| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Innovation & Job News

390 Articles | Page: | Show All

New timeline catalogs Memphis' LGBTQ history

Memphis’ Guild Theater held the first ever openly gay event in Memphis history, Miss Gay Memphis, on October 31, 1969. Halloween night was chosen so that there would be no arrests for then-illegal cross-dressing.

The organizer and owner of the theater was the late Bill Kendall. His theater was known for showing arthouse films, which included LGBT films, European films and what Shelby County considered illegal smut.

Charged with showing pornographic films under the state’s 106-year-old obscenity laws, Kendall took his case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 1974, the court ruled the laws unconstitutional.

The piece of Memphis history is only one small part of the untold story OUTMemphis is bringing to the light with its online Mid-South LGBTQ history timeline. It can be viewed here.

Primarily focused on Memphis history, the local events, told through newspapers, magazines, photos and videos, are placed in the context of landmark national milestones like the founding of the Mattachine Society, the Stonewall riots and both the signing and repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“Our history is much richer than people think,” said OUTMemphis executive director Will Batts.

“It didn’t start with Stonewall; there is so much more. So, we needed to share it. It’s important for people to know this is a movement; it’s not just a passing thing. We’ve been around a long time and we’re everywhere. There are so many ways that we’ve influenced culture in this city.”

Supporting the timeline’s creation are longtime and new Memphians, such as Rhodes College historical archive interns Cameron Sandlin and Brad Bierdz.

Memphian Vincent Astor provided much of the foundational material. He has collected LGBTQ artifacts since 1975, and his collection currently resides at the Memphis-Shelby County Room at the main library.  

Because of OUTMemphis’ unique and public profile among the LGBTQ community in Memphis, people have donated items to the Midtown nonprofit for years. Batts said they have closets and file cabinets full of clothes, publications and at least 20,000 photos.

While all the printed materials have been scanned and uploaded thanks to Rhodes College’s Crossroads to Freedom archive, discussions are ongoing about what to do with their physical counterparts.

Batts acknowledges that their collection is a small subset of the larger Memphis LGBTQ history that mostly represents white Memphians.  They plan to flesh out the timeline by recruiting Anthony Hardaway of Friends for Life to contribute to the timeline, who has saved artifacts of the African-American gay experience in Memphis.

“People have been putting themselves on the front line for a long time and it’s important for us to know that. We’re part of a larger movement and cultural shift in how we view gender and sex and people in general.

We’re not alone. There are people in all walks of life and different stations who are LGBT and we should embrace that history,” said Batts.

Real estate startup FrontDoor is the first tenant in ServiceMaster innovation center

A startup dedicated to lowering the amount home sellers pay in commission to realtors has become the first tenant in the new ServiceMaster Innovation Center at 150 Peabody.

The focus of the new innovation center named The Ground Floor will be on helping IT developers grow their ideas into marketable services and products. In addition to sharing space next to like-minded entrepreneurs, renters will enjoy the benefit of speeches and panels by experts in their fields.

Participating startups will also cohabitate with ServiceMaster's headquarters. 

“Being able to work in the space with like-minded people constantly working on innovating the real estate and home service industry is a naturally good fit for us,” said FrontDoor founder and CEO Jessica Buffington.

“ServiceMaster is a huge corporation who touches thousands of homes every day and is in 'startup mind' mode,” added Buffington, who is also a real estate agent.

In this Petrie dish of ideas, advice and information, FrontDoor hopes to continue to develop its plan to take real-estate sales into a more tech-savvy world.

The idea is to do away with all the usual attention getters, such as flyers or yard signs, that agents have historically used to get the attention of sellers. Technology is the main tool.

A seller uploads photos of their home and a description to a website. They are then put in touch with an agent, who puts the property on market. In the days that follow, agents will still perform all the duties typically expected of them, like showings and open houses.

FrontDoor requires sellers pay a flat $2,500 to realtors, who usually receive a 3 percent commission. Add the buyer’s agent to the mix and the total doubles. The change can generally save sellers thousands of dollars.

The process doesn’t seem any more difficult than listing an item on eBay – at least to the uninitiated. Buffington plans to make it even easier.

“One of our main goals is educating the public of our services and further automating our technology to help with the process.”

Founded in 2015, FrontDoor’s early days were spent growing under Start Co.’s guidance. The female-led company worked out of the local business accelerator’s space until the recent move. Today, her company represents over 100 agents in all 50 states.

“FrontDoor is rapidly growing and has already saved homeowners three million in commission fees. We plan on doubling our hires in the next 3 months and launching a new technology to help further automate the home selling and buying process,” said Buffington.

If things go right, their decision to relocate to The Ground Floor may accelerate the process.

New hope brims for HopeWorks’ new Summer Avenue location

Nonprofit HopeWorks is moving forward on a relocation to position themselves between two high-needs neighborhoods this September.

The main reason for the move can be summed up with one word – location.

The new headquarters at 3337 Summer Ave. will strategically place its workforce development programs between the neighborhoods of Binghampton and the Heights. The current headquarters on Union Ave. has been their home since founding in 1988.

“I believe HopeWorks will be a place of hope for many in our community,” said Jared Myers, Executive Director for the Heights Community Development Corporation.

The move has been in the works for a while.

Two years ago, Myers and Noah Gray, Executive Director for the Binghampton Community Development Corporation, were approached by their HopeWorks counterpart, Ron Wade, with the idea.

“Ron was very strategic in where he saw HopeWorks moving and believed that partnering with neighborhoods and community organizations would greatly improve the impact of their ministry,” said Myers.

While scouting locations, considering neighborhood revitalization plans, and speaking with community stakeholders, Wade began to envision Summer Ave. as the nonprofit’s new home.

A property was secured at the Old Southern Federal Credit Union Building, offering 10,000 square feet of space. The old building is 6,000 square feet.

More square footage is needed due to recent growth HopeWorks has experienced. An estimated 600 students will earn high school equivalency diplomas through their various programs this year.

“The past two years has brought unprecedented growth at HopeWorks, particularly in the areas of Adult Education (High School equivalency attainment) and teaching within the Shelby County Division of Correction,” said Wade. “Because of this growth in services and the need for more classroom space, HopeWorks decided to move into a location that would provide long-term sustainability.”

It will also provide accessibility. The main bus line is nearby. There is also a new bike lane adjacent to the property. And it’s easily reachable by foot.

“The fact that HopeWorks is sandwiched in between two low-income areas makes it easy for people to walk to the new location,” said Myers.

Another benefit of the Summer Ave. site is its status as a commercial corridor. It is home to hundreds of “blue-collar” businesses – and potential employers.

The strip is also host to many “predatory” style business – payday lenders, pawn shops, used car dealerships, and tax services litter the roadside.

“Instead of moving to Summer Avenue to take advantage of people who live on fixed incomes, Hope Works is moving to Summer Avenue to serve and help people,” said Myers.

The new addition will close the loop on service available to residents. The area has health and dental clinics that provide care. Tutoring and afterschool programs are available. Blighted properties are also being addressed.

“The one missing piece was workforce development and employment. With a new location on Summer, Hope Works will help fill that void,” said Myers.

One employment option that will be coming to the area is the planned commercial development at Tillman and Cooper, a project that’s been in the works for over ten years.

“We are planning on working with Noah Gray and the Binghampton Development Corporation to provide training for the employees that will be employed by the businesses within the commercial development,” said Wade.

In addition to jobs, the Binghampton Gateway Center will bring increased access to fresh food in the community.

As far as HopeWorks’ space, a lot of work still needs to be done.

When work is completed, HopeWorks will be outfitted with additional classroom and testing space. There are even plans for a commercial kitchen. The new facility will employ 15 and serve the needs of 60 people a week on average.

To help pay for the costs of the remediation and remodel, the nonprofit was awarded a $20,000 loan by the Economic Development Growth Engine Finance committee on June 7. The forgivable ICED loan will cover about half of the expenses for the remodel.

The EDGE board has granted around 40 ICED loans totaling a little more than $3 million. They sustained 175 jobs and created $8.6 million in capital investments in high-needs neighborhoods.

Although the old Midtown HopeWorks locale will be closed, plans are under consideration to continue services to the area.

Opponents push back against Shelby County’s move to end federal oversight of local juvenile court

Community leaders from the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP, Stand for Children, and the Memphis Grassroots Organizing Coalition gathered outside of the Shelby County Administration building Downtown on June 21 in response to a letter authored by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Judge Dan Michael asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end oversight of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County.

They letter has also received support from District Attorney Amy Weirich and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings.

If the attorney general considers ending federal oversight of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, it could end a five-year relationship.

The Department of Justice and Shelby County entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2012 after an investigation found disproportionate treatment of black juveniles and violations of due process.

Shelby County Commissioner Melvin Burgess walked out of a meeting with Shelby County Mark Luttrell over Luttrell’s endorsement of a letter asking for the DOJ to retreat from the memorandum’s requirements.

Commissioner Burgess said they were left in the dark about the move to end oversight and calls for the authors to feel compassion for the victims of the juvenile justice system.

“I want to make sure our young men are getting a fair shake,” said Burgess.

“This is all a part of our crime issue. Until we address (the juvenile justice system), until we address education, no three people in this county have the right … to make sure this oversight goes away,”

Rev. Earle Fisher of the MGOC referenced the letter and the increase in police force sought by county and city officials as means to perpetuating the mass incarceration, disproportionately of people of color.

“The mayor (Shelby County Mayor Luttrell) states that they believe they had made ‘solid and incredible gains’ in support of the children in juvenile detention. We do not believe that is true,” said NAACP political action chair Tami Sawyer.

“Requesting to be removed from federal monitoring early is saying we are okay with failing our kids. Our juvenile system is getting an F and (the letter writers) are asking that Memphis cronyism make that ok. Our children deserve an A.”

Key partners rethink healthcare access to prevent 9-1-1 overuse

In 2016, the Memphis Fire Department responded to approximately 130,000 calls requesting emergency services and 25,000 of those calls were classified as non-emergency.

Those non-emergency calls take up time and could cost lives. 

A host of Memphis partners gathered from June 7 to June 9 to develop solutions to improve the City of Memphis' emergency medical services model. Their innovations will hone in on the 911 call center what could be done to alleviate some of the non-emergency calls, which take up valuable time and resources from the people that need them the most.

Partners at the Memphis Innovation Bootcamp, held at the Fedex Institute of Technology, included Innovate Memphis and Lokion's GoNimble team. 

“A lot of their ideas were about helping connect people to the patchwork of resources that are available, but people may not know they are available," said Justin Entzminger, director of Innovate Memphis.

The bootcamp brought together 20 participants from the corporate community, government, non-profit and academic worlds to work together in multidisciplinary teams engaging in innovation and design to tackle real-world issues.

For the fiscal year 2016, there were more than 2,000 times that people called into the system and needed an ambulance and there wasn’t one available.

During the brainstorming session, groups came up with systems that would easily connect people with the resources that they need instead of calling 911. Concepts touched on database and phone systems, public education and outreach, and state-wide and local approaches.

Many groups stated that the non-emergency line, 211, should be promoted as a viable alternative to the 911 line. Being able to dial 211 for non-emergency issues has only been in place for a few years, and right now the service still has limited hours. Expanding those hours could be the next step.

“We’re looking at how we can take those calls off the system so that we’re not running out of ambulances for emergencies,” said Memphis Fire Department EMS division chief Andrew Hart.

“For example, if someone needs a ride to a primary care doctor, maybe 211 could help handle that,” said Hart. “There was a lot of discussion about education because a significant portion of the problem is people just don’t realize what resources are out there and available to them.”

He believes some of the takeaways from the bootcamp could be implemented quickly following the session.

Lokion’s Shiloh Barnat led the bootcamp and helped participants to focus on large-scale problem solving. During the first day, participants visited EMS’ central operations and met with leaders and learn about how 911 calls and emergency dispatch situations are managed.

“They had a half-day tour where they went to the 911 call center, Resurrection Health clinic in Frayser and Methodist North (hospital), so they saw the work flow of where 911 has big impacts and different ways that it’s being utilized, underutilized or overutilized," said Cody Behles, manager of innovation and research support at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

On the second day, teams went through a rapid design process to generate innovative solutions to improve EMS services.

“The big problem we saw over the last few days is that people take the path of least resistance, and healthcare is complicated. It’s hard to untangle,” said Matt Tsacoyianis, who works in mobile marketing for FedEx.

“We’re trying to find ways to link up people with healthcare. In many cases, you may not need an ambulance but you need healthcare and access to a clinic.

So we’re talking about ways to connect with the neighborhood clinics that really can help the community," he added.

On the final day, teams presented their solutions to fire department officials from the Memphis Fire Department, the largest EMS system in the state of Tennessee.

“We can now take their ideas back to our shop and think about what’s the next step,” said Entzminger, who plans to use the ideas in an upcoming report to be shared with Mayor Strickland’s steering committee.

Bike share program will connect South Memphis, Orange Mound & Binghampton with core city

Explore Bike Share is finally putting the rubber to the road. 

After several years of development, the nonprofit has finalized that in spring 2018 it will implement a 600-bike network of rental bikes across Memphis.

The short-term bike rental network is designed to suit tourists and residents and especially connect Memphis' neighborhoods, such as South Memphis and Orange Mound and Binghampton, with the denser urban core.

We are exploring beyond Downtown neighborhoods and from the start, going into neighborhoods you wouldn’t traditionally see a bike-share start in,” said Roshun Austin, president and CEO of The Works, Inc., as well as an Explore Bike Share board member.

The bikes, manufactured by B-Cycle, will be spread across 60 rental stations. The network connects Memphis' neighborhoods with transportation that is accessible and on-demand.

A quick look at the city map shows this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. South Memphis easily links up with Downtown. Orange Mound is in proximity with the Cooper-Young area of Midtown. Likewise with Binghampton, which is a short pedal from Overton Park.

“It was a natural next step because these neighborhoods make up the inner ring suburbs in our proximity to Midtown and Downtown and are too close to ignore as we are talking about equity neighborhoods,” said Austin.

An equitable connector for Memphis' neighborhoods

Explore Bike Share, a nonprofit supported by public-private partnerships, already plans on further expansions. Some areas fit into the grid more naturally than others.

Unfortunately, parts of North Memphis don’t, but Explore Bike Share has made the neighborhood a priority nonetheless. In North Memphis, Interstate-240 acts as a barrier to bike travel, and it’s a logistical issue the Explore Bike Share team plans to work on.

Explore Bike Share’s program tries to emphasize the needs of the neighborhoods it serves and not just population density zones on a map.

In the fall of 2015, a group of neighborhood representatives including Austin participated in a bike study tour in the Netherlands. A focus of the trip was uncovering how European bike share is an equitable connector. Part of the itinerary involved speaking with immigrants in their neighborhoods.

“If you were to compare them, they look like low-wealth neighborhoods in the U.S. So, we wanted to see in a cycling culture like the Netherlands how they (immigrants) were to successfully integrate into the cycling culture in neighborhoods where this was very nontraditional,” said Austin.

Prior to the Amsterdam trip, Austin had never cycled. She had a month to learn to ride well enough to hold her own in one of the busiest bike cities in the world.

“I was a native Memphian who grew up in a low-wealth neighborhood in North Memphis. I didn’t have access to a bike. I just never learned,” said Austin.

It was from this experience that Austin saw the potential of cycling in low-wealth neighborhoods in Memphis as a way of connecting the economically-vulnerable to a low-cost transportation option.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, five to seven percent of Memphis households don’t own a car. Public transit was used by two to four percent of Memphis households while another three to four percent walked or biked to work.

The numbers go up when you take a look at low-wealth neighborhoods. Transportation links for low-income residents are vital to success on the job. A reliable mode of transportation can only enhance opportunities for people.

“I work in a neighborhood where 40 percent of the residents don’t own an automobile but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to go anywhere,” said Austin.

“So you get a heavy pedestrian use of the street and public transit, where 2.5 miles may take you over an hour. A bike can change that trip.”

A four-mile commute can be detrimental to holding a job. A trip to the grocery store two miles away can mean an hour on the bus.

“If I wanted to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things on a bike, we are talking a few minutes,” said Austin.

Modes of transportation provide options. Instead of a short walk to a convenience store, a person can take a quick bike ride to the local grocer. Instead of chips and soda they have the choice of healthier and cheaper options.

In low-wealth neighborhoods, there are generally health disparities. The health benefits of cycling are well documented.

Broadening the mental map of Memphis

Riding bikes also gets more engaged in the neighborhood around them.

Explore Bike Share coordinates group neighborhood rides where dozens of people travel together. 

A recent April 22 ride started at the historic 1890 house at the Works, Inc. Riders stopped and learned the story of the historic residence. They cruised over to the South Memphis Farmers Market and the Knowledge Quest farm, then on to the Slim House and Soulsville.

“Another benefit is you get to see Memphis in a different way," said Austin. "You get to see all of these assets in these neighborhoods that you may not see by car. It also builds pride."

The program aims to strike a balance between the needs of residents and tourists while trying to be accessible to all income levels. Cash and credit payment options will be available. There will also be some coordination between station location and public transit routes.

Three membership options will be available including a walk-up membership of $4 for every 30 minutes; a $15 monthly membership with unlimited one-hour rides and a $200 annual “pay it forward membership” to donate a ride to a Memphian in need.

“Some of us may not feel $15 per month is a lot but it can mean so much to a low-income person’s budget,” said Austin.

There will be opportunities in the future for group/corporate share memberships. Employers can opt to subsidize the cost of an employee’s bike share membership. This encourages health and wellness.

The road to bike share

The B-Cycle Dash system enters the Memphis market as the largest bike share system of its kind in the nation. Its Smart Bike includes a forward-facing, touchscreen GPS for route recommendations and directions.

They operate 1,250 bike share stations and over 10,000 bikes in 43 communities.

Memphis' Explore Bike Share was established in early 2016.  The group followed a year-long exploration effort by local bike advocates led by Kyle Wagenschutz. He is the first bikeway and pedestrian program manager for City of Memphis.

There was concern about the feasibility of a bike share program in Memphis, not to mention its equitability.

To determine broad interest, community meetings were held in neighborhood hubs such as St. Andrew AME Church and the South Memphis Farmers Market.

Explore Bike Share has illustrated a unity of community partners, private donors, as well as support from the City of Memphis.

“Explore Bike Share is an exemplary model of public-private partnership,” stated Mayor Jim Strickland. “I am 100 percent behind the vision of Explore Bike Share and its mission to provide an affordable, accessible, equitable option for our citizens to experience and enjoy Memphis’ public spaces.”

Explore Bike Share’s next steps will be to pursue a comprehensive implementation. That includes building a fully-staffed nonprofit operation with an executive director, customer service representatives and technicians. Still to come is final site selection and community engagement efforts, additional scholarships and closing a $1 million fundraising gap.

Additionally, Memphis' bike share network's expansion has been awarded a $2.2 million Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.  This includes $1.8 million in federal funds, along with a local match of $455.000. The grant will enable a 2019 expansion of an additional 30 stations and 300 bicycles to Explore Bike Share’s initial footprint.

"Bike Share will expand access to new and improving infrastructure assets like Shelby Farms Park Conservancy’s Heart of the Park and Greenline, Big River Crossing, Wolf River Greenway, the Hampline, and the Great Streets Project for more Memphians,” said Mac Bruce, program associate for livable communities at Hyde Family Foundations.

"This network of safe, affordable, and accessible bicycles will unlock new transportation experiences in neighborhoods across the city. We invest in these projects because they support our vision of a vibrant, livable community where people are proud to live, work and play."

Opera Memphis addresses race with new initiatives inspired by Madame Talbert-McCleave

This fall, Opera Memphis hopes to draw more Memphians to the world of opera with a series of initiatives, many of which will be centered around the legacy of Florence Cole Talbert-McCleave.

If that name is a mystery to you, here’s a brief biography of the vocalist who made Memphis shine.

Born in 1890, Talbert-McCleave began her singing career in 1916. It was a time when African-American performers and artists often looked to Europe to profit from their talents.

The Detroit native was no different.

In 1927, while residing in Los Angeles, her opportunity came. Crossing the pond, the soprano performed to acclaim in London, Paris and Rome. Her trip was punctuated with a turn singing Aida at the Teatro Comunale, in Cosenza, Italy.

Then she returned to the states where her life settled down.

By 1930 she was married to Dr. Benjamin F. McCleave. The couple moved to Memphis where she taught voice lessons, gave recitals and recorded.

Although her stature was diminished in the States because she was a woman of color, she attracted other notable black opera stars to Memphis.

They often performed at what is now LeMoyne-Owen College. There, black Memphians heard world-class operatic vocalists, which was something typically reserved for more affluent white audiences.

“Today, few white Memphians know her story, but her former students still fondly remember her as the woman they would not dare call anything but ‘Madame McCleave,’” said Tierney Bamrick, Opera Memphis, commenting on the respect the singer commanded.

That lingering respect is also why money from a recent grant is earmarked to fund the Madam McCleave Project.

A highlight of the project will be Talbert-McCleave’s induction into The Memphis Music Hall of Fame. The McCleave Fellowship is a reimagining of Opera Memphis' Young Artist program, which is the artist-in-residence program established in partnership with the University of Memphis Artist Diploma Program. 

The McCleave Fellowship will be recruit singers, directors and coaches of color. Also planned is a performance of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone in targeted neighborhoods.

The grant is funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Each year they dole out $1.5 million to OPERA America members to experiment and innovate. In a process that began in the fall of 2016, Opera Memphis got wind of their $28,000 cut on June 1.

“Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, our member companies receive support to pursue new thinking and experimentation to expand the boundaries of their current practices and adapt to an ever-changing field,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America.

Much of the money will be spent reaching out to historically disadvantaged communities of color. Together with a network of community partners, Opera Memphis will brainstorm strategies to connect with areas like Orange Mound, North Memphis and Frayser. 

“We hope to work with current partners, like Crosstown Arts and Carpenter Arts Garden, to convene a series of salons and conversations with members of their communities,” said Bamrick.

The focus of the klatches will be race, its current place and history in opera.

As America drifted into the civil rights era, opera followed suit. Contralto Marion Anderson became the first black person to sing at the hallowed Met in 1955. A year later Elvis began his black-Memphis inspired move on the attention of white American youths. Much like Jackie Robinson’s entry into major league baseball in 1947, talent trumped skin color.

Doors opened for other singers of color. Race began to dwindle as a factor in opera and popular music. Nevertheless, many operas were reflective of a less enlightened past.

“We need a new way of talking about race in opera, addressing the way we cast singers on stage and confronting the racist underpinnings of some core works,” said Bamrick.

Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty concurred.

“Alongside caricatures about fat ladies in Viking helmets are some real issues, barriers to attendance that go back decades and are linked to historical injustices," Canty said.

"Our goal is to find out what we can do to acknowledge that history, listen to the people most impacted by it, and use what we learn to change our company’s future."

These discussions, which will begin in September during 30 Days of Opera, “must be driven” by the audience Opera Memphis hopes to appeal to, said Bamrick.

“Not the ones already committed to our art form,” he added.

Through dialogue, Opera Memphis hopes to achieve purposeful, incremental and meaningful steps to rectify historic and contemporary disparities in opera – in Memphis and throughout America.

Opera Memphis has a history of outreach. In the 1990s through the early 2000s, these efforts often came in the form of performances at schools. Singers of color were highlighted. New operas were created that broke with racist underpinnings in traditional works.

During Canty’s tenure, which began in 2012, a more holistic approach was taken. Now, the season begins with 30 Days of Opera, a month-long free-for-all opera festival throughout the Mid-South. The purpose of the extended kickoff is to end the notion that opera isn’t relatable.

Lately, this has been achieved through street clothed performances often at unlikely locations around town like the back of a truck bed peeling through Overton Square.

“We have experiences of connection on street corners, in parks, on buses, wherever people are,” said Bamrick.

There will also be a free concert at the Levitt Shell on September 28.

In the months that follow so do some of the old standards such as performances at schools, community centers, churches, synagogues and pretty much anyplace that has an interest in opera. This helps the company to remain connected to the community.

The upcoming season also features the Midtown Opera Festival. For ten days, new and rarely performed operas are presented. They are often relevant to the times. The festival model also brings down the cost of tickets. 

The ArtAccess program brings a pay-what-you-can model to members who are interested in opera.

“Our definition of success is that everyone in Memphis knows they are invited to the party, and that anyone who wants to come, can,” said Bamrick.

Madame McCleave likely would have agreed.

Fedex creates a portable emergency hospital to be staffed by International Medical Corps

A portable emergency hospital has landed in Memphis.

The modular hospital, designed by FedEx and staffed by International Medical Corps, will make vital medical care available to those in need around the world.

“Our collaboration with FedEx means that we can bring this hospital nearly anywhere in the world, 24 to 48 hours after a disaster,” said Erica Tavares, senior director of institutional advancement at International Medical Corps.

The 50-ton field response hospital is within reach of any global disaster through FedEx's logistics networks, explained David Lusk, senior manager of global operations control at FedEx Express.

“Once International Medical Corps contacts us, our team members will jump into action to deploy all or part of the hospital on board our aircraft. It’s staged close to the FedEx World Hub and is ready to deploy,” said Lusk.

Arriving in Memphis on flatbeds, the segments are connected by a fabric covering and contain heating and air conditioning units. The hospital is comprised of 12 shelters. When fully utilized it can cover the length of a football field.

"It’s an admittance, triage, surgery, recovery and pharmacy. It’s like putting a Methodist hospital out in the field," said Lusk.

The mobile unit can handle upwards of 300 surgeries or 6,000 outpatient visits per month. It can also be sent, section by section, anywhere on the map.

International Medical Corps turned to Fedex to design an emergency hospital that was modular and could meet the needs to natural disasters both big and small. 

“International Medical Corps turned to us to help make the hospital more flexible and adaptable,” said Lusk.

“Our emergency response team knew that the hospital’s assets, if stored and deployed more flexibly, could be instrumental in saving lives,” said Tavares.

Working with FedEx, International Medical Corps has access to the Memphis-based company's logistics and supply chain expertise. When doctors, arrive, there is confidence they will have the tools and resources they need.

The original mobile hospital was developed following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The new design by Fedex is fit to respond to other types of disasters and emergencies. 

“Now that FedEx has worked with International Medical Corps to make the field hospital more modular, it can also be deployed to smaller-scale disasters such as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal,” said Lusk.

The areas International Medical Corps serves are generally on the brink of disaster, so mobile hospitals need to be self-sustaining. The new facility comes with generators, water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management facilities.

In addition to large-scale disasters like earthquakes, International Medical Corps will have a hospital right-sized for the situation. It could also be used during disease outbreaks, nutrition emergencies, and refugee crisis, for instance.

In addition to than FedEx, funding for the hospital came from individuals and the private sector. International Medical Corps' fundraising has an international reach. It also draws from NGOs, foreign governments and U.N. agencies to fund its relief projects.

“In the event of a disaster, International Medical Corps mobilizes the support and resources from its base of thousands of individuals in the U.S. and globally,” said Tavares.

As part of relief efforts, International Medical Corps also trains and hires frontline health workers from the communities it aids to support the local response effort.

“So communities can be their own best first responders in the future,” explained Tavares. "Through the deployment of the field hospital, International Medical Corps will also build the capacity and strength of the local health system."

Ultimately, the goal of the collaboration between FedEx and International Medical Corps is a simple one.

“Together, we are saving more lives, wherever and whenever its needed most,” said Lusk.

Agape Child & Family Services seeks $6M to serve Memphis neighborhoods

Faith-based nonprofit Agape Child & Family Services has kicked off fundraising for a $6 million Love Your Neighborhood initiative to improve lives of Memphians in need. 

The 47-year-old philanthropic organization has earmarked over $3.3 million for site-based services like school initiatives and workforce readiness programs. 

“The theme speaks to our core desire to love all of Memphis, reaching people where they live, working to engage local businesses, organizations and individuals to support children and families right here in Memphis,” said David Jordan, president and CEO of Agape.

Agape's educational program, Stars, has seen success. All 41 recent participants at MLK Prep graduated high school and 93 percent of those students went on to pursue higher education.

Currently, Agape has the resources to fund some school programs more than others. For instance, Agape has connectors up through high school for Frayser students. Hickory Hill, meanwhile, has support from Stars staff for elementary students only.

Agape staff, called Connectors, work directly with students and families to address outside needs that may affect school performance.

The remaining funds from the Love Your Neighborhood initiative will go to homeless services, facilities, and volunteer recruitment and training. Foster care, adoption and counseling services will be funded too.

“Families here struggle with challenges such as poverty, homelessness, safety, education, job skills and parenting skills,” said Jordan.

Agape's programs will have years-long focus in the high-needs communities of Frayser, Hickory Hill, Raleigh and Whitehaven.

“We’re seeing significant positive changes in the communities we serve such as an increase in school attendance, better grades, increased parental involvement, enhanced workforce readiness, and we’re helping hundreds of homeless families on the road to self-sufficiency,” said Jordan.

The nonprofit uses a two-generation model that wholly supports both parent and child through wraparound services, Jordan explained.

The Department of Human Services recently awarded Agape a $12.2 million grant to continue its work in Frayser, Hickory Hill, Raleigh and Whitehaven.

The grant money will be doled out over the next three years. It will allow an extra 1,000 families in Memphis access to Agape’s services. 

“The campaign is an effort to fund the agency’s growth through 2020,” said Jordan. So far, Agape has reached 83 percent of its fundraising goal. 

 “We are hopeful that the Love Your Neighborhood campaign will help us continue our critical work in support of local families in crisis,” said Hamp Holcomb, Agape board member and campaign chair.

“We feel confident that the support we receive from current and new supporters will help us transform the city of Memphis the only way it can be done – one family at a time.”

While Agape is busy helping to improve Memphis’ most disadvantaged areas, they are also enjoying their new facility located at 3160 Director’s Row. It was donated by the Hope Christian Community Foundation to house Agape’s growing staff.

“Since moving in, we have added a host of new leadership and supportive team members to help us further our mission of serving children and families in the Memphis area,” said Jordan.

Memphis will match funds for expungement of non-violent offenders

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, along with State Representative Raumesh Akbari and District Attorney General Amy Weirich, announced May 24 that donations to the Better Memphis Fund, which pays record expungement costs for people who have committed nonviolent crimes, will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $25,000 thanks to a grant from Speer Charitable Trust.

“As I knew during the campaign and as I’ve really come to learn as an elected official, expunging people’s records is important in so many ways. First, it helps people find jobs or a better job, and then secondly it just helps with self-esteem and wanting to clear their record even if there’s no monetary gain in it for them,” said Strickland.

Non-violent offenders are eligible for expungement if they have not been arrested in the past five years. The current $450 court cost for expungement has proved prohibitive for hundreds of people.

Akbari recently sponsored a successful bill, which was supported and lobbied for by Mayor Strickland, to lower expungement fees to $180.

“When I first started campaigning in 2013, a lot of people who I tried to engage with in the community couldn’t vote simply because they had not expunged their records,” said Akbari, who hopes her bill might be signed by Governor Haslam in the next few weeks. “For me the bottom line was this: I don’t want anybody to have to suffer for the consequences of their actions on their worst day. If we can get them back to work, if we can get them moving forward and actually being a part of society instead of being a burden to society, then I think we can reduce our recidivism rate and overall improve our communities in Memphis.”

Beneficiaries of the Better Memphis Fund also receive job and soft skills training from the city’s Workforce Investment Network.

A fundraiser for the Better Memphis Fund will be held June 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hattiloo Theatre in Midtown. A similar fundraiser was held in March of last year, raising $55,000 that had already helped pay for approximately 80 expungements.

In addition to the June 5 event, donations can be made to the fund online through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and 100 percent of donations are used for expungements.

Innova Memphis raises new $31M investment to fund innovation in farming

Generally, a venture capital fund’s primary purpose is to find good investments that lead to solid returns.

Innova Memphis’ latest fund is one such exception to the rule.

Capitalized at $31 million, the new Ag Innovation Fund IV focuses on investments geared toward innovating the business of farming.

“This can range from novel seed technologies, to smart irrigation technologies, to innovations in harvesting, as well as novel food production and nutrition extraction technologies,” said Jan Bouten, Innova Memphis partner.

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation launched Innova in late 2007. Its goal was to support startups with capital. Around that time, Bioworks started investigating entrepreneurship in agriculture, too.

Pete Nelson, Director of AgLaunch, lead the early effort.

Since Innova and Nelson had previously worked together on several projects, they decided to raise a new fund focused on AgTech under the U.S. Department of Agriculture umbrella program, Rural Business Investment Company.

Three years working on the proposal, and two years earning federal approval, the 10-year old venture fund announced the launch of the new Innova Ag Innovation fund on May 15, 2017.


Innova’s history of early stage investment, knowledge of the sector, and commitment to rural communities were considerations for USDA approval. The Ag Innovation Fund is the fourth fund for Innova. 

“We are very excited to start investing and look forward to meeting with founders and network partners to identify investment opportunities,” said Bouten.

“The fund will make that often critical initial investment to assist promising startups on their path toward commercialization and scalable growth, all while creating opportunities and jobs in rural America," he added.

As an early stage venture capital fund, the Ag Innovation Fund is will provide investments for entrepreneurs and startups bringing innovations to farmers.

To receive funding, an idea can range from conceptual to more fleshed out with early customer deployments checks written in the $50,000 to $1 million range. 

The belief is that everybody will benefit from thoughtful innovation in the food supply chain. As the global population continues to grow, current farming methods will not keep pace with future demands.

“We believe that much of the innovation required will take place on and around farms in rural America before being adopted across the globe,” said Bouten.

While Fund IV is Tennessee-based, it will draw on local areas of expertise under the Memphis Bioworks umbrella, including AgLaunch. It will have a broad geographic focus by working with various national farm organizations and other partners.  Together, these entrepreneur support organizations plan to identify, enable and accelerate companies with high growth potential in the agriculture technology sector.

They plan on investing in AgTech companies coming out of accelerators using AgLaunch’s own program as a model.

AgLaunch is a venture development organization, accelerator and farmer network organization focused on a farm-centric commercialization model for agricultural innovation. Investment comes from Farm Credit institutions across the country, so it will have a national scope.

Investors include Farm Credit Mid-America, AgriBank, AgStar Financial Services, CoBank, Farm Credit Bank of Texas, Farm Credit Mid-America, Farm Credit Services of America, FCS Financial, and Farm Credit of Western Arkansas.

“I believe I can speak for all the investment partners in the fund when I say that we’re looking forward to working with the Innova team as they bring to market new and exciting technologies that directly impact our nation’s farmers,” said Paul Bruce, senior vice president of financial operations of Farm Credit Mid-America.

While the Ag Innovation Fund will be seeking the best opportunities available, Innova’s connections in the Volunteer State and the Mid-South present opportunities regionally.

Enhancing rural economic development has been a key issue for several years. Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Rural Task Force” issued a report about 19 months ago where those needs are highlighted. 

“Besides directly benefiting entrepreneurs with innovative business ideas, we believe that being in the heart of the Delta region, there will be processing and shipping opportunities that will benefit existing or new local companies,” said Bouten.

UTHSC leads new partnerships to improve health outcomes in the Mid-South

Nursing programs across the country have a new charge to broaden practices in conjunction with the health care community to create academic partnerships between clinical nursing and colleges of nursing.

To meet this goal, the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has launched a Center for Community Partnerships and Nursing Innovation.

Its purpose is to develop partnerships between the College of Nursing and health systems in Memphis, the Mid-South and throughout the state with the overall goal to advance integrated care, reduce health disparities and improve outcomes.

The partnerships will strategically align collaborative projects. They will also foster innovative models of care while enabling nursing faculty to engage in clinically-based research.

“We want to have a strong presence in the community and improve health care. We bring a different skill set to the table and that’s why these partnerships are so beneficial,” said Dr. Sara Day, associate professor and assistant dean in the UTHSC College of Nursing. “It’s blending the academic and clinical and community all together.”

The center offers education and support for evidence-based practice, nurse preceptors, graduate nurse programs and nurse scholar programs, among others.

Its mission and strategic plan aligns with recommendations from a 2015 study, Advancing Healthcare Transformation: A New Era for Academic Nursing. The research was commissioned by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. It advised an expanded role for academic nursing institutions as a key to better health care.

“Really, the recommendation is to expand your horizon and work with nurses in your community and institutions because they have needs that we can serve, and by working together, it helps both of us,” said Day.

Dr. Wendy Likes, dean of the UTHSC College of Nursing, wanted to adopt the academic-clinical model for some time. She recruited Dr. Day to develop the program for UTHSC.

“My background is program development. I’ve done this sort of work all over the world and most recently for St. Jude,” said Day.

Day’s career has centered on development, implementation and management of nursing programs and models. Her programs and models have improved the outcomes of underserved children. They have been implemented nationally and in 15 other countries.

She is well-versed in the benefits of partnering academic and clinical nursing in the community. Day has served as the director of nursing education and the director of international nursing at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In her current position with UTHSC for six months, a big part of her job is to set up the partnerships.

Their first partnership is a public health nurse residency program with the Shelby County Health Department. The institutions will share clinical and educational resources, quality improvement, evidence-based practice projects and nursing research. A kickoff ceremony was held on Friday, May 19.

“It’s the first public health nurse residency program in the state. It will involve 10 nurses that will participate in a year-long program to advance nursing skills, develop a small-scale intervention study related to their specific area of need, teach nurses to identify a problem and change practices to improve it,” said Day.

An academic practice partnership proposal is also in the works with Methodist Hospital. UTHSC is considering at a joint position focused on research and clinical practices. Cost of the position would be shared evenly between UTHSC and Methodist Hospital.

“This is what leading hospitals do across the country. This is the way academic nursing and clinical hospitals work sharing a joint position where you are faculty at the university but the hospital buys out 50 percent of the time to do research in a specific area,” said Day.

While several partnerships are being finalized, many more are in the works. Collection of public feedback is ongoing as a measurement of the community’s pulse to account for its needs.

Potential partnerships include joint faculty research positions and academic-practice partnerships with Mid-South hospitals, specialty nursing fellowship programs and health care services for local schools.

Day is in talks with a local Montessori school. Screenings need to be done. Knowledge in developing medication and health plans for students with healthcare needs is also in demand.

According to Day, the partnership with the health department will give the tools to nurses to enable them to reach a new level of care.

“It’s a partnership that improves health care if we work together correctly. It should improve outcomes.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Dr. Donna Hathaway is listed as the dean of University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing, which is incorrect. Dr. Wendy Likes is the dean. 

Boys & Girls Clubs could occupy Shelby County schools

Grappling with numerous under-enrolled schools and significant neighborhood needs, Memphis school leaders are seeking to fill some empty space by partnering with the Boys & Girls Club.

Shelby County Schools is working with the organization’s Memphis chapter to open clubs by 2018 inside three schools: Dunbar Elementary, Riverview School and Craigmont High.

But first they have to secure about $1 million to pay for the clubs’ first year of operations.

Both entities view the emerging partnership as a way to connect space and programming to strengthen schools and their neighborhoods. The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis also wants to expand beyond its current seven sites.

“It doesn’t make sense to build a $4 or $5 million facility somewhere only to have the population shift due to school closure or neighborhood changes,” said executive director Keith Blanchard. “Suddenly, you have this super nice club and no kids. This way, we can go to where the kids are.”

The partnership would step up the effort of Shelby County Schools to join a national trend in developing community schools, which put facilities to use beyond the traditional school day and emphasize a holistic approach for addressing poverty, health and behavior. The arrangement also would tap into a growth and missional model for the Boys & Girls Club, which has been successful in working with schools in cities such as Orlando.

Blanchard hopes the new Memphis clubs would provide students with an after-school option in schools where extracurriculars are slim, as well as a place to go during summer breaks. Each site could serve up to 240 students.

While the district can provide space and utilities, each site would cost an estimated $330,000 to operate — an expense that district leaders plan to ask the County Commission to cover initially. The long-term goal is to get corporate and donor support.

“The last thing we want to do is open these clubs and have to close in two years,” Blanchard said.

Under-enrolled school buildings are plentiful in Shelby County Schools, where leaders have closed more than 20 schools since 2012, partially due to low enrollment. At the same time, Memphis school leaders are seeking more resources to serve a disproportionately high number of poor, black and disabled students.

“We are always looking for ways to expose our students to programs/activities that foster good citizenship, character building, and healthy lifestyles that contribute to student success,” a district spokeswoman said in an email this month.

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis already has one school-based club at Promise Academy, a state-run charter school in Raleigh, where about 60 students attend.

Blanchard said the three newest school sites were chosen because the organization doesn’t have a strong presence in those neighborhoods.

Dunbar Elementary Principal Anniece Gentry said the Orange Mound community would welcome the additional resource.

“There’s not a YMCA or Boys & Girls Club in this area,” Gentry said. “This would be a place not just for students, but for the entire neighborhood, as a way to bring families together. For the students, having structured resources in the afternoon is going to help them to grow even better during the academic school day.”

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Caroline Bauman on May 15, 2017


TVA building its largest solar energy facility in Memphis

The Tennessee Valley Authority recently announced that it will be upping its renewable energy footprint with a proposed one-megawatt solar farm in Southwest Memphis.

Adjacent to the under-construction Allen Combined Cycle Plant, the new facility will have an array of more than 3,000 solar panels on its three acres along Riverport Road. It is estimated to provide enough juice to power around 120 average-sized homes.

Along with the cycle plant’s five megawatts of biogas generation, the combined renewable production at the facility is projected to power up to 2,900 homes.

Once completed, the project will be the TVA’s largest solar facility and on par with the size of the array at the Agricenter International.

“TVA is committed to investing in renewable energy opportunities that support consumer demands while maintaining the lowest possible rates. In this case, TVA had funding for solar and a time commitment with the EPA to use the funds by September,” said Scott Brooks, public relations for TVA.

The energy harnessed at the $1.3 million solar installation will complement production at the adjacent new natural gas plant with enough electricity from solar to power about 120 average homes on its own. Along with five megawatts of biogas generation, it will also produce enough renewable energy to power approximately 2,900 homes on average.

This is a big step for President’s Island plant, which formerly processed coal burning energy until TVA entered an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 to shutter the plan due to air pollution violations.

“Renewable power is beneficial in that it produces little to no emissions, so there are air quality benefits from TVA's investment in solar generation,” said Tamara Nolen, Communications and Public Relations for MLGW.

With construction crews on the job constructing the natural gas plant, there was easy access to labor, supporting infrastructure and a connection point for the solar energy to flow to.

“The site was basically shovel-ready,” said Brooks.

The upgrades in both renewable and cleaner energy are a part of a pattern for the TVA. Its plan is to grow the rate of renewable energy at a rate that is sustainably aligned with other generation sources. Typically, large-scale solar projects from outside the TVA are providers, although smaller projects through local power companies are growing in number.

To further support the expansion of renewable energy technology, MLGW offers programs like Green Power Switch and Green Power Providers, among other options.

Currently, there are 1,370 customers who take part in Green Power Switch. Each month they pay extra on their MLGW bills to support renewables, without the capital expense of installing generation. For example, each $4 block of green energy results in the generation of 150-killowatt hours of renewable power.

Green Power Providers, on the other hand, has attracted about 80 customers. Those involved in this program have invested in solar generation for their homes and businesses, which they sell back to the TVA for credits on their monthly bill.

“Customer interest in renewable generation has been moderate, although there are many misperceptions about the costs and efficiencies of renewable power generation,” said Nolen.

While MLGW customers’ interest in renewable energy programs has been relatively sparse, the same can’t be said for the TVA.

Over the next two decades, TVA expects to invest about $8 billion to grow its renewables portfolio. Currently, that portfolio includes 400 megawatts of solar and 1,200 in wind power, in addition to 50 megawatts generated from biomass.

“All electricity whether from renewable, nuclear or fossil fuel sources is transported through the same TVA transmission system to MLGW's distribution system, where it is delivered to homes and businesses,” said Nolen.

TVA, meanwhile, still generates the bulk of its energy through a mix of nuclear, coal, natural gas and hydroelectric sources, although that is slowly changing.

It is the intermittent nature of most renewable technologies that both necessitates these older forms of energy, while limiting green energy’s place in the TVA’s portfolio for now.

“It is important to note that green power, including solar and wind, is intermittent.  Solar power is strongest at mid-day and wind generation is strongest at night, which makes interconnecting these resources more challenging,” said Nolen.

But even though renewables like solar energy present challenges in continuous energy generation, they are nonetheless vital in the face of ecological challenges in the present and future.

“Solar energy is an important part of our diverse generation portfolio. It is carbon-free clean energy,” said Brooks. “However, we must balance that with the relative high cost of solar versus our other generating sources.”

Amelia Thompson comes home to Memphis arts scene with new role at Ballet Memphis

A graduate of White Station High, Amelia Thompson was like many young people looking to leave home and forge a path for herself. That path has brought her back to Memphis and her new role as development associate for Ballet Memphis.

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she left South Bend, Ind. and landed a job in fundraising development at St. Albans School, an all-boys preparatory school in the nation’s capital. 

“I absolutely loved it. I love being in that environment. It’s very old world intellectual D.C.,” said Thompson.

After four years of cutting her teeth at a nonprofit, Thompson, 30, switched gears by taking on a role at Macy’s corporate office as a buyer.

“As I was thinking of transitioning out of D.C., New York was always on the horizon," she said.

The Big Apple was an abrupt change of pace, both professionally and in lifestyle.

At work, she collaborated with big vendors, like Calvin Klein, and small shops to build an inventory for the retailer’s stores and online site. This was done by evaluating trends, socioeconomic conditions and even factors such as the weather.

“It was a job with some creative components but it is a strictly bottom line business. It was like being in business school. But It was a great experience and I learned so much.”

With a background of financials at Macy’s coupled with her fundraising work at St. Albans, Thompsons’ skills set the stage her for what lied ahead.

But living in the big city had its drawbacks too. Working for a big brand retailer was stressful, and navigating day-to-day life comes with its own set of difficulties. Thompson said that after three years, she was "burned out" from New York. 

She began to think it was time to slow down, make a return to the world of nonprofits and possibly come home.

“I never, ever thought in a million years I would leave the East Coast, leave New York or come back south to Memphis.”

Following several trips back home to visit family, Thompson noticed a re-energized Memphis. People, locally and nationally, were recognizing the positive changes the Bluff City was making.

“I moved home because I wanted to spend more time with family. But I also moved home because I saw something on the horizon and wanted to be a part of it.”

Upon her return, Thompson picked up where she left off in D.C. She took a job in the development office at Rhodes College as the assistant director to annual giving.

“It was a nice way to get my feet back into fundraising. It was a great palate cleanser, in a way, coming from an environment where the most important thing you do is try to sell shirts and pants for the best margin.”

After a year and a half at Rhodes, the urge to pursue an opportunity with one of the arts organizations in town began to grow.

“Memphis is such a deeply rooted arts-focused city. I grew up going to concerts at the New Daisy and art galleries with my parents," Thompson said. 

Through a friend and mentor on the board of Ballet Memphis, she had the chance to talk to its founder, Dorothy Gunther Pugh, founding artistic director & CEO. Hoping to pick her brain, she was unaware there was a slot the company wanted to fill. With the knowledge that the organization understands the transformative nature of dance, in addition to the way it embraces the city and community, there was solid interest.

“I am a huge patron of dance and the arts. When I lived in New York, I got to see ABT, Alvin Ailey and Dance Group of Harlem in the heart of the artistic world.”

Once she spoke with Pugh, things quickly fell into place. They had lunch on a Tuesday and by the next Monday an offer had been made.

“With the new building, new presence in Midtown and new needs, my experience in fundraising and in a corporate environment like Macy’s was a nice tie-in to where they want to take things," Thompson said.

“Ballet Memphis has hired a young woman of great depth, perception, and promise with Amelia Thompson," said Pugh. "Our institution has demonstrated for over thirty years its ability to identify truly fine, emerging talent. I am grateful for the spirit and heart she brings that is a hallmark of our best leaders and artists."

As development associate, Thompson works on the administrative side of Ballet Memphis with the director of development, Carolyn McCormick. Together, they labor to generate and secure funding for the day-to-day goals of the annual fund. Ballet shoes alone cost $30,000 annually. The pair also teams with strategic partners on completing a $31 million capital campaign.

With a grand opening of their new building in Midtown set for late August, a big move is in store for the 30-year-old dance company.

“The opportunities to mold not just the cultural landscape of the city but the actual physical landscape of Overton Square is historic. Generations of Memphians have memories of what this place means so to be there elevates the responsibility to do great work," Thompsons said.

Thompson said her greatest influence has been family and especially her 88-year-old grandmother. Her grandmother's involvement in volunteer work has been the inspiration for Thompson’s own participation in Girls, Inc.

Working with Girls, Inc. is a big part of her life, and it’s a family affair. She and her cousins go once a week to sit with the girls, help with their homework and just be a positive presence.

“Everyone says ‘The volunteer work enriches me more than those that I help’ and it is so true and gives me such perspective," she added.

Finding satisfaction in her current career, where does Thompson see her herself in five years? Right here in Memphis, riding the Ballet Memphis wave and seeing where it takes her.

“There hasn’t been a single moment where I’ve regretted my decision to move back to Memphis. I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be.”

390 Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts