s become an umbrella for the community to share ideas. More people have come and they’re not all dues-paying members.”
In recent years there has been an extra push to get more business memberships so organizations can join and have several representatives attend meetings.
“I think we’ve become a voice where the community can be heard in a non-threatening kind of way,” Anderson said. “Some other meetings, people take sides and it can get controversial. At the Exchange Club we don’t allow that to happen. It’s not the time to argue sides. Because of it we have become more of a neutral playing field for a lot of the players in Frayser. You know you won’t come and be attacked to speak.”
Shelly Rice was born and raised in Frayser. His family is deeply involved in the community; the Ed Rice Community Center there is named for his father. It wasn’t until 2004 that he got involved in the Frayser Exchange Club, today serving as president.
Much has changed over the past 12 years, he said.
“At that time it was like a Rotary, Kiwanis or Optimists group but there wasn’t any of those clubs left in Frayser,” Rice said. “The demographics have changed. The Exchange Club is the only thing left. I got involved and at that time we had only five or six people at meetings.”
Rice became president in 2006, but he praised Anderson for the organization’s growth that today sees meetings regularly pack out large rooms.
Rice said much of what has made the organization successful in recent years has been in part because of a renewed focus on politics.
“I always thought from an organizational standpoint to draw people in you have to have something that’s attractive and involves them,” Rice said. “What’s pertinent to each individual coming to meetings so much is political. We started bringing in a lot more politicians and programs. We beat the bushes and tried to get more people to come. By doing that the Frayser Exchange Club is on par with bigger organizations, whether it’s the Downtown Rotary or the Touchdown Club.”
That reputation means people from outside Frayser know the Exchange Club is an important place to speak, whether it’s a school board member, mayor or the county district attorney general.
“It’s an opportunity a lot of people don’t get,” Rice said. “They come (to speak) because we have good crowds.”
While the Exchange Club provides opportunities for the Frayser community to stay connected, there’s only so much that can be done beyond just being a forum for sharing information. For one, there isn’t an abundance of financial resources. But the connection to the national Exchange Club organization enables the organization to access insurance for community events, for example.
Meetings are every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those early crowds of six people 10 or so years ago have grown to a regular gathering of 50 to 70 per week now. There are members, but membership isn’t a requirement to attend.
“I never ask anybody to join the club,” Rice said. “We’re very fortunate to have people who want to join the club. If you’re not a member that doesn’t make a difference. There are dues, but we just want people to come out and be part of the community. That’s what it’s all about to me is introducing people who can really have an impact and do something in the community.”
Anderson said the Frayser Exchange Club has the opportunity to serve as a real agent for change in the community, and it starts with the comfort level for all people to attend meetings.
“They know they can come and announce any meeting and anything they want to announce,” she said. “Anyone can come.”
Meetings rotate locations. Most meetings are held at Union Grove Baptist Church at 2285 Frayser Blvd., but there is usually one meeting per month held at an Achievement School District facility in the community.

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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